By Tony Attwood
Please note this article refers to academic research into referee behaviour – the links to the research are given at the foot of the article.
The great thing about the debate concerning referees is that when Untold started out 14 years ago, the only evidence we had was what we saw on the pitch. And if our view of what we saw was different from that of the journalists who wrote newspaper reports or commented on TV, well, that could be put down to our prejudice of ourselves as Arsenal supporters.
But over time the evidence that this was not the case has mounted. Not just our own research, but also that by teams of academics, evidence showing beyond doubt that referees even at the highest levels could be incredibly and consistently biased.
Now the referees association – the PGMO – could have accepted that evidence which came from different sources, but they chose not to, instead continuing to claim that they were getting 98% of all decisions right without presenting any contrary evidence to back up their claims.
But with academic evidence clearly showing bias among referees the sensible thing to do would have been for PGMO – the organisation that runs refereeing for the Premier League to admit it, continuing with their claim of 98% accuracy prior to VAR, and an even higher level thereafter.
Which raises such issues as what might be influencing referees and why won’t they admit that they were wrong across all those years of claiming 98% accuracy and no bias?
These questions have now come into sharper focus as several newspapers have simultaneously launched a defence of referees, by deflecting the debate into other areas.
We now know from the research cited below that crowd noise affects refereeing decisions. That is undeniable and is proven by the academic studies. But instead of reporting these findings and questioning why PGMO was so extreme in its defence of referee accuracy, never once admitting anything could be wrong, the media are now coming to PGMO’s aid once more by suggesting that the lack of crowds in stadia is affecting players and causing changes to games.
That of course might be true – but for the moment it is pure supposition. Again, why would a newspaper follow that story when it refuses to deal with the story which has evidence backed up by academic studies that crowds influence referees?
The most obvious answer is deflection – deflecting the story about referees by suggesting other factors are at work. And when such stories (all without evidence or anything remotely looking like proper research) appear in the papers at once, we might become suspicious that someone is organising a concerted campaign, to deflect from the research.
So we have the headline “Are Premier League finishers more relaxed without crowds in stadiums?” in the Telegraph. It reports 17 of 20 Premier League teams are currently outperforming their expected goals total.
Which could well be interesting, but it then adds, “A range of theories have been offered to explain the deluge of goals in this Premier League season: a truncated pre-season, the depth of brilliant forwards in the division, defenders losing concentration without crowds, playing out from the back and high lines have all been cited….” Yes and so has the change of referee behaviour – but that one factor – the one that has evidence to back it up, is ignored! Why is that?
And as if that article by Daniel Zegiri is not enough, the Telegraph rams home the message with “The ‘fear’ has gone without fans in Premier League stadiums and everything feels different” in which Jason Burt, the chief football correspondent of the paper, tells us that “This was always going to be a season like no other but we may have underestimated the effects of no crowds on players.”
Again the newspapers may have done that. But again, the article meanders around a supposition, ignoring the fact that the only research that has been done is that in which referees’ behaviour has been analysed and researched by senior academics. Links to our articles on these research programmes are given below.
Now we do recall that in the past when the PGMO, which employs referees in the Premier League wanted to improve its image it supplied articles to the Telegraph, so maybe that link still exists. But that doesn’t explain the article “Goals galore – but does the empty grounds theory actually make sense?” by Hannah Jane Parkinson in the Guardian.