Is enough being done about the abuse faced by referees?

Posted on: February 14th, 2020 | by Laura Murdoch | No Comments

Last Updated on: 11th January 2024, 05:21 pm

Is Enough Being Done About the Abuse Faced by Referees?


Football Referees and Sin Bins


What would a game of football be without a referee? They are the people who maintain a level of order and fairness throughout the game. Every decision can improve or ruin a game for someone. This is one of the reasons why match officials have to put up with a worrying level of abusive behaviour from fans and supporters alike. The FA introduced sin bins at the grassroots level in the hope that it would make players rethink their poor treatment of club officials. Is it working or does more need to be done?

Man in a reversible goalkeeper shirt. He's wearing a fluo yellow shirt at the start then covers the camera with a red card and is wearing the reverse- a black shirt. He is wearing a referees whistle round his neck also.

Levels of abuse

Referees experience abuse at all levels of the game. Obviously, it is not something that everyone is guilty of but the fact that it happens at all is worrying. You don’t see such disdain for officials in other sports but it has become something of a tradition in football. How often have we seen whole stadiums turn on a referee for a supposed bad decision?

Of all of the behaviours exhibited towards referees, verbal abuse is the most common. A study revealed that 64% of match officials experience it frequently. 36% of referees said that they had experienced threats and a worrying 15% had reported physical assault.


The abuse shown towards referees is bad for the sport’s image and can have a damaging effect on the referees themselves. Many referees have reported a loss of concentration and motivation after facing such strong criticism. Exposure to these levels of abuse will have a major knock on a person’s mental health and could increase anxiety levels. And what does this culture of abuse mean for future players?

It’s no wonder that there has been a dwindling referee retention rate in recent years. Numerous referees have quit because of poor conditions. If numbers continue to go down, there will be fewer skilled match officials. This means that there will be a decline in the quality of games at all levels. Only recently, we’ve seen the outrage from Manchester United Women after a controversial penalty led to a draw against Reading. With so many referees stepping away from the role, is this a future we should come to expect?

Amateur Football

The situation for amateur referees is even more fraught. Not only can officials be as young as 14 but there is a lack of security and protection at amateur games. It’s no less stressful for professional referees but at least they have more of a safety net if things turn sour. Referees at the grassroots level are more exposed to aggression, which is why more serious assaults take place during amateur matches.

Football referee getting yellow card

Sin Bins

The FA has taken steps to create a more respectful attitude towards referees. The 2019/2020 season saw the introduction of sin bins as part of the FA’s RESPECT programme. Players are given temporary dismissals in cases of dissent. The consequences change depending on how many times they have already been found guilty. The steps were intended to stop players from questioning the referee’s decisions and highlight their authority over the game. But has it worked?

Professional Football

There is the question of whether more needs to be done in professional football. If young players are seeing their heroes shouting abuse at the referees, what kind of message are they getting? Children emulate the behaviour they see their favourite players exhibit, so should players be more aware of their behaviour on the pitch?

Does more that needs to be done to prevent players from letting their frustration get the better of them? Are the punishments consistent and harsh enough?

Have your say

Do you think that more needs to be done about the treatment of referees? Have Sin Bins helped change people’s behaviour? Or do you think that there need to be more consequences at a professional level? Let us know.

Pendle Sportswear reversible referee kit

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