Bottling Decisions: The Safe Way to Referee?

Posted: March 20, 2014 by larbitre in Uncategorized
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This may be a controversial post but it is definitely one that will be thought provocative to game management styles and one to reflect on.

The first pre-requisite is to read the article on the link below.

This post is in no way an attack on certain referees but rather a general discussion on the allegations made by the article.

Bottling up decisions… At first glance I’m sure this phrase isn’t very clear. I will get there.

Referees enjoy many type of games. There are games that are quiet that don’t require the referee to step into the spotlight to make decisions and that go by peacefully with minimal interference and there are those games that are a bomb just waiting to explode that need the referee to step in the spotlight to make decisions for the good of the game. The latter is quite often the case for derby games and can be both a referee’s dream and nightmare.

Two of the biggest/match-changing decisions that referees make include dismissals and penalty kicks. They are often the points of contention that brings anger to one side. The undecidable problem of making both teams on a football pitch happy…

Many matches have match-defining moments that require the referee to take action in order to maintain match control. Failure to deal with these moments can be the beginning of a downward spiral of the game but appropriate management can see the 90 to a sound end. It often begins here. Having watched the latest Champions League clash between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC, there were many decisions to take heed of. This match was ripe for the picking in terms of referee education content and testing material. Lannoy’s match report is posted by The Third Team‘s website done by their crew of assessors here. It’s these moments that I refer to.

Match-defining moments can arrive in a series. Following the first one, the referee can be continually tested by difficult decision as the pressure and tension in the game runs high. It’s how a referee reacts to these that matters. The key point to remember is that every game is different to every match official with many factors such as teams, players, history between teams as well as with the referee, weather, crowd, time and standings in the season, officiating style and skill, and mood.

Bottling up a decision simply refers to the act of failing to award a decision (which sometimes includes the case of a lesser decision). In the case of football refereeing, a decision to give something less than expected. This, of course, does not refer to when a referee misses what happened in an incident and isn’t sure about what happened but this is when a referee knows what happened but fails to give the decision due to fear. It affects every referee but it’s battling that with courage that we need to deal with as protectors of the game.

Note that bottling decisions differs from having a varying interpretation of a foul. We talk about decisions that are unanimously agreed upon as at least a foul by a group of experienced referees when they agree that the decision was not a challenging one to make.

Granted, bottling decisions only really means something when it applies to a series of decisions since it is evidently noticed then but there is a key thing to notice about this aspect:

Teams are more upset by what is taken away from them than what could have been given to them. I’m not saying they are happy they don’t get a penalty but they are certainly not pleased when a teammate is dismissed. As a result, is this a way to go? Bottling up decisions?

The article makes several references to Howard’s having bottled decisions in the World Cup final and in other matches.

What this means is that the next time there’s a big 50-50 decision to be made in a big game – a last-minute penalty, for example, or a crucial sending off – then there’s a strong chance Webb will simply wave play on.

Were these two matches, the World Cup final and Lannoy’s UCL performance, cases of bottling up decisions? If so, was there a reason behind this happening to officials at the highest level in the world?

Something to think on.

  1. Check out the book “Scorecasting”. Specifically the chapter on “Omission Bias”. It’s well worth the read if you’re interested in this kind of thing. They even back it up with serious statistics (and note that it happens in several sports). I think that it’s the first chapter in the book.

    If you are interested in the workings behind the game, it’s one to read.


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