December 05, 2016

Committee Members in action? Empirical Study on the Influence of Referee Committee Members on the Referee Categories in UEFA

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 5: On next Thursday, UEFA's Referee Committee are going to define the new Referee Categories for the 2nd half of the 2016/17 season. In former times, the category allocation (promotions and demotions) were partly criticized for being politically motivated or at least influenced by the members of the Referee Committee - by us as independent observers, by you as our readers and commentators, and by some international referees who frequently express their displeasure about that topic when talking to them ("Some of us are more equal than the others - it depends on whether you have a committee member behind you" is only one quote).

Is that true? We analyzed objective data to investigate the relationship between a federation's representation in the UEFA Referee Committee and the same nation's representation in the UEFA Referee Categories. A study based on a scientific and statistical approach tends to support the intuitive feeling some officials have. How we proceeded and how the results look like:


Data Basis and Calculation

As the data basis, we used the current UEFA Referee Categories (version 2016-17, 1st half). Each nation was awarded points that varied across the different categories following an intuitive scheme:

Elite Group: 4 points; First Group: 3 points; Second Group: 2 points; Third Group: 1 point.

On the basis of that, three values were calculated:

1) The respective nation's number of FIFA Referees included in the Category list ("Refs in total").

2) The respective nation's number of weighted Category Points following the scheme above.

3) A category-height-ratio for each nation by dividing the two previous variables (Category Points divided by Refs in total). We call that "Category Ratio". This tells us how highly the referees of a certain nation are located in the categories on average.

An example: Italy

1) 4 referees in Elite + 2 referees in First Group + 4 referees in Second Group = 10 referees

2) 4*4 + 2*3 + 4*2 + 0*1 = 30

3) 30 Category Points / 10 Refs in Total = 3.0 

Compare it with Ireland:

1) 0 referees in Elite + 0 referees in First Group + 2 referees in Second Group + 2 referees in Third Group

2) 0*4 + 0*3 + 2*2 + 2*1 = 6

3) 6 Category Points / 4 Refs in total = 1.5

So Italy is clearly higher represented in the categories than Ireland - their officials reach higher referee categories on average!


In a second step, we identified those nations represented by a Refereeing Officer or Chairman (Italy, France, Scotland and Spain), those with other members of the UEFA Referee Committee (Czech Republic, England, Germany, Netherlands, Romania*, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden) and those without a Committee member (the other 42 UEFA member nations except Gibraltar, Kosovo and Liechtenstein).

*We counted Kyros Vassaras as representant of the Romanian FA, for which he primarily works.

Variables and Statistical Analysis Methods

First of all: We want to investigate a possible effect of a certain input variable ("independent variable") on a certain output variable ("dependent variable"). In this case, our independent variable is a nation's belonging to one of the three groups ("Officer group", "Committee member group" and "No Committee member group"). Our dependent variable consists of the nations' Category Ratio we calculated in steps ) above.

What we could now do is simply calculating means and having a look for differences between the mean category ratios of the nations in the three groups. If the suspected political influences exist, the means should be significantly higher for those nations who have a Committee member or even a Referee Officer inside UEFA.

However, this would stay speculation. There would be no limit at which we could say "Yes, there is an influence" or "No, there is no influence". That's why statisticians have developed statistical tests to test such assumptions reliably. The aim of such tests is to check whether there are statistically significant differences, e.g. between mean scores of two or more different groups in a certain variable.

The statistical significance is usually mentioned as a p-value. If the p-value is p < .05 (or p < 5%), this means that a potential difference between two or more groups is unlikely to be random: The likelihood, that such an effect is mere coincidence and a random result, would be smaller than 5%. Such significance levels can even be smaller, e.g. 1%, 0,1% or even 0,01%. The smaller the significance level is, the better - because we can say that the effect we found is robust and not just coincidence. And as claims of political influences in refereeing are often speculation, it is important for me to conduct objective tests and not just have a short view on some rough data.

Alternative Explanations

Up to here, most of you will probably think "Well, these nations with committee members are widely from Europe's top football nations. In these nations, there are better or more experienced referees, used to bigger stadiums, faster football and of course they are therefore higher ranked in the Referee Categories!".

This is probably correct. That's why we conducted our analysis under consideration of a possible influence of the nations' football quality. The most objective data we found to operationalize that are the UEFA Association Coefficients (2012 - 2016).

If referees benefit from the good footballing level of the teams in their domestic division, then the last 3 or 4 seasons' coefficients should be a good parameter to measure that.

What we conducted is called "Analysis of Covariance" (ANCOVA). This ANCOVA does exactly what we want and need. It tests whether a possible difference between the three groups of nations (Officer, Committee member, No committee member) with regard to the Category Ratios is statistically significant and even considers the influence of the nations' UEFA coefficients. So if we find a significant effect, we would be able to say "The effect found is not only due to the different football quality in the committee member's nations, but also because of something else.".


An overview with the raw scores of the nations can be found in the following table:

Nation Ratio
Nation Ratio
Nation Ratio
Nation Ratio
Spain** 3,00
Hungary 2,17
Montenegro 1,67
Bosnia&Herzeg. 1,33
Italy** 3,00
Israel 2,17
Portugal 1,67
Estonia 1,33
Netherlands* 3,00
Austria 2,14
Wales 1,67
Latvia 1,33
England* 2,88
Belgium 2,00
Croatia 1,60
Iceland 1,25
Scotland** 2,86
Belarus 2,00
Greece 1,57
Kazakhstan 1,25
Germany* 2,80
Macedonia 2,00
Switzerland 1,57
Northern Ireland 1,25
Slovenia* 2,75
Serbia 2,00
Albania 1,50
Andorra 1,00
Romania* 2,57
Norway 1,86
Bulgaria 1,50
Armenia 1,00
France** 2,50
Ukraine 1,86
Cyprus 1,50
Faroe Islands 1,00
Poland 2,43
Czech Rep.* 1,83
Ireland 1,50
Georgia 1,00
Sweden* 2,29
Finland 1,80
Denmark 1,43
Luxembourg 1,00
Turkey 2,29
Malta 1,75
Slovakia 1,40
Moldova 1,00
Russia* 2,22
Lithuania 1,67
Azerbaijan 1,33
San Marino 1,00

*nation with Committee member, **nation with Referee Officer or Chairman

The two diagrams below illustrate the main result: With regard to the Category Ratios, which point out how a nation's refereeing is relatively represented and how highly a nation's referees have got within the category system on average, the nations belonging to the Officer group scored highest (M = 2.84, SD = 0.24), followed by the Committee member group (M = 2.54, SD = 0.40) and the No Committee member group (M = 1.57, SD = 0.40).

*M = mean, SD = standard deviation

The ANCOVA yielded highly significant main effects (p < .001). This means that there is a certain significant difference between the means of the three groups, for which the likelihood of being random is smaller than 0,1%. This does not tell us between which exact groups the significant differences are, though.

Pairwise comparisons showed that there was no significant difference between the Officer and Committee member groups, but there were highly significant differences between the respective means of nations from the Officer group and the No Committee member group as well as between the Committee member group and the No Committee member group. These significance levels are illustrated by the green stars in the diagram!

To measure how much variance or, in other words, how much of a nation's representation in the categories can be explained by whether this nation is or is not represented by an officer or member in the UEFA Referee Committee, the so-called Partial Eta² was calculated.

For the Category Ratios, it was Partial Eta² = .35. This means that 35% of how highly a nation's referees are located in the category system on average can be explained by having or not having a committee member or referee officer from the same nation. In contrast, only 13% could be explained by the quality of football mirrored by the UEFA association coefficients.


What do these findings mean? And how to interpret them?

Nations represented by an Officer or a Committee member inside UEFA are more represented in the higher Referee Categories than nations without a Committee member or Officer. The mean differences between the two groups with committee representation and the group without a Committee member are both significant. The chance, that these differences and results are just based on coincidence, have been found to be smaller than 0,1% and 1% respectively.

35% (Partial Eta² = .35) of a nation's relative representation in the UEFA Category System were found to be explained by the presence or absence of a Referee Committee member or Officer from the same nation.

We have therefore found robust evidence for an effect of whether a nation is represented in the UEFA Referee Committee on how highly this nation is represented in the UEFA Referee Categories.

We used objective data to minimize subjective sentiments and to avoid speculation.

We have included the possibility that Referee Committee members are usually from the bigger footballing nations with an equally good level of refereeing. By intergrating the UEFA association coefficients into the statistical model, we can say that the effect of the Committee presence still exists. The nations' football level operationalized by the association coefficients obviously has an effect on the categories, but only a smaller one.

Implications and Limitations

Of course you can question whether the distribution of points to the categories (4, 3, 2 and 1) is reasonable. You can equally question whether someone like Mark Clattenburg really needed David Elleray to become a world-class referee. Most likely, the real meaningful effects depicted in the results of our calculation are rather located in the lower area of the Elite Group and particularly in the two or three lower categories.

A criticism on the procedure might be that some nations such as England, France, Italy, Germany and Spain are de facto not able to have a referee in Third Group as their officials usually start in Second Group as soon as they become international officials. It is however unprobable that this majorly influenced the effect found.

In addition it might be that those nations with a committee member are generally characterized by a higher level of refereeing and referee education which maybe even enabled certain people to enter the UEFA committee.

What we did not consider in our study are the roles some Referee Committee members fulfill in foreign referee departments (e.g. Marc Batta in Belgium, Pierluigi Collina in the Ukraine, Hugh Dallas in Israel, Jaap Uilenberg in Turkey until 2016 etc.). Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to consider this as an additional variable. But the ranking posted above partly suggests that some of the mentioned nations are not that badly represented in the categories.

UEFA can nonetheless use these findings to critically reflect themselves in terms of whether they (un)consciously favour referees from certain nations - and in this concrete case, from the commitee members' nations.

More focus should be shifted on officials from countries that are not represented in the committee. UEFA has the chance to do that on Thursday. Szymon Marciniak from Poland or Milorad Mažić from Serbia are good examples that this might pay off in the long run. UEFA's focus on referees from "smaller" nations like Azerbaijan (Aliyar Aghayev), Lithuania (Gediminas Mazeika) or Latvia (Andris Treimanis) is a good first sign, but rather the exception.

It should not be doubted that those referees who reached the highest referee categories mostly are excellent officials and widely deserved to get to where they are! However, it can be assumed that there are numerous match officials from other nations who are underrepresented in both the referee committee and - maybe even for this reason - are equally underrepresented in the category system and would never get sufficient chances to develop and climb the career ladder.

In a future article, we are going to focus on a similar question taking into account influences on referee appointments as another dependent variable.

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Europa League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments - Matchday 6

These are the choices made by UEFA Referees Committee for the last matchday of 2016-17 Europa League's group stage. 

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Champions League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Matchday 6 (Wednesday)

UEFA has chosen the following officials to take charge of next Wednesday's Champions League matches. Lithuania's Gediminas Mazeika will make his Champions League bow in Leverkusen.

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December 04, 2016

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 4: Removing jersey for message of solidarity

The worldwide football community corporately are still mourning the victims of last week's plane crash in Colombia involving huge parts of the Brazilian football team AF Chapecoense. Two football players active in European clubs have shown their solidarity on the field - in a way which is not in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Our rather sad Door no.4.

During the French Ligue 1 match between PSG and Angers, Paris striker Edinson Cavani scored from a penalty kick and removed his jersey unveiling a message in memory of the Brazilian team (video). Referee Frank Schneider cautioned him with a yellow card - which is prescribed by the Laws of the Game if a player removes his jersey or pulls it over his head. In the post match interview, Cavani said the following:

Something similar happened in the Dutch division match between Vitesse and Zwolle: Vitesse attacker Nathan who removed his shirt while celebrating a goal, giving a tribute to Chapecoense and two of his friends who died in the plane crash. Referee Jochem Kamphuis - in contrary to his French colleague - did not caution Nathan for that.

The Dutch football association KNVB has now officially praised Kamphuis for that. Gijs de Jong, operating director of the KNVB, said that "of course there are rules, but for us this is an exception to the rule". Furthermore, he highlighted that referees are "humans of flesh and blood" and added that Kamphuis' reaction to the incident "felt perfect".

Since July 2016, Law 5 supports the KNVB's point of view:

"Decisions will be made to the best of the referee`s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game."

But the laws also say:

"Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans,  statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show  political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other  than the manufacturer`s logo. For any infringement the player and/or the team  will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or to be justified by FIFA."

So - apart from removing the jersey while celebrating a goal - it is doubtful whether such messages can be tolerated or even praised in general. I personally believe that common sense and humanity both support refraining from issuing a card here. The question is: Where to draw the line? What is still in line with "humanity" and what is not? In a conversation with our user Hagi the latter asked me what decision should be taken if someone e.g. mourns the death of the Pope. Or Nelson Mandela. Or Fidel Castro. Where to draw the line?

However of course, match officials are used to both consider each match incident separately but equally put them into a wider context. So it is not ultimately necessary to draw a line, you might argue.

You could also say that as long as the match official shows the card with modesty and empathic explanations - what Schneider seems to have done - then a yellow card is fully accepted by everyone. Media reports from Germany proof that this is not the case though where Schneider was partly criticized for a lack of game feeling.

But you might also argue that as soon as comparable actions happen within the same league - imagine: even on the same matchday and in the additional time of two matches with the same kick-off-time - two different reactions to such incidents, i.e. one referee issuing yellow and the other referee not giving any card, will become a problem.

Although I highly appreciate and like the KNVB's and Kamphuis' behavior during and after the game, I consider it as rather problematic for the reasons mentioned above. Anyway, such events luckily do not happen that often so that the KNVB well used Kamphuis' decision to send a signal of humanity and maybe also to enhance the image of referees in the football community.

What do you think? Discuss and vote!

How to react to players removing their shirt to show a message of solidarity / humanity / sorrow?

Yellow Card.
No Yellow Card.
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Champions League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Matchday 6 (Tuesday)

UEFA has chosen the following officials to take charge of next Tuesday's Champions League matches. Among others, Antonio Mateu Lahoz of Spain has been appointed to control the decisive Group B tie between Benfica and Napoli, while Clément Turpin of France has been assigned to Bayern vs Atlético. Slovenian Slavko Vinčić will make his Champions League debut in Manchester - congrats for that.

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December 03, 2016

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 3: Penalty Kicks - What is and what is not permitted

Door 3 concentrates on penalty kicks. It is relatively robust trend that there is 1 penalty in every 4th match on UEFA level (~ 24-27% at EURO 2016 and the last three UCL seasons). As the IFAB modified Law 14, it might be worth to focus on what is and on what is not permitted since then.

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Guess The Referee - Predict & Win the Referees for UCL Matchday 6

Your chance to guess the referees who will take charge of the last group stage matchday of UEFA Champions League - and to win a small prize sponsored by our partners Refsworld UK.

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December 02, 2016

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 2: Information on UEFA Refereeing on Matchday 6

Door 2 is opened - below you find all relevant information on next week's UEFA club competitions including referee observers and delegates for Champions and Europa League as well as the match officials for Youth League.

> Observers and Delegates for UCL & UEL

> Youth League Appointments

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UEFA Youth League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Matchday 6

These officials will be in charge of next week's Youth League Matchday 6. 

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December 01, 2016

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 1: Physio with Goalkeeper Qualities

The first door of The3rdTeam Referee Advent Calendar is open. And there is a video clip in it!

The situation as written text:

An attacking player is having an obvious goal-scoring opportunity: Having already left all other defenders behind him, he is only facing the goalkeeper and decides to shoot. The goalkeeper is unable to save the shot, so that the ball is about to go into the goal.

A physio - listed on the match report as belonging to the defending team - is following the attack from the goalline already for a while. When he recognizes that the goalkeeper is beaten, the physio enters the field of play and clears the ball that would otherwise certainly result in a goal. Several frustrated players chase the fleeing physio - one of them, "Attacker A", even attempts to kick him to ground with a kungfu tackle.

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November 30, 2016

The3rdTeam Referee Advent Calendar

When the weather gets colder, the days get dark earlier and gloves as well as floodlights appear on the agenda in your games as a referee, you know that Christmas cannot be far anymore. Time to take out your Advent Calendar. We also have one - a Referee Advent Calendar.

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November 24, 2016

Holding and Offside Offence at the same time - Discussion of a situation from Champions League (Voting)

++ You will have noticed that the article's headline has changed. While we deemed this situation as a clear violation of the Laws of the Game, we have noticed that apparently this seems to be more up to interpretation than we thought. ++

++ We base(d) the solution "penalty kick" on a solution the IFAB submitted to the DFB at the end of July 2016, i.e. after the revision of the laws, for exactly this kind of scenario. As UEFA's and FIFA's guidelines for comparable situations seem to be in conflict with that, we have contacted the IFAB and hope for clarification from their side. ++

++ It all depends on one aspect: When does the offside offence start? ++

++ When we have evidence for either decision - penalty kick or offside - we inform you as soon as possible. ++

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November 21, 2016

Europa League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments - Matchday 5

The following officials will be in charge of 2016-17 UEFA Europa League Group Stage Matchday 5 games. 

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Champions League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Matchday 5 (Wednesday)

UEFA has chosen the following officials to take charge of next Tuesday's Champions League matches. Among others, Antonio Mateu Lahoz of Spain has been appointed to control the decisive Group B tie between Benfica and Napoli.

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November 20, 2016

Champions League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Matchday 5 (Tuesday)

UEFA has chosen the following eight referee teams to take charge of next Tuesday's Champions League ties in Groups E - H. 

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November 18, 2016

Guess The Referee - Predict and Win the Referees for Matchday 5

Your chance to guess the referees who will take charge of the fifth matchday of UEFA Champions League - and to win a small prize sponsored by our partners Refsworld UK.

Please stay patient until Saturday to find the updated lists and rankings (for matchday 4 check the last post).

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UEFA Youth League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Matchday 5

UEFA has appointed the following match officials to referee next week's Youth League Matchday 5. 

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UEFA Youth League 2016/17 - Referee Appointments for Domestic Champions Path Second Round (II)

UEFA has appointed the following match officials to referee the second legs of Youth League Domestic champions path's second  round.

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November 15, 2016

FIFA Club World Cup 2016 Japan - Referees (updated)

FIFA has officially announced the selected officials for 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, to be played in Japan. Five officiating trios have been selected from each confederation, the crew from OFC has only one assistant referee assigned. A Mexican trio replaced Ricardo Montero from Costa Rica, originally appointed for the tournament. However, this time the most important innovation will be represented by VAR's officials. 

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November 12, 2016

UEFA U21 EURO 2017 Qualifiers Appointments - Play Off (II)

These are the officials appointed by UEFA for the play-off matches of U-21 EURO 2017 qualifiers. Second legs to be played on 15 November 2016. 
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