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Criticizing Referees and Judges

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  1. SAN says:

    Officials and common law style judges are not completely comparable. Sports officials would be the equivalent of the police and a superior court judge in terms of their roles.

    Restrictions on criticism of officials is partly practical – excessive criticism is one of the main reasons for referees to leave in their first few years. The fewer entry level officials you have, the lower the quality of the top officials (just a numbers game – the less people you start with, the less likely you are to attract the next Brian Hall – US FIFA ref, had multiple games in the 2002 WC, very, very good).

    As to criticism, my understanding is that if you criticize a judge vocally in his own court, you’ll be spending the night in jail. For officials, it is normal (each sport has a “line” beyond which people get tossed). But the “on the job” criticism is much heavier in sports officiating than in judging to my knowledge. You can always decide not to read a critical article, you can’t decide not to hear a parent or coach screaming at you.

    Having said that, judges get less support from the “league” than sports officials do. Most leagues recognize that officials are a necessary evil, so tend to back them up (although sometimes, they fail miserably – again causing resignations, lost officials and terrible morale by those who understand the rules/laws). While judges as a whole get pounded on by politicians as a class.

    As to hiring/firing, each sport is different. For all of them, it is a multiyear process to reach the top. 7 or 8 years even if you are on the fast track and start young. Most professional leagues have continual assessments (many do each game), and will fire if they drop below a certain level. Sometimes, one single failure (a moment of truth) is enough to wash you out – the concern is that if you wimped out on in a moment of truth (ejecting someone, penalty kick, etc…) you lack the necessary courage for the job.

    As to your comments for on the field vs off the field, each sport has a certain culture. In most of them, an attitude exists of what goes on the field, stays on the field (if it doesn’t become obnoxious enough to draw a penalty during the game). Also, what are coaches to that sport? In mine, they are barely mentioned in the laws – so they get less slack than players on the field (as the game is about the player, not either the coaches or the refs). In others (football), they are much more important, so seem to be able to scream at the referee much more than players can. Given that most fans can’t lip read that well, what a coach or a player says to an official is between them. It isn’t unusual for a player to forget what they said in the heat of the moment, so the long term impact isn’t generally huge if they are dealt with on the field (anything from chewing them out to throwing them out depending on what was said)

    Criticism after the game tends to be much more public (broadcast by the media) and corrosive (cheats, etc…) of trust in the official. The officials can no longer just shrug it off and for it – the comments are now in print. So leagues tend to come down on them somewhat hard.

    Interest articles.

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