PROVO, UT (CBS Las Vegas) – According to a new study, elite soccer referees favor players from their home country.
Researchers from Brigham Young University found that players from a referee’s home country get called for few fouls and are fouled more often.
The researchers analyzed data from 12 consecutive seasons of the European Champions League.
“These referees who are what they call ‘elite status’ – the most experienced referees – counter-intuitively show this bias even more than their less experienced referee counterparts,” Bryson Pope, one of the authors in the study, told KSL-TV. “What that means is the more experienced the referee is, the more he tends to show an own-nationality bias.”
Pope went on to note that the European Champions League has a rule against referees officiating soccer games involving their own countries, however, the teams include a mix of players from all countries.
Typically, a referee’s bias in foul differential has been around 10 percent, but Pope and his brother Nolan, an economics graduate student at the University of Chicago, found it to be closer to 24 percent.
“This bias actually increases the further you get along in the tournament,” Pope told the station. “The higher the stakes and the closer you get to the championship game, this bias is exhibited even more.”
Even taking into factors such as language and culture, Pope said there is “still a significant nationality bias.”
Pope suggested that it would be possible to avoid a referee officiating a game with a player from their own country during the semi-finals and finals of a tournament.
Pope does not see this being an issue in the World Cup since referees are not allowed to officiate their home country’s games.
“Hopefully by raising awareness to the issue, referees will be under more scrutiny and will just do a better job of not being biased,” Pope stated to KSL.
Pope will present the finding at the Western Economic Association meetings in Denver this month.