Referee Articles

The word is the most powerful weapon in soccer and the most frequently used means to insult. The insult is an inherent part of soccer, to the extent that players use it against referees when they are sent off or disagree with referees’ decisions. But to what point can a referee tolerate this behavior and for what kind of insults can a referee send off a player? Are there cases where referees decide to ignore this verbal aggression and abuse?  These and other questions are clarified below.

By Jose Borda, Revista Arbitros

Can you handle insults?

Different reality
Law 12 reads that "a player using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures" must be sent-off.  However, we know that this is not always the case, and that in reality during the game it is different and that it is the individual referee’s interpretation which will determine the punishment in each case. If a referee applies the rules "by the book" in the majority of games he would end up alone on the field and the match would not be completed.  This is why a study was conducted to find out how much referees can take in dealing with insults.

The Investigation

Three Austrian researchers presented a sample of more than one hundred insults to a group of thirteen referees to see what the limit was for each one. They listened to each insult once and decided if the insult deserved a red card, a yellow card, or a verbal warning. They could even also decide to    "let that one go” in order to keep the peace and be able to finish the match. The purpose of the study was to discover to what degree they were able to withstand the abuse or if they could tolerate nothing and would send off players for simple or minor insults.

Severity of the insult

One of the objectives of the study was to assess the severity of each insult presented  to this group of referees  by determining which of them are often overlooked, which ones are a certain  ticket to the locker room, and which ones  referees respond to by controlling their emotions and not placing much importance on them,  thereby allowing the game to flow and be completed while  in most situations retaining their personal integrity.

Final results

The result of the investigation showed that in 55.7% of the cases the referees chose to show a red card to the player when the comments involved sexual content, which is more likely to lead to expulsion. In contrast, insults related to the physical appearance of the referee, his intelligence, or those "which do not contain actual verbal aggression” are more likely to be disregarded or forgiven by the referee.


This is not the result of mathematically scientific research, but at least now referees have some real indications. What about you? How you deal with insults?