Perceptions of NZ Sports Officials Andrew Hercus, Jan Charbonneau, Ron Garland, Warren Smith
Introduction • Without independent and unbiased officials and officiating, any sport would fall into disarray. While the crucial role played by sports officials is widely acknowledged, there has been little research other than anecdotal about how sports officials are perceived by the general public.
Survey • A mail survey was sent to a random sample of 1800 New Zealanders to determine their overall opinion of sports officials, their performance on the field, the influence they have over the outcome of the game, and whether they should be held accountable for their decisions. Respondents were also asked the sources they used to obtain their sports information and the level of abuse faced by sports officials.
Response Rate • A total of 692 valid questionnaires were processed for an effective response rate of 40%. Not surprisingly, respondents indicated Rugby, Netball, Cricket and Soccer as the top four favourite sports.
Characteristics of Effective Officiating • Based on previous studies into officiating effectiveness, a suite of general characteristics required for effective officiating was obtained. Respondent were asked to rank the importance of each of the following characteristics for officials in their favourite sport: • makes impartial decisions • makes clear rulings • makes accurate decisions • understands the rules of the game • applies the rules consistently • maintains control of the game & players
Implications • Clearly, respondents were concerned with officials’ understanding and consistent application of the rules of the game with 88% and 81% respectively • Results for the remaining four characteristics were comparable, with 69 – 72% of respondents judging them to be extremely important.
Evaluation of Officiating Performance • Respondents were asked to assess the effectiveness of the main official (referee, umpire or judge) in a recent game of their favourite sport using the same suite of characteristics. Results were analysed for the sample as a whole as well as the Top 4 Favourite Sports with comments made when substantive differences were noted.
Influence of Sports Officials • Anecdotally, there is growing concern that officials may have a disproportionate influence over the outcome of the game and are not held accountable or called upon to explain their decisions in a public forum. • Respondents were asked their opinion as to the amount of influence officials exert over the outcome of the game. They were also asked whether officials should be accountable for their decisions and, if so, to whom.
Implications • The majority of respondents believed the amount of influence officials have over the outcome the game was ‘just right’ however almost one-third believed the influence was ‘too much’. Direct involvement in sport at some level served to amplify the sense that officials may be exerting more influence than acceptable.
Accountability of Sports Officials • Respondents were asked whether they believed professional or amateur officials should be required to explain or justify their decisions and if so, to whom. Respondents were given guidance as to what constitutes professional sports officials e.g. Super 14 referees and amateur sports officials e.g. local club referees.
Implications • These results indicate that amateur officials are not held to the same standard of accountability as professional officials. However, respondents believe both amateur and professional officials should primarily be accountable for those directly involved in the sport (players and coaches).
Officials and the Media • Respondents were asked whether professional, international and amateur sports officials should be available for questioning by the media after games. Respondents were given guidance as to what constitutes international sports officials e.g. Olympic judges.
Implications • The expectations of the general public that amateur officials will justify their decisions to the media are substantially lower than those for paid professional and internationally ranked officials. • Not surprisingly, respondents with officiating experience disagreed or strongly disagreed with officials being available for questioning
Sources of Sports Information • Many things can influence opinions about the performance of sports officials besides an individual’s personal experience with the sport. Respondents were asked the amount of notice they paid to a range of sources of sports information (commentary or discussion) and how trustworthy they believed the sources to be.
Implications • These results suggest that respondents take more notice of sources closest to the action at the time of play – players, coaches and match commentators. As such, match commentators in particular have potential to influence perceptions of officiating performance for the viewing public.
Trustworthiness of Selected Sources • Respondents were asked their opinions as to the trustworthiness of a range of sources of sports information. Trustworthiness was defined as knowledgeable, accurate, and impartial. Coaches and players were rated as the most trustworthy with 61% and 60% respectively rating them as quite or very trustworthy • Not surprisingly, TV sports shows and online social networks were judged the least trustworthy (Figures 47 and 46).