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The Twelfth Man? Refereeing Bias in English and German Soccer

  • Babatunde Buraimo

    (University of Central Lancashire)

  • David Forrest

    (University of Salford)

  • Robert Simmons


    (Lancaster University)

This paper investigates potential bias in awards of player disciplinary sanctions, in the form of cautions (yellow cards) and dismissals (red cards) by referees in the English Premier League and the Bundesliga. Previous studies of behaviour of soccer referees have not adequately incorporated within-game information. Descriptive statistics from our samples clearly show that home teams receive fewer yellow and red cards than away teams. But biases may be wrongly identified where the modeller has failed to include within-game events such as goals scored and recent cards issued. What appears as referee favouritism may actually be excessive and illegal aggressive behaviour by players in teams that are behind in score. We deal with these issues using a minute-by-minute bivariate probit analysis of yellow and red cards issued in games over six seasons in the two leagues. The significance of a variable to denote score difference at the time of sanction suggests that excessive effort, induced by a losing position, is an important influence on award of yellow and red cards. Controlling for a number of pre-game and within-game variables, we find evidence of home team favouritism in Germany as home teams with running tracks in their stadia attract more yellow and red cards than teams playing in stadia with separation of fans from pitch. This is indicative of referee response to social pressure. Separating the competing teams in matches by favourite and underdog status, as perceived by the betting market, yields further evidence, this time for both leagues, that the source of home teams receiving fewer cards is not just that they are disproportionately often the favoured team. Rather, there appears to be pure referee bias in relative treatments of home and away teams.

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Paper provided by International Association of Sports Economists & North American Association of Sports Economists in its series Working Papers with number 0707.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:spe:wpaper:0707
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  1. Caliendo, Marco & Radic, Dubravko, 2006. "Ten Do It Better, Do They? An Empirical Analysis of an Old Football Myth," IZA Discussion Papers 2158, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Rickman, Neil & Witt, Robert, 2005. "Favouritism and Financial Incentives: A Natural Experiment," CEPR Discussion Papers 4968, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Dohmen, Thomas, 2005. "Social Pressure Influences Decisions of Individuals: Evidence from the Behavior of Football Referees," IZA Discussion Papers 1595, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Luis Garicano & Ignacio Palacios & Canice Prendergast, 2001. "Favoritism Under Social Pressure," NBER Working Papers 8376, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Matthias Sutter & Martin G. Kocher, . "Favoritism of agents – The case of referees’ home bias," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2002-28, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  6. Benno Torgler, 2004. "The Economics of the FIFA Football Worldcup," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(2), pages 287-300, 05.
  7. Robert Witt, 2005. "Do Players React To Sanction Changes? Evidence From The English Premier League," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 52(4), pages 623-640, 09.
  8. Garicano, Luis & Palacios-Huerta, Ignacio, 2005. "Sabotage in Tournaments: Making the Beautiful Game a Bit Less Beautiful," CEPR Discussion Papers 5231, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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