A Look at the Relationship between Referees and Governing Bodies

I recently drafted an article for a journal in relation to the taxation of referees in the UK and Germany and the differences in the legal positions of both countries. Whilst carrying out research for the case, I studied a recent legal decision concerning particular referees in England and whether they could be said to have an employment relationship with the organisation that appoints them to matches, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited. The case was very interesting from not only a legal perspective but also in terms of providing detailed insight as to how referees are appointed, managed and continually assessed. It caused me to dig a bit deeper to see if I could find any other cases and information.

The in-play decisions of referees has been a hot topic of late not only in Scotland but throughout the UK. I thought it would be helpful to provide a summary of some of the discussions in the cases I reviewed which, in my opinion, provide great insight into the relationship between referees and governing bodies. This article will focus on England and Scotland.


In England, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) oversees the management and administration of refereeing for matches in the most significant national football competitions, including the Premier League, the FA Cup and EFL competitions. It was founded in 2001 and its members are the Football Association (FA), the Premier League and the Football League (EFL).

The FA remains the governing body of all referees in England and classifies them by reference to various levels, ranging from International to Level 1 to 9. It is estimated that there are over 30,000 referees in total in England, with the vast majority of those operating at lower levels of the game. 

The FA's responsibilities include ensuring that match officials uphold standards and apply the Laws of the Game. Referees may not officiate in any affiliated match or competition unless they are registered with the FA.

Upon registration, a referee agrees to become bound by FA Rules and Regulations, including the FA's Regulations for the Registration and Control of Referees (Referee Regulations). The Referee Regulations provide provisions for the registration, recruitment, training, examination, classification, promotion and conduct of referees as well as annual reviews of the list of officials.

Performance and continual assessment

As well as providing referees for major competitions, PGMOL also provides training and development courses for referees to ensure continuity of training and quality across the various levels. A performance-based payment scheme is also offered to incentivise good performance and correct application of the Laws of the Game. 

Turning to the performance of referees, PGMOL appoints observers (assessors) who attend each match and report on the performance of referees, The assessors provide verbal feedback to the match officials shortly after the match, then review a DVD of the match and complete a detailed post-match report on the officials' performance. The assessment procedure results in each referee being awarded a competency score after each game, based on a number of criteria including his/her application of the Laws of the Game and his "Key Match Decisions", the latter of which are also reviewed by independent panels as well as clubs. At certain levels of refereeing, a merit table is compiled. In order for a referee to gain promotion to the next level, he/she must attend a selection day and their overall performance will be assessed together with their on-field performance. 

In terms of coaching, PGMOL provides coaches for referees and in their first couple of years on-the-job, the level of coaching is likely to be more intensive and on a one-to-one basis. Coaches can provide advice on areas for improvement and targets will be discussed and reassessed over time. It was discussed, during one case, that most referees also call their coach after a game to discuss what went well and what might have gone better. An end-of-season review for the referee is also usually conducted.

Conflicts of Interest and Integrity Issues

Match Officials are required, under PGMOL rules and FA Regulations, to declare any material conflicts of interest before accepting an appointment. The rules also require match officials to declare whether they actively support a given team as well as declaring any direct and/or indirect interests affecting the immediate family. Once any conflicts of interest have been declared, it will thereafter be for PGMOL to decide whether a match official can go ahead with an appointment or not, and their decision will be final and binding. Such procedures are designed to protect officials from perceived or real threats to their integrity and address any concerns with regards to their independence. 

Referees are also prohibited from betting either directly or indirectly on any football match or competition, and are also instructed not to tolerate any form of manipulation or unlawful influencing of match results. Hospitality and/or gifts in excess of £50 in value must be recorded on a gift register and anything in excess of £100 requires prior approval before acceptance.


PGMOL can carry out its own disciplinary processes in line with its Code of Conduct and previous examples have included a team of officials suspended for breach of match day procedures and resignation from the list of officials, by referees. In the event of any serious allegations of wrongdoing, PGMOL will usually liaise with the FA to discuss who would be better placed to investigate and deal with it. Breaches of the FA Rules and Regulations include failure to apply the Laws of the Game which may lead to disciplinary action.

You can read the case where the above summary has been taken from, in full here: Link to Case


In Scotland, referees operate at all levels from grassroots football to Scottish Premiership competitions and international matches. The SFA continuously recruits and develops referees to meet the demands of the Scottish game.

In order to become an SFA registered referee, individuals require to undergo an 8-10 week introductory course that is delivered on behalf of the SFA by the 12 referee associations across Scotland. The course is a mixture of classroom theory work, followed by an exam and then practical exercises officiating matches. Thereafter, once the entire course has been completed, individuals are able to join their local referees' association and become a Scottish FA registered referee. As per their English counterparts, support is provided to new referees and a mentor allocated to provide guidance in the early stages of their refereeing careers. 

The SFA has a Referee Committee who determines the classification of referees from Categories 1 to 4. All other categories are determined by the manager of the individual Referees' Associations, who are appointed by the SFA to oversee operations and create development plans. Category one referees can officiate in the SPFL Premiership and all other competitions in Scotland. Category one referees, who have been nominated by the SFA to FIFA for inclusion in the International List of Referees, can also officiate in UEFA and FIFA competitions.

The List of Referees can be found within the SFA Handbook. Under Article 89 of the Handbook, all persons intending to participate as referees in Association Football played under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA require to be registered as a referee with the Scottish FA and in membership of one of the Referees' Associations.

In terms of payment, the SFA provides a tariff that must be followed and clubs may not pay more than the authorised amounts for the services of a match official nor provide more than two complimentary tickets to each of the appointed match officials at any match.

Performance and continual assessment

Similarly to those referees in England, there are a number of observers who assess referees from Level 3 upwards in conjunction with the national development plan. The level of assessment increases as referees progress through the levels. There are also observers who assess the performance of assistant referees, but this occurs predominantly in SPFL competitions. It is estimated that observers cover around 1,200 matches per season. 

In advance of each football season, referees receive a 'Classification as Referee' document that places certain obligations on them. Those obligations include: to comply with the SFA Rules and Regulations; maintain a satisfactory level of performance; satisfy SFA fitness tests and comply with the Laws of the Game.

Conflict of Interest and Integrity

In terms of integrity, referees are obliged to act at all times with honesty and integrity in relation to the performance of duties (bribery/corruption) and a referee must not for the Season hold a season ticket for any club in membership of the SFA. The 'Classification as Referee' document did not confirm whether there are any further restrictions placed on referees that are similar to England whereby they may not officiate in a game in which the team they actively support is playing and/or to disclose any direct or indirect interests of their family members. This is not to say that those rules do not exist. The 'Classification as Referee' document can be found in the link below. 


Under Article 14 of the Referee Committee Board Protocol, the Committee has the power to conduct an investigation into any matter related to the application of the Laws of the Game in a match involving a registered referee and to take such action as deemed appropriate in the context of a performance review. Disciplinary action can also be taken by the SFA independent Judicial Panel under Art. 24 of the Judicial Panel Protocol, which allows for disciplinary action where the Laws of the Game have not been complied with. 

Referees are also required to maintain high standards of off-field behaviour and whilst referees are not subject to the SFA disciplinary procedure, they are liable to disciplinary action by the SFA's independent Judicial Panel, to which they may be referred by the Judicial Panel. The Judicial Panel has the power to fine, suspend, expel and censure a referee.

You can read the case where the above summary has been taken from, in full here: LINK TO CASE

Liability of a referee under the Laws of the Game

The Laws of the Game are controlled by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which is comprised of FIFA, the FA, the SFA, the IFA and the FAW. Law 5 deals directly with the referee's role and is clear in stating that the referee has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game and that decisions made by the referee are final. 

Law 5(7) goes on to state that a referee or match official is not held liable for any kind of loss suffered by any individual, club, company, association or other body, which is due or which may be due to any decision taken under the terms of the Laws of the Game or in respect of the normal procedures required to hold, play and control a match. Such decisions can include the following:-
  • that the condition of the field of play or its surrounds or that the weather conditions are such as to allow or not to allow a match to take place
  • to abandon a match for whatever reason
  • as to the suitability of the field equipment and ball used during a match
  • to stop or not to stop a match due to spectator interference or any problem in spectator areas
  • to stop or not to stop play to allow an injured player to be removed from the field of play for treatment
  • to require an injured player to be removed from the field of play for treatment
  • to allow or not to allow a player to wear certain clothing or equipment
  • where the referee has the authority, to allow or not to allow any persons (including team or stadium officials, security officers, photographers or other media representatives) to be present in the vicinity of the field of play
  • any other decision taken in accordance with the Laws of the Game or in conformity with their duties under the terms of FIFA, confederation, national football association or competition rules or regulations under which the match is played.

The above cases shed further light on the continual assessment and management of referees who officiate football matches in the UK, and the extent to which a governing body may go to protect the integrity of the beautiful game. 

Whilst a referee cannot be held liable for a loss incurred by a decision made, he or she can be subject to disciplinary action by the appropriate governing body or committee if it is considered that there has been a breach of the relevant rules and/or the Laws of the Game. In practice, a referees performance is monitored continually and the quality of games he/she officiates may be affected if performance is not considered to be adequate. Depending on the severity and frequency of performance blunders, he/she may also be subject to monetary fines and/or suspension.

Of course, it is easy to point the finger at referees when decisions are incorrect but it must be remembered that a referee often sees potential offences from different angles than fans, is expected to make a decision about that offence almost instantaneously and must do so in a highly-pressurised environment.

IMPORTANT: This post is not intended to be a legal briefing, it is not intended to be a statement of the law and no action should be taken in reliance on it without specific legal advice.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...