Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Threats and Aggression Directed at Soccer Referees: An Empirical Phenomenological Psychological Study

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Threats and Aggression Directed at Soccer Referees: An Empirical Phenomenological Psychological Study

Article excerpt

A descriptive qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews involving seven provincial Soccer Association referees was carried out in order to find out how referees experience threats and aggression directed to soccer referees. The Empirical Phenomenological Psychological method (EPP-method) was used. The analysis resulted in thirty categories which were summarized in six themes. The main themes described the perceived causes of threat, reactions to threat, how the referees' manage stressful situations, and their motives to referee. Key Words: Aggression, Threats, EPP-method, Referees and Soccer


Sporting performances are associated with a number of different dimensions including suffering, hysteria, excitement, drama, traditional ideals, cheating, and aggression (Messner, 1992; Strohlman, 1997). It has been suggested that sports provide an opportunity for the expression of feelings and emotions (i.e., aggression) (Coakley, 1994), which on the one hand may lead to improved mastering of stressful and emotionally charged situations while on the other hand may lead to violent and aggressive behavior.

The concept of sport aggression is multifaceted (Lindroth, 1986). For instance, it is important to distinguish between physical and verbal aggression. Physical aggression occurs for example when a soccer player intentionally seeks to hurt or injure someone else (i.e., a deliberately injurious act). Another form of aggression occurs when athletes/sportsmen apply verbal methods (e.g., "threats and swearing" in soccer or "sledging" in cricket) in attempts to disturb each other and thereby gain some advantage. The physical act of trying to disturb/damage another person's integrity through application of physical force has been termed aggression by Gill (1979). According to Gill, confrontational tackling of a player in opposition (as in for example, soccer) on the field is an aggressive action, but striking the same person on the chin with a clenched fist constitutes a vindictive act of aggression. Furthermore, Gill implies that an act may be considered vindictive when a satisfactory apology is missing or when the act is performed with deliberation. According to Isberg (1986) it is acts of aggression that are included in the conceptualizations that pertain to aggression in sports and around which difficulties arise in drawing the borderline between what constitutes an aggressive action and an act of aggression. Isberg implies further that the word, aggression, incorporates a dimension of values that may be interpreted in several ways. A legitimate tackle for ball possession in soccer may be construed as aggressive but not necessarily aggression for which the additional requirement of an illegitimate physical act must be fulfilled; this distinction may facilitate the underlying implications of "aggressive" and "aggression."

Investigations of spectator acts of aggression and observations of fans demonstrate a relationship between fan-aggression and the activities of the players on the field. Berkowitz (1972) and Smith (1983) suggest that when the players' performance on the field/ice rink is experienced as violent, the sports audience and supporters tend to act violently both during and after the match.

There are a multitude of investigations dealing with sports fans' aggression and aggression in general, in sports, but there is a lack of studies focusing on the situation of sports judges/referees/umpires exposed to aggression. In one study the attitudes of referees, coaches/trainers, senior, and junior players as well as boys' team players towards aggression in ice hockey were examined (Isberg, 1981). Here, the investigation consisted of 148 participants. Subjects were asked to watch a video that contained film sequences from the Ice Hockey World Championships of 1981. The participants were instructed to estimate the aggression of the incidents that occurred during each sequence on a five-graded scale. …

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