Monday 18 May 2015

Rational Ref: Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

 Australia's NRL referees will no longer wear pink jerseys. Photo: Getty Images

The term "Men in Black" is more likely to conjure up images of Will Smith blasting aliens into outer space rather than referees carding players off the soccer pitch. That's because the game's leading law enforcers are mostly kitted out in lemon yellow, lipstick red, sherbet blue and even fuchsia pink.

Over in the rugby world, Australia's NRL referees have ditched their colourful shirts claiming their "Pretty In Pink" tops undermine their authority. Even though rugby referees command far better respect from players, there could be some truth to their feelings of insecurity based on the colour of their shirts.

Rugby referees will now wear dark blue or black uniforms that, according to Tom Heenan from the National Centre for Australian Studies, are more likely to encourage discipline.

"One of the arguments is a stronger colour denotes a more disciplined culture, so therefore a navy blue would promote more discipline than a pink," Heenan said.

But psychologist Chris Pomfret of Condor Performance said there was no evidence the colour of a referee's uniform made any difference to how he was perceived. "I'm not aware of any evidence the colour pink would make any difference to how an official is perceived by the people they are officiating over, the crowd, coaches or any other observers," said Pomfret.

He said by agreeing to scrap the pink jersey this suggested the NRL was too concerned with what players, coaches and supporters thought of referees.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) tries to place the ball past Crystal Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Keepers who wear bright shirts increase their chances of putting off opponents. Photo: EPA  
"The colour of a uniform is irrelevant to the skill execution of referees, just the same as the colour of a jersey worn by players is irrelevant to their skill execution," he said. "In short, the colour of a uniform shouldn't matter as it doesn't directly impact on the performance of a referee, which ultimately has the most influence on their perceived credibility."

Scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Rugby referees are on to something and soccer referees can benefit from this kind of knowledge, too.

The science of colour psychology reveals that goalkeepers who wear bright flamboyant shirts may be better off than those wearing boring duller tops.

By heightening their opponents' perception levels, goalkeepers make themselves appear bigger than they really are. Goalkeepers wearing outlandish kits thus increase their chances of putting off their opponents who have only a split second to squeeze the ball past them and into the goal.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge (left) controls the ball as Blackburn's Adam Henley looks on. Photo: AP 
There is another a study that showed teams taking penalty kicks performed worst when the winning team's goalkeeper wore red, which appears to be a powerful colour for players.

In England, records since the second world war reveal teams wearing red have averaged higher league positions and have won more league championships than teams wearing other colours.
Also in cities with more than one team, the teams wearing red outperformed their rivals wearing other colours. Manchester United and Liverpool spring immediately to mind. In Hong Kong, South China are the most successful local club side ever.

New York Cosmos' forward Raul Gonzalez (centre) vies with South China Football Club's Chak Ting-fung and Bojan Malisic during the Lunar New Year Cup. Photo: EPA 
In 1996, Alex Ferguson famously changed his team's grey away kit at half-time following a humiliating 3-0 onslaught by Southampton. Wearing blue in the second half, they lost 3-1. Of five games ever played in their grey kit, United lost four and drew one.

Would the public (and criminals) take police and prison guards seriously if their uniforms were bright pink or fluorescent green? Of course not.

Referees should be known again as the Men in Black. Instead of referees having to change their shirt colours due to kit clashes with teams, organisers should insist all teams including their keepers do not wear black kits. Ultimately, whatever colour they wear, referees in the modern era still need all the help they can get to become more commanding and effective on the pitch.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 March, 2015

UPDATE: Men dressed in red perceived as being more aggressive, study finds

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