La figura dell’arbitro nello sport: tra calcio e pallacanestro

🇮🇹 Per la versione italiana clicca qui.

After talking about the Championship, today Il Cambio wants to focus on the role of the referee in sport. Although the role of the referee exists in all contexts and in all disciplines, the controversy surrounding the referee in football and basketball is becoming increasingly vibrant and heated.

The referee is indispensable, even if with the advent of technology his tasks have been scaled down and revolutionised. In every sport, be it team, contact or individual, there are strict and ironclad rules to be respected and applied. Quite simply, if one thought of removing the rules, all sporting events would lose all logic. Therefore, all the organising bodies of these events have always decided to throw some of their representatives into the fray, so that they can experience the events for themselves and judge any irregularities.

The figure of the referee was born out of this need: to make the contest itself clearer, smoother and more fluid. However, the referee is not always looked on favourably by athletes and managers, who increasingly see themselves damaged and not protected by these special ‘guarantors of sports law’.


As already mentioned, controversies are becoming more and more heated in every competitive activity: in football and basketball, however, the discussions involve millions of fans. For this reason, they have a greater media hype.

VAR in football has not helped to extinguish controversy

In football, for example, it was thought that with the advent of technology (VAR) controversies could be extinguished, or at least calmed down. However, the cutting-edge tool has only provided further arguments to fuel the already huge controversy. The fans do not accept any margin for error and harshly criticise the non-transparent conduct of the referees, who increasingly show themselves to be lacking in self-criticism. The possibility of reviewing the incriminating images is highlighting what has always been a complaint against these figures: the lack of willingness to question themselves. More and more often we see presumptuous and unconstructive attitudes that do not allow a dialogue between the parties involved, neither inside nor outside the playing field.

Finally, the mechanism for confrontation between referee and VAR is rather cumbersome, allowing ‘blame’ to be placed first on one and then on the other member of the team, which only adds to the tension on the pitch. Ultimately, then, the referee very often decides to confirm the initial interpretation a priori, even though he is not sure that he has taken the most correct decision.

The world of basketball: NBA in turmoil

Even basketball is not exempt from these kinds of discussions. Two of the most striking cases in recent years have been that of the GM of the Houston Rockets (Daryl Morey) and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks (Mark Cuban). Both have lashed out at refereeing figures for wrongs suffered.

Mr Morey attacked the league during the 2018 playoff series. On that occasion, the Rockets came close to eliminating their bitter rivals (the Golden State Warriors), a goal they missed because of the referees, or so the American executive wanted to underline. The club sent a document to the NBA in which it indicated 81 wrong whistles during the games, obtaining a decisive denial regarding the truthfulness of the statements.

Mark Cuban, on the other hand, has revolted against the entire refereeing class, following a direction of a match which, according to him, was not very balanced. The owner of the US franchise could not stop himself from expressing his displeasure through heavy and burning tweets. “Just when you think the NBA officiating can’t get any worse, guess again. This is absurd”. And further: “Refs have bad games. Crews have bad games. But this isn’t a single game issue. This is the same shit that has been going on for 20 years. Hire former refs who think they know how to hire, train and manage. Realize 2 years later they can’t. Repeat”.


Undoubtedly the words of the president of the Texan company are strong and strike even the most uninterested spectator. However, they are only the expression of general discontent, which seems to be more and more transversal. Referees are not well accepted, their decisions are not well digested and, finally, their silences are difficult to read.

As in football, so too in basketball, sportsmen and women have increasingly become ‘cover men’. The athlete has also become an example for the young fan, who looks at the famous person with increasingly attentive and interested eyes. The first step towards bringing together two worlds that are so far apart (that of players and that of referees) would be to realise how much each competition is followed and watched, all over the world.

Precisely for these reasons, education should never be lacking. The respect that we can increasingly observe between sportsmen and women from different clubs should also be extended to the referees. Instead, there are many cases where rudeness has prevailed, and personal spite has been directed against referees.

Ultimately, referees should also get closer to the world of the players, understanding the dynamics of actions and understanding the dynamics of behaviour and attitudes. This does not mean submitting to the incivility that sometimes occurs, but it means approaching and empathising with the sportsman. This can be done in many ways, but the most effective seems to remain verbal language. At the end of the match, the referee should explain himself, should clarify his ideas and decisions, so that even those who belong to the ‘other’ world can explain the criteria for certain evaluations.

In conclusion: it is inevitable that confrontation is present and that it is sometimes overwhelming. The important thing is to place these discussions within the bounds of civilisation, approaching and trying to understand the reasons of those who oppose our way of interpreting certain circumstances.

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