World Cup Referees

Written in 2013 by Natasha Catrakilis, Morganne Gagne, and Lauren Oliveri

 Edited in 2015 by Harrison Kalt, Shiv Gidumal, Margaret Rote, Frannie Sensenbrenner, and Spencer Davidson


An abominable tyrant who runs his dictatorship without opposition, a pompous executioner who exercises his absolute power with an operatic flourish.

-Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow: The Referee [1]


Like it or not, football referees hold ultimate power during the game. They determine what players can and cannot do on the pitch, and their judgment is final. It’s easy to understand why soccer fans constantly complain about these “tyrants”: referee decisions possess the ability to change game outcomes.



The Head Dictator and His Assistants


However these “pompous executioners” are human beings, and errors are bound to happen. There’s no way a human can see everything that occurs on the 7140 square meters of pitch. Though as you watch the World Cup, it’s good too keep in mind that the stakes are high. Match fixing, bribery, and corruption is a reality that FIFA has come to deal with. In fact, errors and suspicious calls are so prevalent that we’ve dedicated a page to upsetting referee calls from previous years’ World Cups called World Cup Referee Blunders.

If you’re interested in learning more about which referees were chosen for the World Cup, check out our page World Cup 2014 Referees. There were even some referee veterans who returned from the 2010 World Cup!

In addition to striving for errorless matches, referees are forced to put up with rough fans, players, coaches, and managers. Referees work tirelessly to keep their mind and bodies agile, achieving fitness levels that rival the professional athletes that they must keep up with. Despite it all: they love their job. To learn more about the behind-the-scenes trial and tribulations of the referee, check out our page: FIFA Referees and the World Cup Selection Process.



FIFA Referee Patch


Men and women referees must pass the same fitness tests to qualify for games in tournaments, yet gender inequalities for professional referees still exist. To learn more about women’s progress in the referring world, check out our page: Women and Refereeing.

We hope that this page can educate avid soccer fans about how hard referees work, while keeping in mind how much weight their calls have. As you watch more games, we hope these pages will instill more sympathy for referees. Maybe you’ll even pause and think before screaming at the television.


[1] Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Basic, 2013. Print.


Return back to the World Cup Guide

How to cite this page: “World Cup Referees,” Written by Natasha Catrakilis, Morganne Gagne, and Lauren Oliveri (2013). World Cup 2014, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)). 

3 thoughts on “World Cup Referees

  1. James Peek

    I’d like to add an edit on Nicola Rizzoli & Howard Webb, the world cup final referees 2014 and 2010.

  2. Nick Kachulis

    I am editing the page on the world cup selection process


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