Premier League ‘crackdown’ on player behaviour: Referees need specialist leadership support or the initiative will fail

In this post Dr Tom Webb highlights some of his most recent published research. The research considers the organization and leadership of elite Association Football referees in the domestic, European and international game. Specifically, the cross-cultural working practices, training, preparation and performance of these elite referees are explored through an interview based methodology with elite and ex-elite match officials as well as individuals involved in leadership and training worldwide to explore the leadership of a geographically dispersed workforce.

Results highlighted some positive aspects of training and leadership, but indicated that effective leadership, evolution and innovation are required in order to keep pace with globalized, technological and in-game based developments in Association Football, such as the recently announced ‘crackdown’ on player behavior in the Premier League for example.

The success of initiatives such as this are determined, not by the referees that enforce the guidelines that they have been given on the pitch, but by those that lead the referees and the Premier League itself. If strong and inspirational leadership is not evident the chances of success reduce, as does the support for the referees when they enforce the guidance that they have been given. In short, without effective leadership and support structures, referees will struggle to operate effectively, both individually and as part of a team, given the disparate nature of the working group and the self-regulation of training that is essential for any elite match official.

The findings can be utilised by leaders in order to understand further the challenges faced in the organisation of elite sports people and assist in the construction of appropriate strategies towards a more standardized approach to leadership within refereeing, Association Football and professional sport more widely.


To read this article click here and to contact the author email: or to link up on Twitter @DrTomWebb or Linkedin. You will also find more about the author here on his University profile and his other research on Researchgate.

To cite the research use:

Webb, T., Wagstaff, C, R, D., Rayner, M. & Thelwell, R. (2016). Leading elite association football referees: Challenges in the cross-cultural organization of a geographically dispersed group. Managing Sport and Leisure. DOI: 10.1080/23750472.2016.1209978.



Links to other relevant research:


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