To the casual sports viewer rugby can look like a pretty odd game in a number of respects, with a large number of practices and customs that belong to the old amateur era, rather than the modern professional sport which it is today.
One relic from the amateur past is the use of referees (and officials in their wider sense) to adjudicate on games where there is a common nationality between the referee and one of the teams. An example would be Nigel Owens (Wales) refereeing a game between the Ospreys (a Welsh team) and an Irish province such as Munster.
When rugby was played for fun this sort of arrangement made sense given there was little financial benefit for any of the parties for one team to beat the other; the game was a battle for prestige and honour, rather than prize money and lucrative contracts in France.
Professionalism and the large amounts of money in the game have changed the dynamic and players, coaches and supporters alike make large financial and non-financials commitments to the game. In return they want impartiality from the officials and a “true game”.
The Guinness Pro 12 isn’t the only tournament that has officials adjudicating teams from their “home” nations but in recent weeks the Twittersphere has been alive with talk of how certain teams benefit from “home referees”. The comments have ranged from accusations of outright bias to those that point out an official will always be sub-consciously influenced to some degree by officiating a “home” team.
This blog looks at how prevalent the issue of “home” referees is and how teams have performed under a “home” referee.
What is a “home” referee
Our analysis has looked at Pro12 games over the last 4 full seasons and this season to 6th October (ie to the end of game week 5).
Where a referee is affiliated to the same union as one of the competing teams, the team which is from the same nation as the referee will be noted as having a “home” referee. Using the example mentioned above, if Nigel Owens is refereeing a Ospreys, Munster game, then the Ospreys will be recorded as having a game with an official from the same nation. Munster will not have a “home” referee.
In games where there are two teams and the referee from the same nation then both teams will be marked down as having a “home” referee. This is common around the fixtures over the festive period.
How many games have had a “home” official?
Over the period of analysis the table below shows the total number of occasions where a team has been deemed to have a referee from the same nation as themselves.
The 2016/17 season is still in its infancy but the obvious season that stands out as an anomaly is the 2014/15 season with roughly half the number of “home” games as the long term trend.
This season did see a few new names appear on the officiating roster and take on a number of games, such as the Italians Matteo Liperini and Claudio Blessano. It may be that the officiating list was more extensive or perhaps there was a conscious effort to reduce the number of games refereed by “home” officials.
Which teams had the most games with a “home” referee?
The table below shows which teams had the most games with a referee from the same nation as themselves.
What jumps out when we look at this data? The obvious pattern is that the teams are in bands depending on their home nation. The Irish teams make up the top spots (with Munster being an exception), the Welsh teams fill the middle of the table with the Scottish and Italians bring up the rear.
The second noticeable aspect is that there is a big gap between the Irish and Welsh teams and the Italians and Scottish representatives. If you are of the view that a “home” referee has some sense of inbuilt bias (whether this is for or against their “home” nation team) then this table makes sobering reading.
There are probably legitimate questions to ask regarding why there is such a disparity between the figures. Some of this comes down to the number of teams from each nation, the number/quality/experience of officials from that nation who are part of the officiating pool but how are officials allocated by the Pro 12 organisers?
If we look at the spread of how “home” games are allocated then we see a fairly inconsistent picture.
We know the 2014/15 season had fewer “home” games than the long term trend but The Newport Gwent Dragons had 6 “home” games in that season which is pretty much the same as the other seasons we analysed. Munster in contrast, only had one “home” game in the 2014/15 season and 10 in 2015/16. In that season Glasgow Warriors didn’t have a single game refereed by a Scotsman. Does this have any impact on the results?
What does the win/lose figures look like for “home” games?
To try and determine if a referee from the same nation as one of the competing teams has an impact on the outcome it is useful to look at the win/lose ratio of these games with a “home” referee.
In the following table we have ranked the teams by the percentage of “home” referee games won.
Glasgow come out on top in this table with a 100% win record over the last 5 seasons, where a Scottish referee has taken the game. The previous table shows Glasgow haven’t been officiated by a Scottish referee in the last 3 seasons and that the 5 games refereed to were back in the 2012/13 (3 games) and 2013/14 (2 games) seasons.
In the 2012/13 seasons the Glasgow games were a derby at Christmas against Edinburgh (Neil Paterson) , an away win at Zebre (Andrew McMenemy) and a home win against the Ospreys (Peter Allan). The 2013/14 season saw an away win at Connacht (Neil Paterson) and the Christmas game in Edinburgh (Neil Paterson).
The Ospreys also come quite high up the table with an impressive 75% win rate when a Welsh referee has taken charge. This may be partially explained because the Ospreys have been the strongest Welsh team over the period and Welsh referees tend to be appointed for Welsh derbies.
To get a better picture of how these win/lose percentages look we have compared them to the figures for games which don’t have a referee from the same nation. This will tell us if there are teams that have noticeably higher win rates (or lose rates) when they have a home referee.
The reasons for these figures are probably numerous but they will be shown in a forthcoming blog.
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