Peter Simmons

Competent, dependable and respectful: Football refereeing as a model for communicating fairness

Attitude to the fairness of decisions is often influenced by attitude to the decision maker. Football referees communicate hundreds of decisions in each game and perceptions of fairness are difficult to achieve. This study examines the qualities of football referees that influence perception of fairness, and the way those qualities are communicated. It reports that players esteem competence, dependability and respectfulness as the model qualities of a 'fair' referee. Players use an array of communicative heuristics to discern the fairness of referees. The accordance of these findings with previous justice studies suggests the model can be used to train professionals in other contexts where decisions and judgements are communicated.

Keywords: fairness, justice, communication, heuristics, football, refereeing


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Note on the contributor

Dr Peter Simmons is Associate Head of School at Charles Sturt University School of Communication and Creative Industries in Australia. He has worked in the media and health industries, and lectured in organisational communication for more than 10 years. In 2008 he was the first Australian to receive FIFA's Joćo Havelange Research Scholarship. His research in recent years has focused on integrating studies of communication and fairness, in particular, the way different communication styles influence perceptions of fairness and unfairness. Email: