Hey, ref! How do you read it?

Clint Dempsey , of the U.S. team, remonstrates with referee Koman Coulibaly over his call at the World Cup.
Clint Dempsey , of the U.S. team, remonstrates with referee Koman Coulibaly over his call at the World Cup.

Scoring World Cup bias.

Posted: July 12, 2010

Jubilation was quickly followed by misery when Americans witnessed referee Koman Coulibaly wiping off the U.S. team's winning goal at last month's World Cup game against Slovenia.

In a sport that does not allow instant replay, bad calls seem common. Now University of Pennsylvania scientists may have a partial explanation for what they call "ambiguous foul judgments."

Neurology researcher Alexander Kranjec said: "Readers of left-to-right written languages have preferences for left-to-right direction, and have a negative [unconscious] bias for events moving from right to left. This has the opposite effect in languages that are written from right to left."

Using 12 members of Penn's women's and men's varsity soccer teams, Kranjec showed still images of soccer plays in left-to-right directional motion, and later flipped the images to illustrate right-to-left movement. The participants called about three more fouls when images of soccer plays were viewed from right to left (66.5 fouls) compared with those images viewed from left to right (63.3).

If the biases have similar effects on referees in real matches, the referees' position may influence calls, Kranjec and a colleague wrote.

This could affect referees from countries who read from right to left such as Hebrew and Arabic speakers.

FIFA, the World Cup's ruling body, is considering adding instant replay and two more refs.

And Kranjec emphasizes that his results yielded a fairly small effect.

Though the World Cup ended Sunday, the scientist says that he will continue his study by using actual footage from the 2010 World Cup games and observing those fouls called by referees with a right-to-left perspective.

As to referee Coulibaly, he comes from French-speaking Mali. Perhaps he was just watching from the wrong direction.

- Vabren L. Watts

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|