Referees Hate It When You Talk About Their Genitals

Soccer referees are supposed to penalize players who curse at them. But they don't always — and a new study shows they're more likely to crack down on certain swear words than others.

According to the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (via the Times), the Austrian study authors first had to gauge the offensiveness of a variety of swear words. Here's how they did that, in case you'd like to try it at home:

A self-developed questionnaire by the authors, consisting of 100 swear words, had to be rated on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 (not at all insulting) to 7 (highly insulting). The questionnaire can be obtained from the corresponding author via email. Furthermore, participants had to rate the insulting content of each swear word. Does the swear word concern the person's power of judgment (e.g., blind person), intelligence (e.g., fool), appearance (e.g., fatso), sexual orientation (e.g., bugger), or genitals (e.g., crap)? Finally the swear words were rated as to whether they are used for men, women, or both.

I considered contacting the authors for the full list of swear words, but since it's in German, it probably wouldn't mean much to me. I am sort of curious about whether German speakers consider "crap" to be genital-related, but I digress. Once they'd ranked the swears, the authors picked 28 of their very favorites and gave them to a group of male and female referees, who then had to explain how they'd respond to each — with a red card (expulsion of the offending player), yellow card (warning), verbal admonition, or nothing at all.

According to official rules, refs are supposed to issue a red card in all instances of verbal abuse by a player, but in fact only 11 of the 230 referees surveyed would have followed this rule. Instead, most made judgments based on the severity of the swearing. Eighty percent of the refs said they would issue a red card for insults relating to the "genital area," while just under 74% said they'd red-card someone who used a slur based on sexual orientation. Least likely to get you thrown out were insults based on appearance (34%), so go ahead and call your Austrian referee hässlich, I guess.

In closing, the study authors offer an interesting avenue for further research:

The player's gender may well influence the referee's reaction. Coulomb-Cabagno and colleagues (2005) showed that male referees tended to penalize female players behaving aggressively (such as irregular tackling) more often than male ones. This is in line with the data reported by Souchon and colleagues (2004). For future studies, it would be interesting to view video sequences of situations involving verbal abuse expressed by male and female players, and male and female referees' responses to these.

Especially in light of recent sexual harassment of female referees, it would be interesting to see how gender affects responses to verbal abuse — as well as the presence of this abuse in the first place. Are players more or less polite to female refs? For now, we don't have answers to these questions — all we know is you probably shouldn't call the ref an Arschgeige, regardless of gender.

Thinking Cap: When Foul Language Brings Fouls [NYT]