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Liability of Referees: An Analysis of Tort Liability for Wrong Referee Decisions

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posted on 2021-11-11, 20:19 authored by Koch, Stefanie

In an increasing professional sports world, the referees in key tournaments and games have huge responsibility. Their decisions can impact not only on the game but on all the commercial interests involved in that game. This raises the issue of the liability of referees according to tort law. The main problems of liability of referees are the circumstances they work in. They have often only a split-second to make important decisions in the course of a game. The responsibility of a referee is so high that they can determine if a team wins or loses. These decisions can impact on the outcome of a game and consequently affect the financial situation of the clubs, sponsors and sportspeople. If a team is eliminated from a tournament they lose a huge amount of money. There are two legal aspects to consider. One is intention, where a referee might get involved in deliberate match-fixing, and another is negligence. Are match officials liable for their malpractice? Often a referee is not liable for lost chances because there is no causality that the team lost the game only because of a wrong referee decisions. For want of evidence the referee is in most cases not liable. However, is this right? The main thesis of this paper is that there is a liability of referees who act with intention. Referees who influence results negligently should be covered by immunity. However, sports governing body as guardians of the rules of the game should have some liability. They have a usual duty to ensure that a referee is able to manage the game and have it under control. Sports governing bodies may have vicarious liability for referee decisions as they use referees to fulfil their obligations of organising and running tournaments. The business approach of modern professional sport has added to the duties of sports governing bodies. Hence sports governing bodies have an added responsibility to ensure that all resources to support the referee and the rules - such as technical or assistant support - are utilized. These special duties need to be followed and can make sports governing bodies liable.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Law

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Law


Stewart, Gordon