Is there a profession under more scrutiny each week than a referee?
Every decision, picked apart by millions across the globe. Who would want that kind of pressure?
And no matter what a referee decides to do in the thick of the action – at least half of the people watching the match unfold will automatically think they are wrong.
For a job this difficult, surely the only candidates who would be interested would have to be desperate.
Unless the pay is astronomically good?
Well, that isn’t the case.
Let’s clear up a few things.
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Top-Grade Referees – And How To Make It?
You would be forgiven for thinking that some referees in soccer didn’t have to pass many exams in order to be picking up their whistle, given some of the shocking decisions that are made.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reporting on referee salaries is a little sketchy, but if we take an average figure of the wide range that is purported to be a top grade, FIFA referee’s pay – then these elite officials are paid per match, rather than on a salary. And for an international match, say at a World Cup, they can be paid up to $10k for a single match.
For other soccer referees who are hired by FIFA but not graded as the highest grade, they will only earn pay for domestic fixtures – only the highest grade can officiate in international games. To get to that level, they can rise through the ranks by the number of fixtures they referee in, recommendations and passing written and fitness exams.
So the holy grail is to make it to that level, then a referee can earn some decent dollars.
But the problem is the disparity between domestic league pay.
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Refs All Over The World
Probably the most high profile league in the world is the Premier League. More fans tune into the Premier League than any other competition. So you would think the required standard for the officials would be higher than anywhere else?
It is well known that Premier League referees are a grade below what you would expect – and it shows in some of the crazy decisions that are reached every week. There are actually eleven different levels of referee in England – but none of the top grade officials are currently selected for FIFA World Cup matches.
The salary for a Premier League referee can reach a maximum of £200k per year. That is quite a tidy sum, but in comparison to the players they are ruling over – it is a drop in the ocean!
Let’s compare it to the rest of the European top leagues.
And when we do, we see that despite the stature of the Premier League – the pay for officials is dwarfed when it comes to the others.
The top official pay can be found in Spain. La Liga referees can earn up to 6000 Euros per match, compared to a lowly 1,170 in England. The Bundesliga in Germany fee per match is 3600, in Italy’s Serie A is 3400, France pays 2700 and Portugal pay 1180. The retainer fee (the salary mentioned above) is higher in England, but the rest of Europe are paying a lot more for their officials per game.
What about the MLS?
It seems the salary is on an even keel with the Premier League, with a top salary being around $200k.
Is it in line with such a qualified position?
Let’s consider the ramifications for a poor decision. In England in the Premier League, it is said that relegation from the top flight can cost a club in the region of £100m. And when relegation has often been decided on goal difference – that means an erroneous decision could well be the ruination of an entire club. So it pays to have the very best officials on board.
And such is the state of top-flight officiating in the Premier League, it has been mooted to hire the best referees around the world to boost standards. This hasn’t happened yet, but the more money that flows through every single match, the pressure will mount to increase the standard of officiating.
High-profile referee Mark Clattenburg recently left the Premier League to take up a lucrative offer in Saudi Arabia to officiate matches. He now earns between $300-600k per year.
And for other major sports, it appears as if the officials are very well valued…
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Refs by Any Other Name
NBA officials? They can earn up to $250-500k per year. And for play-off games? They can pocket up to $5k. Quite the earning. For WNBL, the salary for female referees reaches up to $180k.
In the NFL, there is a drop, which is quite surprising. In 2019, the average salary for a gridiron official was around $201k. There are around 100 registered top referees in this sport, with 7 officials needed to officiate in every game.
Then comes the Superbowl. And a referee is rumoured to grab between $30-50k for this football spectacular.
In the MLB, an umpire starts out at $150k, but can reach – with years of experience – up to $450k on salary.
How about a more dangerous sport? In the NHL, referees earn between $150-350k, which is quite the wage.
But when we take into account that referees have to travel the length and breadth of the land to perform their role, stay up to date with a raft of soccer rules and endure abuse from the stands nearly every time they blow their whistle? And there isn’t a sponsorship deal or endorsement in sight like their soccer-playing counterparts?
Then the pay seems a little light at times for soccer referees.
There was one referee who raised the standards for every single man in black and white however. A referee that commanded respect wherever he went. He became so well known that his face was the cover of a well known soccer video game. He officiated World Cup finals and is now consulting with FIFA to ensure standards are met and Video Assistant Refereeing is used in the right way.
His name is Pierluigi Collina – and he is one of a kind.
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Meet the Best Referee There Ever Has Been
Collina made his name as a no-nonsense referee in his native Italy. His responses to the usual histrionics from soccer players fell on deaf ears with Collina – and his approach to decision-making was done by the book.
The kicker with Collina? He rarely made mistakes. That is down to his excellent sense of positioning so he could see all that unfolds.
But as Collina began to referee international matches, his acclaim, his stock, rose. And after refereeing the World Cup final in 2002, Collina and his famous bald head were made into a celebrity.
And Collina chose not to use this platform as a money making exercise. He chose it to elevate the world of officiating and what it involves. And now, Collina is the chief consultant on refereeing in soccer.
Is It Worth It?
The whole world is watching. An incident occurs in the penalty area of a high-profile match, where you are the referee. Did you see it properly? Do you call for a match-changing penalty? Do you let the game play on and possibly change the outcome of the match for the worse?
Did you let justice prevail?
We have known of extreme hatred toward match officials after some questionable decisions. And there can be no bigger stage than a soccer game. And week in and week out, these referees dust off their whistles and attempt to do the game of soccer justice – sometimes for nominal pay, sometimes for a decent living.
It is a thankless task though.
Could you face the baying crowds and ensure the game follows as it should?
It takes broad shoulders and an even louder whistle.