FA data shows decrease in incidents of players surrounding referee in English football

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The Football Association (FA) has released new data which shows a decrease in incidents of players surrounding the referee this season but a significant increase in bookings for dissent.

The data, taken from all matches this season in the Premier League, EFL, National League (Steps 1-4), Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship up to December 3, also shows a sharp increase in bookings for dissent compared to the same period of 2022-23.

There has been a 37 per cent decrease (19 to 12) in charges for surrounding of a match official and a 43 per cent drop (61 to 35) in charges for mass confrontations.

The number of player bookings for dissent, however, has risen 88 per cent (966 to 1,813). In just the Premier League, this has increased by 233 per cent (24 to 80).

The FA says the results come after a new campaign was introduced at the start of this season which “focusses on addressing unacceptable conduct on the pitch”. The new approach has enabled match referees “to take stronger action, alongside a consistent application of the existing measures, when participant behaviour falls below expected standards”.

The results also come at a time when refereeing in football is under significant scrutiny. There have been several controversial officiating and VAR incidents in the Premier League this season — including Luis Diaz’s non-goal against Tottenham Hotspur and Anthony Gordon’s winner against Arsenal. But amid those controversies, there have been calls for greater protection for referees, which have only increased after an official was punched by a club president after a Turkish Super Lig game on Monday.

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“We were empowered and supported by the game to be more robust with our actions to address declining behaviour,” said Howard Webb, chief refereeing officer at Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the organisation in charge of officiating in England.

“A culture change won’t happen overnight and it is early days, but we are moving in the right direction and our officials are successfully delivering on our part of the collective football effort to reset behaviours, protect the reputation and promote the positive image of the game for the next generations.

“It has been encouraging to see improvements in some behaviours already and the aim is that cautions for dissent decrease significantly to a much lower level in time as this culture change takes effect.

“That is the real indication of the progress, and with the power of example being so strong, we all have a continued duty to hold firm for the benefit of the game’s future.”

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