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Top football refs use special powers to spot fouls

Football referee (wikimediacommons)

Super-developed visual abilities may help experienced football referees make the right call on fouls, research shows.

Scientists used eye-tracking technology to study how Belgian referees zoned in on match situations.

Top level referees were better than lower league ones at watching players' contact to accurately predict where a foul will happen, they found.

"Our research dismisses the myth that referees have poor eyesight as many fans routinely suggest,” said Professor Mark Williams.

The differences between elite and less-experienced referees, is to do with how they process visual information in relation to the rules, said Professor Williams, Brunel University London's Head of Life Sciences at the time of the study.

“Top referees do not have great vision per se, but rather have developed through experience more refined and effective perceptual-cognitive skills and a more extensive network of knowledge structures in memory. These perceptual-cognitive skills and associated knowledge bases are amenable to training and development."

Researchers used video clips of players asked to mirror different foul scenarios filmed from 10m (33ft) away, about the distance real-life referees are from the action. They asked the referees if they thought a foul deserved a disciplinary, such as a yellow or red card. Elite referees were 61% accurate, said the study in the journal, Cognitive Research. Lower level referees were right just 45% of the time.

The elite referees spent longer focusing on the contact zone between attacker and defender than non-elite refs. So researchers reckon instead of being born with enhanced visual ability, top level refs develop it through experience.

● Read more about the study in the guardian