THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Soccer referees forced to make quick decisions on questionable foul calls are more likely to rule against the taller player, according to a new study.
Niels van Quaquebeke and Steffen Giessner, researchers at Erasmus University's Rotterdam School of Management, reached the conclusion after studying 123,844 fouls from seven Champions League and German Bundesliga seasons, along with the last three World Cups.
"We found that on average the player who committed the foul is taller than the one who was the victim," Giessner said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
To support their initial finding, they carried out experiments by showing a group of soccer fans drawings of two players involved in a tackle -- one taller than the other. The fans said taller players were more likely to have committed a foul than shorter players.
The reason, Van Quaquebeke and Giessner say, can be traced back to human nature.
"Humans throughout evolution needed to be more afraid of bigger animals because bigger animals usually have more potential to harm us," Van Quaquebeke said.
Height is not the only factor influencing referees' decisions, though. Earlier research has suggested that even the color of a player's shirt could have an effect.
"We are human beings, we are not objective information processors," Van Quaquebeke said. "We are very subjective, especially if we don't have all the information available. We've got to make the best guess."
While the findings could bolster the case for using video replay to help soccer officials, Van Quaquebeke and Giessner say they agree with FIFA president Sepp Blatter that such reviews would slow down the game and take away its human element.
Instead, they suggest better training to help referees overcome such subjective decisions.
In the meantime, the researchers are hopeful about Germany's chances at the World Cup in South Africa this year -- and they see an advantage for their team because of the diminutive stature of one of their key players.
"We are happy to have Philipp Lahm," Van Quaquebeke said of the 5-foot-7 defender.
Van Quaquebeke and Giessner's findings will be published in February's edition of the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.