Behind the Spectacle of Sporting Events:
Sports Referees and Bureaucratic Power in American College and Youth Sports
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Dept. of Anthropology, Davidson College
(paper given at the 2007 AAA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC)
Sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cup soccer as spectacles have been widely studied to show how they serve as a social forum for the negotiation and performance of a wide variety of processes such as identity, nationalism, and modernity. There has been less research, however, on the hidden actors and bureaucratic organizations that structure such spectacles. Sport referees in particular maintain an ideology of invisibility that hides their importance to the conduct of sporting events and the wider management of sports by bureaucracies, unless there is a problem; hence the referees’ maxim “the best called game is when the referees are not noticed.” Following the approach used by Don Handelman, where the spectacle is seen as the manifestation of bureaucratic logic, formation, and control, this paper seeks to highlight the pivotal roles played by people behind the scenes. Based on participant-observation of referees and sports bureaucracies in the United States (with limited comparative data from China), this paper will ethnographically demonstrate how sport organizations create hidden social networks that definitively shape the performance of spectacles and the power dynamics surrounding the organization and conduct of sporting events. By focusing on the “third team on the field,” this paper will depict how the performance of sporting events as spectacles are shaped by the sport bureaucracy through: 1) the management, adjudication, and enforcement of game and administrative rules; 2) the social networks built through the training and education of referees shape; 3) the bureaucratic hierarchy and the assignment of particular referees to sporting events.