Opinion: Sorry Kiwi sports fans, there's no bias from referees against your teams

OPINION: I was shocked when my brother, rugby referee Ben O'Keeffe, told me about the severity of the messages of abuse he receives on social media after every game. 

I saw one recently that read "go and die you f**king bent c**t."

Abuse towards officials (and players for that matter) is a huge problem. 

Ben O'Keeffe shows a yellow card.
Ben O'Keeffe shows a yellow card. Photo credit: Photosport

Just a week ago, an amateur Australian football referee had his jaw broken by an angry player.

It's why the FA - England's governing body for football - is trialling body cameras for their amateur refs. 

Abuse towards officials is a massive problem worldwide, and people with high profiles and large followings on social media - like One NZ chief executive Jason Paris - accusing them of cheating and "unconscious bias" doesn't help. 

These referees are professional athletes. This is their livelihood, their job. To suggest they would consciously cheat or subconsciously be biased is farcical. 

You really believe their patriotism extends so far they would risk losing their job and affect their ability to put food on the table for their family? Give me a break.

Does the same unconscious bias happen in Super Rugby, when Australian referees officiate games involving Kiwi teams against Aussie teams? 

Does the same unconscious bias exist when an Auckland-born ref oversees the Blues v Crusaders? 

A yellow card is shown against Wellington Phoenix.
A yellow card is shown against Wellington Phoenix. Photo credit: Getty Images

And does the same unconscious bias extend to players? Do Kiwi born-and-raised players who play against the Warriors go easy on them subconsciously?  

When covering NZ Breakers as a reporter, they also felt they always found themselves on the wrong side of the officiating ledger. They even presented some compelling numbers to prove just how lopsided the foul counts were. 

But for me, it's a case of perception. 

All the other teams have something in common. They're all from Australia. 

So whenever bad calls go against the Warriors, Breakers - and Wellington Phoenix, to some extent - the biggest and easiest reason stares everyone in the face. 

It must be because we're the only Kiwi side in an Aussie competition, right?

In the age of professional refereeing, sports have broken this unconscious bias perception. In cricket, Kiwi umpires can feature in Blackcaps games. 

In rugby, Aussies have refereed the Wallabies. Kiwis refereed the All Blacks. Kiwi refs can officiate NZ teams against Australian teams too. 

These are professional athletes and, just like players, they react to the game the same way players do. 

While rules exist, refereeing remains subjective, because officials can only rule on what they see and how they interpret the law. 

It means two refs could possibly rule something differently on the exact same play. Do refs get things wrong? Definitely. 

But are they consciously or subconsciously getting it wrong against certain teams? Absolutely not. 

To suggest there's an "unconscious bias" is ridiculous. It's probably a reflection of your own bias more than anything. 

Michael O'Keeffe is an AM presenter and former Newshub Sport reporter