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What is the difference between referee, umpire and judge? How about the use of other similar words?

In sports like tennis, basketball, football and soccer, when do we use which?

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5 Answers 5

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The Wikipedia entry on referee has:

Officials in various sports are known by a variety of titles, including referee, umpire, judge, arbitrator, linesman, commissaire, timekeeper or touch judge.

So it's really up to the terminology used by the professional / organizational bodies in each sport.

As to your second question, there is a long list, again on the Wikipedia site. For example (my emphasis):

Baseball: In baseball and softball, the umpire is the person(s) charged with officiating the game. Multiple umpires—usually two, three or four, but sometimes six for championship games—are typically assigned to a game.

Cricket: In cricket, the match referee is an off-field official who makes judgements concerning the reputable conduct of the game and hands out penalties for breaches of the ICC Cricket Code of Conduct. On-field decisions relevant to the play and outcome of the game itself are handled by two on-field umpires, although an off-field third umpire may help with certain decisions.

American Football: An American football (or Canadian football) referee is responsible for the general supervision of the game and has the final authority on all rulings. He is assisted by up to six other officials on the field. These officials are commonly referred to as "referees" but each has a title based on position and responsibilities during the game: referee, head linesman, line judge, umpire, back judge, side judge, and field judge.

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In sports, a "referee" and an "umpire" are essentially the same thing - which term is used depends on the sport. Usually, team sports have referees, and others have umpires.

By contrast, judges in sports are the people who assign scores, and may or may not decide other scoring-related issues. For example, the referee in boxing will decide if there has been a TKO, but scores will otherwise be decided by the judges.

In legal usage, an "umpire" usually means an arbitrator who has a casting vote on a split panel of arbitrators, but who is appointed by the panel when they cannot decide unanimously (or perhaps by majority).

A referee is otherwise one who takes a reference, as under a reference procedure for dispute resolution.

A judge usually means a judicial officer appointed by the state to hear court cases. It tends to be used generically for all such appointments, and may also be a rank or designation in its own right (as in, His Honour Judge Nic Madge).

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This is a good point. It seems that referees and umpires are expected to make objective judgments to the best of their ability (was the ball caught? was the player out of bounds?) while judges are asked to make subjective decisions (how graceful was that triple axel?). – Nate Eldredge Jun 13 '14 at 7:02

Let me give a very precise answer. "Referee" and "umpire" are two terms referring to a single kind of person: a person who decides certain issues (for example, whether or not a player is out, whether or not a particular ball was out of boundary line and so on) in a sport. It depends on the sport, what the person is called - "referee" or "umpire".

"Judge" has a wider scope. A judge normally sits in a court room and hears and decide cases. It could well be that a "referee" or "umpire" of a sport is referred to as "judge". But, that does not mean that the scope of term "judge" gets restricted; the term still takes a wider meaning and covers the person who sits in a court room to hears and decide cases. The term "referee" or"umpire", however, could not refer to such a person.

To be more precise, the terms "referee" and "umpire" are sport-specific terms, while the term "judge" is a generic term.

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I am under the impression the term umpire is used when there are two or more officials working in collaboration (to agree on the decision like in hockey or volleyball) whereas a referee has the overall decision and is usually working on his own with others advising him (such as in rugby or football).

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The difference between an umpire and referee, as I understand it, is great, but can be explained easily.

An umpire simply reads the game, and makes a decision based on the fact. An umpire should only ever make an objective call. Examples include: cricket, tennis.

A referee however can have an effect on the game; their call can influence the game. A referee, should only ever make objective calls, but the nature of their role allows them to make subjective calls which can play a major part in the game. Examples include: football (soccer), rugby.

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