Officials – definition and meaning

Officials are people who have official duties. Somebody who holds public office is an official. We commonly use the term ‘officials’ when talking about representatives of a government department or organization.

An official may also be somebody who is responsible for regulating or controlling an activity. This person ensures that all participants act fairly and comply with certain rules and regulations.

An official has the authority to penalize participants who do not behave fairly. For example, a regulatory official may penalize a pharmaceutical company that misrepresents the benefits of a new medication.

In another example, an official will fine a company that breaks environmental laws.

An official may be a person who holds a title of authority or an office.

Unelected and elected officials

When we vote for somebody for a position of authority, we call that person an elected official.

In most countries, a civil servant is an ‘unelected official.’

During the EU-in-out referendum campaign in the UK in 2016, Brexit supporters used the term ‘unelected officials.’ They used the term in a derogatory sense. They accused Brussels bureaucrats of making important decisions about Britain’s future.

Officials - image with explanation and examples
There are many types of officials. You can find them in government, companies, regulatory agencies, and sports.

Officials in sports

In sports, an official enforces the rules. They have different names, depending on the sport. For example, in soccer (British: football), there is one referee and two linesmen. Boxing, martial arts, hockey, netball, and rugby also have referees.

The official in tennis, cricket, American football, or baseball is the umpire. The game ‘Australian rules’ also has umpires.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) refers to chair umpires and line umpires as ‘court officials.’

People who enforce the rules in the Olympic Games are technical officials.

According to Merriam-Webster, an official is:

“1. One who holds or is invested with an office. ‘A company official responded to our request.’
2. One who administers the rules of a game or sport especially as a referee or umpire.”

In sports, government departments, organizations, and companies, officials must be impartial. In other words, they cannot allow prejudices to influence their judgment and decisions.

Officers versus officials

The word ‘official’ is related to ‘officer,’ and vice-versa. However, their meanings are not identical.

An officer is somebody who holds a position of authority in a hierarchical organization. For example, the armed forces, police, and government organizations are hierarchical organizations.

Officials are office holders who have been invested with power and authority.

Put simply; an officer is a rank while an official is a job with authority and power. However, the two meanings overlap to a certain extent.