The Law Is (Generally) Genderless

Kai, a U13 – U19 Referee, asks:

I’ve got a general question about girls and hand ball offenses when players cross their arms to cover their chests. Is there a rule of thumb? I’ve had more experienced referees give me directly conflicting guidance on whether they’d whistle it or not. (Speaking specifically here about a U14 game, but general question applies.) Thanks.

Answer

We try to avoid directly distinguishing between genders when it comes to the Laws of the Game.  There is no “rule of thumb” – the rule applies to all five fingers and the arm up to the shoulder joint (insert smiling emoji here).  Both by general interpretation and, since the 2016-2017 Laws of the Game, by more explicit guidance, a handling offense should not be called if the contact was:

  • not deliberate
  • not a “hand-to-ball” situation
  • not and could not be expected due to the speed of and/or short distance from the launching of the ball
  • entirely defensive (i.e., an involuntary response to perceived danger to any part of the body that could be painfully harmed by contact with the ball)

and the player does not, after contact judged to be not illegal by these guidelines, subsequently clearly attempt to direct the ball.

Note that the 4th bullet point expressly makes no mention of differences between genders.  It is the Referee’s responsibility (particularly given the emphasis on safety underlying the Laws of the Game) to determine if protecting any specific body part is reasonable.  We, ourselves and personally, have at least a half dozen important body parts that we would unhesitatingly seek to protect.  Your mileage may differ.

By the way, we are sure most Referees have heard the expression “feel the foul” — they should also try to “feel the pain.”

Injuries

Dave, a HS and College referee, asks:

In a high school soccer match, a defensive player is hit in the face with the ball 30 yards from their goal. The ball pops over her head towards the goal. An attacker gains possession. Before the injured player sits down, her teammates rush over to her which gives an attacker a 1 v 1 with the goalie. The attacker scores a goal. This happens in the span of 5-10 seconds. Should the referee have stopped play for an injury before the goal was scored? (The play had continued a safe distance from the injured player.)

Do you typically wait a few seconds before stopping play for an injury when the ball is not near the injured player? The AR said the goal should be disallowed because the players were inexperienced and ran over to the injured teammate instead of defending their goal.

Answer

With as much emphasis that has been expressed in recent years regarding the importance of dealing quickly with potential concussion injuries, we are surprised that any referee would allow play to continue even seconds following a player being struck in the face with the ball.  It doesn’t matter when in the game it occurs, it doesn’t matter where on the field it occurs, it doesn’t matter what is going on in the game when it occurs. it doesn’t matter if the injured player “sits down” – play must be stopped immediately and medical assistance for the player called onto the field without delay.  No matter what happens after the decision is made to stop play, play has officially stopped – remember, play stops when the referee makes the decision to stop, not when the signal to stop is given.

Of course the goal should have been disallowed and any player who scored the goal should weigh her happiness at gaining a goal against the possibility that it might easily have been her face that had been struck by the ball.  There is no difference whatsoever regarding this issue among the three major sets of rules governing the game because (a) every soccer organization is equally concerned about the issue of concussions and (b) it is a simple common sense emphasis on safety.

We don’t care who might get upset (if anyone actually does, shame on them!), if the referee announces that, Oh by the way, the goal does not count because I stopped play before the ball went into the net … and then glare fiercely at anyone who might want to dispute the decision.  It has nothing to do with the experience level of the players – common decency alone would draw the attention of both attackers and defenders alike to the injured player.   And there is no weight whatsoever to the idea that “play had continued a safe distance from the injured player,” in fact what constitutes a “safe distance” anyway?  Far enough away that you could ignore the condition of the injured player?  Let’s get real here.

Freedom, Honor, Safety, and Jewelry

Fred, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

A recreational youth player wearing religious headgear that covers her ears is questioned by the referee during the pre-match player equipment inspection,  She states that she is not wearing any ear rings but is unwilling to show her ears or remove the head gear. The referee decides that the player cannot participate because he can not prove she is not wearing Jewelry.

Law 4 states a player must submit for inspection, right ? If so should a referee require a player to lift their shirt to check for belly piercings?  How far should a referee go to discover uniform infractions in the pre-game?

Answer

We don’t wish to seem pretentious or to engage in pontification (OK, too late), but this is an extraordinarily important question because it involves the intersection of personal safety, freedom, and honor.  Let’s start with some basics.

First, Law 4 does not state that “a player must submit for inspection.”  It merely states that the wearing of jewelry (with certain very limited exceptions) is not permitted.  Everything else is procedures and mechanics.  For example, we personally get very irritated with referees who demand that players on a team line up and engage in some ludicrous Irish dance move where they must display the soles of their footwear and then tap on their shins.  This is rather like being “penny wise and pound foolish” because it focuses on two specific things — illegal cleats (which are, for kids, almost vanishingly rare) and shinguards (the existence of which is easily determined by simply looking).  Slapping the shins may demonstrate that the player has rhythm but does little to determine if the player has age-appropriate shinguards — which is far more likely a violation than not having shinguards at all.

Second, why no jewelry?  Because it is a safety issue and that makes it important enough to be diligent in ensuring that Law 4 is followed.  But, again, there are limits.  The most common, easily understandable, and briefest definition of “inspect” is “to look at” — not uncover, probe, dig into, or discover.  We personally experienced, early in our refereeing career, a match at the start of which it was easily confirmable by casual visual inspection that there was no jewelry being worn by anyone on either team.  It rained and, as a result, thin white cotton jerseys became stuck to the skin and somewhat semi-transparent, which in turn made unavoidably obvious the fact that one of the players was wearing an item of navel (not naval) jewelry.  With this new awareness, the referee advised the player that he/she (we’re being ambiguous here) could not continue to play while wearing the jewelry.  Did anyone complain that this could have been avoided if the referee had just required all the players to bare their midriffs before the start of the game?  No.  And, in any event, that would potentially have the effect of implicitly recognizing that there are far more places than the navel for jewelry (thus leading down a path which we refuse to follow).

Your responsibility for safety issues raised by Law 4 has practical limitations that do not cover forcing, without evidence, a player to reveal otherwise lawfully covered places — i.e., it does not include doing searches that ordinarily would require a warrant.

Look at what can be seen.  Require clear and reasonable evidence that something not permitted may be deliberately hidden.  The specific facts here are a bit more complicated by the fact that the player was wearing an item of religious belief.  This is not even remotely similar to seeing a piece of tape over an ear lobe.  The tape is (a) prima facie evidence of a violation and (b) a violation in and of itself.  Seeing it requires you to ask if it is covering anything (which usually elicits a positive response based on the common misconception that merely covering whatever is underneath makes it OK) and, if the answer is negative, then the player is advised that there should be no problem in removing it.  If there is nothing underneath but a hole where a stud had been taken out, then allow the player to put the tape back on because then it is merely, in effect, a bandage covering a wound.

In the case of the religious headgear, there are numerous, sensible options other than declaring that the player cannot play because she cannot remove the headgear and thus prove that she doesn’t have anything illegal underneath it.  Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?  No player can ever, short of entirely disrobing, prove that he/she is not wearing anything illegal.  What’s wrong with taking her word for it?  It seems more likely to us that a player with sufficient character to be wearing something that otherwise draws attention is not likely to lie about jewelry.  Or you could ask the player’s coach to attest to the absence of jewelry and note this in your game report.  Frankly, doing either of these last two things would bring far more honor to the officiating profession.

Advantage Dynamics

Michael, an adult amateur player, asks:

If there is a foul by attacking team A against Team B inside Team B’s own penalty area and the ball falls to another player on Team B who is also in the same penalty area but Team B immediately lose possession and Team A scores, is the Referee correct to say that they played an advantage?  I would estimate that the goal was scored within 5 seconds of the foul occurring – the fouled player was still on the floor. The Referee’s argument is that Team B received an advantage but I would argue that the ball is so far from the other goal that it doesn’t make sense to play advantage here especially as possession was conceded so quickly and in such a dangerous area.

Answer

You are entirely correct.

The guideline on advantage is pretty clear (or at least as clear as the International Board wants to get).  Once the advantage is given (measured from when the referee makes the decision mentally, not from when he or she announces the decision), the team that was fouled – as represented by the player who was fouled and/or any teammates who are able to gain possession of the ball after the foul occurred, have “a few seconds” to gain and/or maintain what USSF has called “continuation of a credible attack on the opposing team’s goal.”  This is NOT defined as a goal, but as a credible attack on the goal.  This is usually, traditionally, and widely measured as 2-3 seconds.  If the attack is maintained for longer than this time, it is assumed that the advantage was properly exercised by the team which was fouled and, thereafter, it is as though the foul had not happened (though any misconduct – e.g., a caution for recklessness – must be taken care of no later than the next stoppage).  If the advantage was not gained and/or maintained for at least that length of time, the referee stops play and returns to the original offense, deals with misconduct (if any), and restarts correctly based on the offense.

However, and in your scenario it is a BIG however, the practical definition of “credible attack” includes as one of the key requirements “distance to the goal” meaning that the farther away the foul is from the goal being attacked by the team that was fouled, the less likely advantage should even be given.  A very rough, unofficial, and unscientific approximation of “distance” is that advantage should rarely (we try to avoid saying “never” but this is very close) be given in the defending third of the field, roughly 50-50 in the middle third, actively looking for the other advantage elements in the attacking third, and always given but never announced within the penalty area (where “credible” is replaced with “an almost certain goal with at most one play following the foul”).

The fact that possession by the team which committed the foul was so quickly regained suggests two things – (1) that “2-3 seconds” is only a rule of thumb normally based on the foul being no farther away from the goal of the team that committed the foul than the middle third of the field and thus there wasn’t even time to  give advantage OR (2) advantage is given to team B who clearly did not have the requisite “several seconds” to maintain a credible attack on Team A’s goal (which was almost a full field length away), so you whistle the original foul.  Either way, restart play with Team B in possession and justice is served.

Player Shenanigans

Abdikidar, an adult amateur Referee, asks 2 questions:

1. A GK passes a goalkick to his teammate within the penalty area more than 3 times so what would be the punishment and a referee call?
2. A player went to the fan area for his opponents and, while inside the field after the halftime break, removed his shorts exposing his underwear while jeering them.  What should the referee do to that player?

Answer

Question 1: I assume that the “3 times” is because each time the referee understood that the goal kick must be retaken because the ball was not properly put into play.  If this unsuccessful restart occurs 3 times, the referee should caution whoever did the third kick (regardless of whoever did it either of the first two times) for “delaying the restart of play.”  The intelligent referee, after the 2nd unsuccessful goal kick, would have warned the third kicker that the 2nd attempt was an unfair delay of the restart and, if it happened again, he “would deal with it” (don’t get any more specific than that).  The really intelligent referee would also evaluate the circumstances of the first unsuccessful attempt and, if the delay under those circumstances appeared to favor the kicking team (e.g., a favorable score for them with little time remaining), give this warning after the 1st unsuccessful kick and caution if it happened again.  Finally, this approach should be used even in situations where the second or third unsuccessful kick wasn’t on the same restart (i.e., this happened on a goal kick at the 88th minute and then happened again less than a minute later).

Question 2 : Caution immediately for unsporting behavior (showing a lack of respect for the game).

Goalkeeper Tactics

Jeff, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

When the goalkeeper is challenging for possession of the ball, are there restrictions on bringing his/her knee up when they are jumping to grab the ball?

Answer

No … and yes.  Perhaps not a very helpful response so let’s explore below the surface.

Can goalkeepers raise their knee during the process of gaining possession of the ball?  We know, that’s not exactly how the question was posed … stay tuned.  Of course, why not?  Add in the phrase “while challenging for the ball” and there is now a significant dimension that has been added; namely, the presence of someone else (an opponent, presumably) who is also attempting to gain possession of the ball.  The big difference, of course, between these two — the goalkeeper and the opponent — is that one can legally handle the ball inside his/her own penalty area but the other one cannot.  Put them both outside the penalty area and they are on exactly the same level, at least legally.

So, let’s assume we are talking about all this happening inside the goalkeeper’s penalty area.  We can tell you that virtually all goalkeeper camps and trainers include the “raising the knee tactic” in their programs.  These camp trainers also provide (by example and implication — wink, wink) two standard explanations that they encourage goalkeepers to use if asked : to protect themselves or to gain height while reaching upwards for a ball.  Actually, the reason is very simple.  It is to help create a space around the goalkeeper into which it is dangerous for the opponent to enter, thus encouraging opponents to stay back to avoid being contacted by the raised knee.    By the way,  we encourage doubters to simply visualize approximately where that knee winds up when raised.  In short, it is done to intimidate.

Would we as referees look askance at field players raising knees to intimidate opponents who might wish to challenge for possession of the ball?  Would we perhaps be inclined to punish a player at midfield trying for a descending high ball who raised a knee to back an opponent off?  If “I’m just protecting myself” is good enough for the goalkeeper, why not for any other player elsewhere on the field?  The answer, unfortunately, is that this has become one of those “urban legend” things that got started long ago and has become ordinary in the minds of many officials who haven’t thought more deeply about why this behavior occurs.  Further, it involves goalkeepers who continue to benefit from their favored status as “special.”  We like goalkeepers — they are brave, interesting, funny, and as egotistical as anyone with a whistle, but sometimes this can be carried to extremes.

Accordingly, what this issue boils down to is not the fact of a knee being raised but why it is being raised.  Seriously, think back over the many games you have officiated and ask yourself how often you have seen a goalkeeper raise his/her knee when there is no opponent around.   Actually, if you do see this, more often than not the goalkeeper is trying to establish it as a routine action so you will be less likely to question it when they do it for the real reason.

So, keep a close eye on such encounters.  Obviously, if the knee is raised to intimidate and contact is made, don’t be so ready to give the goalkeeper a free pass.

Shielding the Ball

Erich, an adult amateur player, asks:

Throughout the game I am writing about, the other team would “shield” us off the ball (which as an experienced player I am fine with and do myself): however, rather than attempt to maintain control of the ball within a playable distance they were initiating contact with our players, often by backing up away from the ball or to their sides specifically to initiate the contact. This was often accomplished with substantial physicality, to the point that several of our players were repeatedly knocked down throughout the game while attempting to go around opposing players or to defend them. It was never called because the referee judged the ball to be within a playable distance (which he arbitrarily defined as 3 feet, which I know is not the rule and is not part of my question).

The question is essentially this: at what point does “shielding” with the ball near enough to be controlled become a foul? Does it matter that the player be actually trying to control the ball? If you are at least nominally controlling the ball, can you just back over a defender rather than trying to go around him/her?

Answer

We know you said this is not part of your question but we feel compelled to point out that, currently, there is an official, lawful, and therefore controlling definition of “playing distance” … and it is not 3 feet.  For the first time ever, the International Board has provided a clear statement on this subject which applies, actually, to a several different scenarios in soccer, of which “shielding” is only one of them: it is the “Distance to the ball which allows a player to touch the ball by extending the foot/leg or jumping or, for goalkeepers, jumping with arms extended. Distance depends on the physical size of the player”.  There you have it.

Now, as for “shielding,” let’s return to the Law (as we always should when starting on the path to enlightenment), and we find the following in Law 12: “A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.”  While we might wish that this would answer everything, it doesn’t.

Your scenario is a dynamic situation that often occurs a yard or so inside the field and is performed usually for the purpose of allowing or preventing the ball from leaving the field depending on which team would gain the restart.  Shielding can be either a defensive or attacking team tactic.  The dynamic can become particularly intense the smaller the field space is available for ball movement and the greater the number of players being shielded.  These factors are important to keep in mind because they help us understand why players do what they do.

Two critical issues are raised by the Law’s language.  First, while a shielding tactic may start with the ball within playing distance, it must continue to be in playing distance for the shielding action to continue to be legal.  If the ball is allowed to move beyond the defined distance or if the shielding action moves sufficiently away from the defined distance, the shielding itself becomes impeding an opponent (assuming no physical contact).  Second, even while still within playing distance, the otherwise legal shielding action can become converted to a foul by either the shielder or the opponent being shielded.  The shielding player could extend an arm to prevent an opponent from getting around the shielder’s body and thus commit the foul of holding if contact is made (the same would be true of extending a leg sideways to achieve the same result).  An opponent, who remains allowed to perform a legal challenge against the shielder, must not allow the challenge to become illegal in any way — for example by using excessive force or by using any force to make contact with the shielder’s back.

Most of this is generally clear, understood, and accepted.  Where we find the greatest debate is when the shielder, instead of standing solidly, attempts to push backward with the shielder’s back against the opponent, thus making contact.  While the intent is clear (to gain more distance to maneuver), the end result is usually an offense.

Simple contact is often made between opposing players due solely to inertia, and the innocence of the contact is shared by both players.  When such contact proceeds to include pushing (forcefully using the body to displace another player), we are into foul territory and guilt falls on the player who initiates, not the contact, but the forceful displacement.  If the shielder moves back to displace the opponent, the shielder must be called for pushing.  Likewise, if the opponent moves forward to displace the shielder, the opponent must be called for pushing.  And if the shielder moves far enough backward in an attempt to make contact (forceful or not) but the opponent evades and this results in the shielder moving beyond “playing distance,” the shielder must be called for impeding.  Pushing, of course, is a direct free kick foul whereas impeding is an indirect free kick foul (in the given scenario involving no contact). And if there is force which is deemed reckless or excessive, there must be a card.

It need hardly be added that deciding what happening in a shielding situation calls for close observation by the Referee and/or the closest AR.

A Cool Drink of Water

Abdikadar, an adult amateur player, asks:

First, would there be a caution for a player to stand by the touchline and request water to drink though the match continues?
Second, in continuation of the above same question, what if he or she did the same by clearing a ball when he or she was holding a bottle of water in their hand?

Answer

First, could there be a caution?  Yes, potentially but there would have to be special circumstances.  Otherwise, no. This is an entirely ordinary action and is not considered misconduct.  However, technically, the player should make sure that he or she does not actually leave the field as this would be potentially cautionable.  Further, there is an express prohibition against throwing water containers onto the field (even at a stoppage!) and against players throwing water containers from the field in return.

Second. although we’ve never actually seen a player carrying a water bottle while actively engaged in play, it should be fairly obvious that this would not be permitted because the water bottle would be considered, in essence, illegal equipment.  It would be far better for a player at the sideline drinking water who feels the overpowering need to suddenly engage in active play to quickly return the bottle to someone or someplace off the field before rejoining the game.

Stopping for an Injury

Brian, a U-12 and under Referee, asks:

During a youth game (U-8 or U-9), there is a stoppage for an injury. The coach comes on to check on the player.  Since the coach entered the field to help the player, does that player need to step off the field before play resumes?  I know at older levels, this is the case, but am curious about at the younger levels.

Answer

Actually, some of your question assumptions are incorrect.  Under the Law, an injured player must leave the field if play has been stopped due solely to an injury.  It has nothing directly to do with the coach coming onto the field because, under the Law, the coach cannot enter the field without the express permission of the referee and no referee is going to give that permission until and unless play had already been stopped.  Some referees read the Law “sideways” and forget that the Law is expected to be understood as a whole, not in pieces.  So, the fact that the referee has stopped play solely due to an injury means by definition that the injury is serious because only serious injuries can be the basis for stopping play.

Where things get a bit complicated is if the referee stops play for some other reason (e.g., a foul) and then determines that a serious injury occurring during the stoppage or as a result of the foul that caused the stoppage in the first place.  Then and only then does the referee call for the entry of a team official (coach, trainer, etc.) – which, also as a result, requires that the player leave the field.  There are certain exception to this “must leave the field” requirement – e.g., the injured player is a goalkeeper, the player was injured in a “common collision” with a teammate, the injury was so severe that the player cannot be safely moved, or the injury was caused by a foul for which a caution or red card was given.

And we would never say that “the coach comes on to check the player” because you have already performed such a “check” and thus the coach does not.  There are no circumstances under which a coach can decide whether or not a player is to leave the field if the referee has (a) stopped play solely for the injury or (b) waved the coach onto the field for an injury caused by an opponent’s foul.  The player must leave according to the Law.  The only time a coach has any “say” in whether the player leaves or not is if the injury has occurred under circumstances where the Law itself does not require the player to leave (e.g., the goalkeeper was injured).  In short, if the Law says the player has to go, the player goes.  If the Law says that the player doesn’t have to go, the player doesn’t have to go unless the coach/trainer/parent wants the player to go.

Everything said above applies to all age groups, not just for U-littles.  The only decision in which the age of the player is relevant is your decision as to what constitutes a serious injury in the first place.  Once that decision is made, all the rest of it happens strictly in accordance with the Laws of the Game — neither you nor the coach (or anyone else) has any subsequent say in it.  This is one of the reasons why we train officials from entry level upward that, if play is stopped solely because an injury has been determined by you to be serious or if it is already clear to you at the moment of stoppage for a foul that the resulting injury is serious, your very first task after whistling for the stoppage is to wave someone from the injured player’s team (coach, trainer, etc.) onto the field — not to “assess the injury” because you have already done that, but to arrange for the safe removal of the player from the field (unless one of the exceptions applies).