In response to several requests, after the prior Challenge Question lounged with little or no response for more than 4 months, a new Challenge Question has been posted. It will remain “open” for approximately 4-6 weeks and then one of two things will occur — either there are responses and the best correct answer is announced or the question will elicit no responses and it will be officially answered, followed by the experiment being ended due to lack of interest. Your choice.…
Mike, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:
In regards to Law 8 Dropped Ball restarts, the rules says no minimum or maximum players. Isn’t it usually 1 from each team? Can a team send more than 1 player to participate in the drop ball restart?
Under the Laws of the Game, regardless of “tradition,” as many as every player from each or either team or as few as no player from each or either team may participate in a dropped ball restart. Note that, for those officiating in the US, NFHS high school rules limit participation in a dropped ball to one and only one player from each team). Who participates in a dropped ball is entirely up to the players themselves and the referee plays no part in any such decision. Nor may the referee alter the prescribed method of performing the drop to favor either team regardless of the circumstances. On the other hand, the referee is not obliged to delay unnecessarily the taking of a dropped ball in order to wait for any particular player to arrive at the restart location.
Occasionally, we hear of referees touting this “tradition” but doing anything concrete about it is both unprofessional and not allowed by Law. Only the players themselves are involved in participating or not. The referee’s sole authority is limited to actually dropping the ball (as well, of course, as deciding if it made contact with the ground before making contact with any player).…
Marc, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:
In a U14 game, a team is in possession of the ball, and the referee stops play due to a serious injury. After the injury is taken care of, the referee goes to restart play with a contested drop ball. I mentioned that, in these situations, it’s customary for the opposing team to give the ball back to the team that had possession, and the referee indicated it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask the opposing team to do this.
1. Can you please advise if it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask or suggest this? I believe there’s a clause that indicates the referee shouldn’t specifically address players for anything not covered in the Laws of the Game, but I believe upholding the spirit of the game would warrant asking/suggesting giving the ball back.
2. Can you please advise what the recommended approach is for the ref when players may not be aware of this custom/tradition? If the ref is barred from asking/suggesting playing the ball back to the other team, an uncontested drop ball comes to mind, but seeing as the ref can’t limit the number of players participating in the drop ball, it doesn’t sound like this could be enforced.
Question 1 – It would be inconsistent with the Laws of the Game for the referee or any official to make such a suggestion, much less to enforce anything of this sort. Indeed, other than exhortations not to commit an offense, it would be unprofessional for any official to offer any advice to any team, player, or team official pertaining to the manner in which they should conduct their play. To make this point even more pointed, referees have long had an aphorism – if you don’t want the coach to tell you how to do your job, avoid telling the coach how to do their job. This clearly applies to players as well. There is no provision of the Law, however, which specifically prohibits it because, as with many other issues related to the Laws of the Game, the International Board did not feel it necessary to deal with something which would so obviously be a violation of professional ethics.
Question 2 – No, we cannot offer any such advice because doing so would aid and abet what we have already noted would be a violation of professional ethics. If a team wanted to do so, there is no violation of the Law, just as there would be no violation of the Law if a team decided not to do so. The same, by the way, applies to the so-called “preferential drop” when, say, an injury stoppage occurs with the goalkeeper in possession of the ball, thus causing a dropped ball restart contestable by both teams at a location which puts the goalkeeper’s team at a perceived disadvantage.
The “flavor” of the issue you have raised is strikingly similar to something that became a matter of concern for the International Board about 10 or 11 years ago. It was commonly thought that a team had an obligation to restart play (which was usually a throw-in) by releasing the ball to the opposing team if that opposing team had kicked the ball off the field because one of its players appeared to have been injured (almost always this was done by kicking the ball across a touchline). The team usually threw the ball in the direction of the opposing team’s goalkeeper and none of the thrower’s teammates were expected to contest for the ball. Sparked by a spate of incidents (including one in an English Premier League match) where this so-called “tradition” was or was not honored, the International Board declared in a Circular issued in 2009 that stopping or not stopping play for a possible injury (minor or serious) falls solely to the referee, not to a team, and this sparked an item in US Soccer’s annual Law change memorandum the same year as follows:
Reminder to referees
Referees are reminded that Law 5 states that the referee must stop the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured.
USSF Advice to Referees: This statement is intended to reinforce a guideline issued earlier by both the International Board and USSF that the practice of a team kicking the ball off the field to stop play when there is an apparent injury on the field detracts from the responsibility of the referee under Law 5 to assess the injury and to stop play only if, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is serious. Referees are therefore advised to be seen quickly and publicly considering the status of any player seeming to be injured and clearly deciding whether or not the situation merits a stoppage of play. The referee must control this decision as much as possible.
The topic and the brief statement above in red was issued by the International Board and the text following it in bold italics is the official explanation/meaning/impact from US Soccer. A further reminder on this issue was considered sufficiently important that similar language was included in a later circular and memorandum a year or two later.…
John, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:
Team A has the ball. A player from Team B goes down injured. I stop play. Team B player then gets up after a few seconds on the ground. Restart is a drop ball, but to show good sportsmanship team A should get the ball back. What role can a referee play in letting this happen?
No role whatsoever, beyond allowing the teams to do whatever the wish.
First of all, if you stopped play solely for the injury (which is what would produce a dropped ball restart), the player must leave the field – if not substituted for, the player can return only with your permission and only once play has been restarted; if the injured player was substituted for, then the team is not playing down and the injured player can return to the field (as a substitute) only at some later legal substitution opportunity. If the injury involved bleeding or blood on the uniform, then that must be taken care of before allowing the player to return under any circumstances.
The point that has to be emphasized here is that, if you stop play for an injury not accompanied by any other reason (e.g., no foul), under the Law that is by definition “serious” because otherwise you would not have stopped play for it. Allowing the player to stay on the field despite the Law is incorrect even if that is because you felt “better safe than sorry” – which is not a bad approach – but, in any event, you are still bound by the Law. You are not allowed to change your mind based on any subsequent judgment on your part. You live with the consequences.
Just because you didn’t call anyone onto the field does not and cannot justify allowing the player to remain. You are obligated the moment you whistled for the stoppage. The Law provides for the departure because it assumes you called for outside assistance as that is your duty. This is precisely the point. Having stopped play solely for this reason, you have already declared it to be a serious injury and so, the moment you finished blowing the whistle, your next act should be to wave medical assistance (even if that is only the coach, trainer, or a parent) onto the field. If they don’t come because they disagree with your decision or simply don’t want to do anything about it, that is their prerogative (you can’t make them do so, in which case the player has to leave on his or her own power) but make an appropriate note for your report in case you were right to begin with, but the player must still leave somehow. What counts here is that you authorized their entry onto the field — after that, it is on their shoulders.
It is not your job to make any “final” determination as to whether the injury is serious or not – you did what the Law expected you to do when you made the initial decision to stop play. The only time you get to independently decide whether to call for medical assistance and thus trigger the requirement that the player must leave the field is if the injury occurs at a stoppage. Then and only then do you make some appropriate effort to determine whether outside assistance is needed (which doesn’t necessarily mean you even have to talk with, much less inspect, the player. In fact, standard referee procedure is, if you stop play for an injury, you not only whistle, followed immediately by a signal for outside assistance, but you don’t even stay around after that, you don’t hover over the player, you don’t even stay in the general area – you use the time while the player is helped off the field (assuming the circumstances don’t include any of the reasons for allowing assistance to be rendered on the field) to do other things far away for the site – talk with your AR, explore the field, get a drink of water, make notes about the injury that would go into your match report, etc.
If you follow these well-settled protocols, there is no need to expect, much less have, either team feel obligated about the outcome of the dropped ball restart. And there is certainly nothing you could or should do about it even if you personally felt a team should be obligated to do anything other than fairly compete for the ball at the restart within the bounds of the Law.…
Richard, an adult amateur player, asks:
Hi. I am a central defender and was sent off towards the end of a game this morning for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity. In this instance there was a covering defender which the referee agreed with but he said that if I hadn’t fouled the striker, it would would have been a 2 on 1, i.e. the man I fouled as well as the person the covering defender was marking against the covering defender. However there was obviously the goalkeeper as well and this all happened about 35 yards from goal. I have never before seen an instance of someone being sent off for this offense when there is a covering defender which the referee agreed with and given the distance from goal I’m not sure this constitutes an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Was the referee within his rights to send me off?
Without attempting to nit-pick, the technical answer is, yes, the referee was within his rights, but not necessarily in accordance with how the Law is implemented.
The standard protocol for denying an “obvious goal scoring opportunity” (aka “OGSO”) depends on what kind of foul it was. If it was a handling offense, the only criterion is the referee’s decision as to whether, but for the handling, the ball would have either gone into the net or been very close to that.
For all other fouls, the referee must balance the following four factors regarding OGSO:
- The number of defenders between the foul and the opposing team’s goal who are able to defend (i.e., doesn’t include a defender incapacitated and on the ground or a defender far enough either to the right or left who would have had no ability to participate in any defense based on how close to the goal the offense occurred) and the defender who committed the foul is not included in the count. This criterion is inflexible – it is applied if the number is 1 and does not apply if the number is 2 or more. In short, if there are two or more defenders meeting this requirement, it cannot be an OGSO no matter the status of the other three elements.
The other three elements are flexible and must be weighed together with the above element.
- The distance from the location of the foul and the goal – this is a yardstick and becomes increasingly important as the distance is shorter. For example, a foul within 18 yards would rate this factor at the highest level whereas a distance of half a field would seriously weaken the likelihood that it was an OGSO. Every distance in between is in between highest level and lowest level. 35 yards would be a moderately important factor.
- The general direction of play at the moment of the foul. That direction must be toward the goal. If not clearly toward the goal, an OGSO decision is less supportable. Note, however, that the player against whom the foul was committed might, at that precise moment, might be temporarily not moving directly toward the goal if he or she is attempting to avoid or evade the defender. The issue is whether the direction of the play, in general, has been toward the goal. If it has been, then this factor is clearly present.
- Finally, the distance from the site of the foul to the ball at the moment of the foul. The factor is present if the ball is with “playing distance” – meaning that the fouled player would have been able to continue maintaining possession of the ball if the foul had not happened. An example is if the player with the ball had played the ball several yards or more ahead just before the foul occurred. If the ball is considered to be within playing distance, this factor is present.
It is not necessary that each of these four factors be equally present. Number of defenders has to be 1 or none, direction of play has to be generally toward the goal, the ball cannot be clearly beyond playing distance. Distance to the goal is, as noted, the most dependent on judgment – the best that can be said is that “too far” detracts from OGSO while close in (certainly within 18-20 yards) makes the factor definitely present.
The question you asked is easy, the answer is not. It depends on aggregating the nonnumerical value of four factors and then making a decision based on the feel of the game. In your scenario, the weakest (one might say, possibly entirely absent) is the one we listed first.…
Natalie, a U12 and Under coach, asks:
Can a referee ignore the fact that a player is asking for the required 10 yards be enforced on a free kick? There was 40 seconds left in the game. Not only did he refuse to count off 10 yards, he then started counting to 4 and when the free kick was not taken after the 4 seconds he gave possession to the other team resulting in a goal ending the game in a tie. Not sure why this happened — please explain. Thank you.
First of all, how do you know “there was 40 seconds left in the game”? You may be looking at your watch but the only watch that counts is on the referee’s wrist. We don’t mean to sound flippant here — your watch might be totally in sync with the referee’s watch — but the Law gives absolute control over the timing to the referee. We grant, of course, that the referee’s timing cannot make the length of a half any shorter, only longer, but it is also possible the two of you didn’t start timing at the same time. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, taking into account any prior “wasted time” due to injuries, delay substitutions, lost balls off the field, etc., there are indeed only 40 seconds remaining in the half by the time this other stuff began to occur.
That said, what followed was totally wrong on just about all counts. First of all, the referee’s prime responsibility at any restart (except kick-offs and penalty kicks and dropped balls) is to allow the team in possession full latitude on when to take the restart. There are limits, of course – first, the referee may have an external reason for holding up the restart (e.g., injury, a card to give, a substitution to oversee, etc.) and second, the referee responsibility to deal with deliberate time-wasting no matter who is doing it, including himself.
If a team is requesting that the minimum distance be enforced, that is their right and there is no basis for refusing to do so. Of course, the referee can move to the minimum distance and declare to the asking team that the opponents were already at least ten yards from the ball (we have seen this happen and once “dinged” an otherwise very good National grade referee on an assessment for himself wasting time for ending up moving opponents back only a step or two!) or, more commonly, we end up moving one or more players back.
Remember, inexperience or stupidity aside, it is to the opposing team’s benefit to get play restarted as quickly as possible if they were on the short end of the score. The team in control of the restart had the right to ask for enforcement … and the referee had the right (based on the facts) to declare that the opponents were in fact at least ten yards away already and to signal that the free kick could be taken. The referee also has the responsibility to move opponents back if any were within ten yards. All this is accepted procedure.
By the way, there is no rule or accepted mechanic that requires the referee to actually “count off” ten yards. Actually, it usually takes only a year or less to know exactly where ten yards away is so all that is necessary is to move to that point and either declare that the opponents were at ten yards or to move them back to where the ten yard distance was. Watch senior, experienced referees. You will never see them “pace” off any distance – they simply walk from where they are to a place which becomes the “ten yard restraining line” because the ten yard restraint is where the referee says it is.
Upon being requested to enforce the minimum distance, the referee in this case could have simply (a) signaled that the restart cannot occur until a whistle is sounded, (b) walked to wherever the minimum distance was, (c) quickly determined that either some opponents needed to be moved back or by that time, everyone was at least ten yards away, and then (d) signaled for the restart. From that point on, within reason, the kicking team takes the kick or, if necessary, the kicker is given a caution for delaying the restart of play. We would normally not take this latter option unless the delay was significant, the reason obvious, and we had already, after a few seconds after the whistle, warned the kicker that he/she was delaying the restart.
There is absolutely no basis in the Laws of the Game to give the restart to the opposing team even if, after all the shenanigans were over and we had cautioned the kicking team for the delay (if there had been a delay). The only recourse for the referee would be (a) the caution and then (b) stating the obvious fact that time had been wasted so this was being added to the “wasted time count” but the only correct decision at this point is that the original team in possession remains in possession. If there is no doubt the team in possession had been wasting time and was continuing to waste time, the solution is to clearly declare that all time from the moment of the whistle for the kick to be taken to the moment of the kick itself was being considered wasted time by the referee, thus extending the time before the whistle sounds to mark the end of the half.…
(The following answer was slightly modified on 1/14/19 to clarify a follow-up question, highlighted in blue)
Eriq, an adult amateur player, asks:
Is there a rule whereby, during a penalty kick, a teammate of the kicker unknowingly steps inside the penalty area before the kick was taken and the kicker scores but, because of the teammate, the goal is not counted and an indirect free kick is given to the defending team?
There are no other infringements by the attacking team. When asked, the referee stated that it is a new rule for 2019.
Yes, there is … sort of. And no, it didn’t.
Here’s the “yes, there is” part. Although there are some differences between the International Board’s Laws of the Game and the Rules governing High School (NFHS) and collegiate (NCAA) soccer, US Soccer and the rest of the world follow what the International Board put into its Laws. Law 14 (The Penalty Kick) is very clear regarding this scenario. Purely as a matter of Law, it is an offense for any teammate of the attacking team (i.e., the team that is taking the penalty kick) to do any of the following things before the ball is in play on a penalty kick: (a) enter the penalty area, (b) enter the penalty arc, or (c) move closer than 12 yards to the opposing team’s goal line.
The remedy for such a violation is also very clear purely as a matter of Law. Now comes the “sort of” part — if a goal is scored, the goal does not count and the penalty kick is retaken OR, if the goal is not scored, the defending team is given an indirect free kick where the teammate illegally did whichever of these things we just listed above (i.e., where the teammate illegally entered the arc area or penalty area or where the player came closer to the goal line than 12 yards). The rule is inflexible as to the offense – one foot into the penalty area is just as illegal as 15 feet into the penalty area. Nor does it make any difference whether the violation is the reason for the failure to score a goal – one step into the penalty area or into the penalty arc (which are the two most common ways to commit this offense) but the kicker kicks the ball 50 feet over the top of the goal’s crossbar does not remove the offense. We might note that these limitations on the kicking team apply equally to the defending team: the only difference is that the punishments are different (if a goal is scored, it counts; if it is not scored, the penalty kick is retaken).
So, in your scenario, the teammate of the kicker violated Law 14. However, the restart was incorrect because Law 14 states that the goal is canceled but the attacking team is given a retake of the penalty kick.
Now comes the “no, it didn’t” part. This is not a “new rule for 2019” – in point of fact, the described penalty if a teammate of the kicker violates Law 14 and a goal is not scored went into effect in 2005 but the restart which should have been given in your scenario (cancel goal and order a retake) has been in Law 14 for as long as we have been officiating (1984).…
Richard, an adult pro referee, asks
Have they done away with the six second rule for the goalkeeper before he releases the ball? If not, why don’t they enforce it?
First, “they” haven’t done away with it. Indeed, it remains the standard requirement in the US for US Soccer (IFAB), high school soccer (NFHS), and collegiate games (NCAA) — as well as the rest of the world.
Second, asking “why don’t they enforce it” takes us into a whole different issue. For referees, the first hurdle in their learning curve is to recognize that an action is an offense. For inexperienced referees (say, up through their first couple of years), this is one of the most important achievements and, in general, that recognition, plus stopping play and getting the restart right (both for offenses and for any other stoppage reason), are an acceptable measure by which to evaluate a new referee’s performance. Around years 2-4, the focus should begin to change. Offense recognition (if married with correct restarts) has largely been achieved and now the critical question becomes “what should I do about it?” You might ask, well, why is this a question because we’ve already said that stopping play and getting the restart right are what you are supposed to do”?
The answer is that there is “correct” and there is “right” – they are not necessarily the same. “Correct” means “in accordance with the Laws of the Game” whereas “right” means “what do I want to achieve in this game … at this moment … with this player … under these specific circumstances?” Limiting the goalkeeper to 6 seconds from the moment control of the ball is achieved to the goalkeeper’s release of the ball is a very concrete statement. Sounds unbendingly specific and easy to enforce – just use your watch to measure the time between these two points and, if it exceeds 6 seconds, whistle for an indirect free kick offense in favor of the opposing team from the point where the goalkeeper exceeded the 6 second limit. This is possibly what a new referee took away from the entry level course about how to enforce this rule.
Why do you see it “not enforced”? Well, perhaps it is because the referee forgot this rule. Or perhaps the referee forgot to start checking his watch and thus has no idea how long the goalkeeper held onto the ball. Perhaps the referee was estimating time and, just as he was about to whistle, the goalkeeper released the ball and the referee thought, what the heck, that’s close enough.
Or perhaps the referee gained enough experience or was mentored properly or received in-service training that went beyond the simple statement in the Law about 6-seconds-and-not-a-second-longer to understand why this rule is in the Law in the first place and then use that knowledge to evaluate the scenario and recognize that, yes, 7 (or 8 or 9) seconds was an offense but perhaps it was trifling – in other words, the offense didn’t matter because it did no harm to the opposing team and did not benefit the goalkeeper’s team – or perhaps the estimate was not precise enough and the expiration of 6 seconds was doubtful. Now marry this with the established norm that soccer is an active sport involving constant motion which should not be interrupted with stoppages without good reason (and neither doubtful nor trifling is a good enough reason). The result is a picture of a referee who has allowed the goalkeeper to exceed the 6-second limit on possession of the ball and who is in fact following the intent of Laws of the Game
Of course, there are limits but, based on the above, it should be clear where those limits start clicking in. Around 8-10 seconds (time it so you have a feel for what that is) it probably becomes more difficult to say the offense is doubtful. It’s also roughly the point at which a referee who is in fact aware of the passage of time from experience might clearly inform the goalkeeper that he or she needs to get rid of the ball, followed by no more than a second or two with “NOW!” 12-15 seconds is nearing the point at which continued possession of the ball by the goalkeeper becomes difficult to describe as trifling – a time period which actually narrows if, during the same time, it is clear that the opposing team is becoming rightfully disturbed by the lack of a reasonably quick return of the ball back into active play.
Notice that the dynamics are totally different if, instead of picking up a ball played to him (other than from a teammate’s play of the ball with his foot), the goalkeeper simply stops the ball with his foot and remains standing with the ball on the ground. The clock doesn’t even start ticking here and the only restraint on the goalkeeper is if opponents begin moving to challenge (remember, the 6-second limit doesn’t even begin until the goalkeeper takes clear possession of the ball with his hand). Notice also that most referees start using tighter constraints if the goalkeeper has been warned already but takes unfair advantage of the indulgence.
So, you have the answer. You may not like it (though, as a referee, you should be following it if you are past your first several years of officiating) but that is why they are paying you the big bucks. They are assuming you will understand the difference between correct and right.
Blowing the whistle at the 6.1th second is correct, but it is seldom right.…
Cam, an adult amateur referee, asks:
Can you caution a player/players for surrounding the referee after a decision has gone against them or simply they disagree with you?
Yes, it’s possible. There are conditions, however, that need to be taken into account. Simply disagreeing with the referee is not an offense – it’s all in how you do it. The training on this matter is clear – if there is mass confrontation (2 or more), everything goes into high gear and less leeway is allowed in what we are about to say.
Dissent decisions are based on the “3Ps” – Personal, Public, and Provocative.
- If what is said (verbally or otherwise) is directed at an official, it’s personal (the difference between “you are wrong” where the “you” is an official versus “I don’t agree with that call”).
- If what is said (verbally or otherwise) loudly enough that it can be heard/seen by a large number of persons on or off the field, it is public (the difference between standing 10 feet away and shouting at the top of your lungs for the entire field to hear “I don’t agree with that call” versus walking by the referee and saying in a low enough voice that “you are wrong on that call.”
- If what is said (verbally or otherwise) includes generally recognizable unacceptable language, it is provocative (the difference between saying “I f…ing don’t agree with that f…ing call” or giving a one finger salute versus “Sir, the reason for that last decision was impenetrably obtuse and bespeaks a cognitive level lower than winter temperatures in Siberia”).
Any one of these Ps, if at the extreme end, can be enough to warrant a caution. Anything that even at a moderate level combines 2 or all 3 of these Ps can be enough to warrant a caution. Any of these Ps at even a below moderate level could, if engaged in by two or more players simultaneously from less than 4-5 feet away from an official, be the basis for a caution – and the larger the number of players encircling the official (all this applies to ARs as well, but still has to be the decision of the referee), the more likely the caution becomes (i.e., mass confrontation).
So, it’s all a balancing judgment – how much “3 P” behavior do we have, at what level, involving how many? The underlying standard for making the decision is whether not cautioning for dissent makes more likely a continuation, heightening, repetition, or spreading of the behavior.…
James, an adult amateur fan, asks:
I have a question in regards to Law 11: coming from an offside position.
As stated, the player ‘carries’ the ruling or a ‘flagged’ violation until interference or contact with the ball. Law 11 refers to the “second-last defender.” This confuses me slightly. Does this mean last defender including the goal keeper?
First of all, a minor correction in terminology – don’t refer to what the player carries as a “violation.” An offside position is not a violation, simply a condition a player achieved by being at a certain place at a certain time. The offside violation arises from doing the one thing a player who is carrying this condition must not do – become involved in active play by interfering with play or an opponent.
That cleared away, the term of “second to last defender” or, briefly, STLD means exactly that, with no special status or exemption for the defending goalkeeper. The goalkeeper is a defender, just like any of the other 10 players of his/her team.
Problems sometimes arise regarding this because, in the vast majority of cases in defining an offside position (not the offside offense), the goalkeeper is the last defender and the next one up from (or even with) the goalkeeper thereby becomes the STLD. This is so common that many referees and lead assistant referees (plus an untold number of fans!) focus on the goalkeeper (not surprising because the goalkeeper stands out on the basis of the easily observed different uniform) and are thus in error when you have one of those goalkeepers who like to play upfield from their usual place. In such cases, officials can make a mistake in routinely counting up from the goalkeeper while forgetting that the person from whom they should be counting up is the actual defender who is closest to the goal line and, as a result, they may call for an apparent offside violation on someone who is not in an offside position because he or she is not past the STLD but maybe the 3rd or 4th last defender. Keying on the goalkeeper in offside position issues is easy, routine, and fits the vast majority of cases, but doing so is not only hazardous but can lead to embarrassing errors when, just at the moment for whistling that offside “violation,” the official suddenly sees that there is another defender behind the goalkeeper!…