AR Involvement in Decisions

James, a U-12 and under referee, asks:

During the game an attacker kicked the ball directly at a defender who was in the penalty area. The ball hit her hand. My initial reaction was to continue play because I saw that her hand was close to her body and felt the hand ball was inadvertent. The AR put his flag up and started yelling “hand ball”. I stopped play and went over to him. He had a slightly better vantage point and he said that he was certain that the hand ball was deliberate. I awarded a penalty kick to the attacking team. My question is, if I had decided that the AR was incorrect and I was not going to grant a hand ball, what would have been the appropriate restart?

Answer

First, beware of ARs who shout out things like that.  An experienced AR would have found another way to deal with the issue.

Second, it is always a good idea during your pregame to gauge the level of expertise and experience of your crew and act accordingly.  ARs should “interfere” only if and when it is 100% clear that you had (a) made an error and (b) the AR’s position was clearly better than your position/angle.

If you are positioned properly with a good angle and believe you saw the event, simply wave down the AR (who should then “retreat”) and the event can be discussed during some future stoppage of play, during the midgame break, or after the game.  If you feel that the AR’s position was better and the AR was sufficiently experienced to be relied upon to not signal differently unless this was the case, then you stop play, go to the AR, and privately discuss the matter.  You make your decision taking into account all the facts and circumstances and either restart with the PK or decide otherwise.  In the case of “otherwise,” your only restart option is a dropped ball.

In either case, the AR should be advised to not shout out things that simply call unwanted and unnecessary attention to the moment and create a potential appearance of “discord” within the officiating team – just raise the flag straight up, make eye contact with the referee, waggle the flag briefly, and then signal a recommended PK restart (all of this is standard mechanics – the failure to follow this speaks volumes to us about this AR’s experience or lack of training).  If you disagree, simply wave it down – which the AR should promptly do unless … (see (a) and (b) above).

Extra Player Scenarios

Rinku, an adult amateur Referee, asks:

If in case I discover that a team has 12 players by mistake, what should I do if I am the referee?

Answer

Well, in general, you correct the situation as soon as you become aware of it.  However, what you do also depends on what substitution rules you are using (e.g., standard Law 3 or some local variation) and whether there is a goal scored that can complicate the matter.

The best solution, of course, is to not let it happen in the first place … which means don’t rush through a substitution without following, as closely as possible, the requirements of Law 3.  There are only two scenarios that can result in an “extra player” getting on the field: one is an error in a substitution (allowing two substitutes to come on) and the other is that a substitute simply enters the field during play.  The first is definitely the fault of you and/or the bench-side AR and is easily preventable. The second is something that can happen any time, but all members of the officiating team should be aware fairly quickly when it does.

Where the problem arises more commonly is when the rules of competition don’t adhere to Law 3 and allow unlimited substitutions with “the right of return” (which is often the case in youth recreational matches).  Law 3 is strict — a team gets only a certain number of substitutions and, once substituted, a player cannot return to the field.  This means that you can easily keep a record of which players started (by jersey number, for example) and then update this by noting which player left and which substitute replaced that player. If you follow this practice faithfully, you will always know who is a legal player and who is not.

Youth recreational play seriously muddies the water and you simply must keep track at least by not restarting play without someone (you or an AR) counting the players on the field before signaling that the substitution has been properly completed and play can be restarted.  Too many referees get sloppy and pay no attention to the details of a substitution.  Normally, you can get away with this but the problem is that, when an “extra player” results, the correction can become complicated.

Still, however it happens, you are faced with 12 players on the field for a team and it must be handled.  In the simplest case, if play is going on and you can catch the “12th player” quickly before he or she becomes involved in or interferes with play, you can verbally order the person to leave the field without stopping play and, assuming the person follows your order, just allow play to continue with no further action needed.  If you do not become aware of the existence of a “12th player” until after that person actually becomes involved in or interferes with play, you must stop play, order the “12th player” to leave after showing a yellow card for illegally entering the field, and restart with a direct free kick or penalty kick (depending on where the player was at the time).

The issue of “interference” is key.  A substitute, for example, might enter the field for some reason during play, realize the illegality of this (or have you or an AR shout to him or her), and quickly leave the field. This does not call for either stopping play or issuing a caution. Stop play only in the case of involvement/interference, thus triggering the need for a card and the proper restart.

Where things get complicated because you haven’t been following proper procedure and don’t know which person on the field is the “12th player,” then you have to try to figure it out.  You can check with the ARs (if you have them) and get their input.  If no information comes to you (from rerunning through your mind the most recent substitutions or using information from an AR), then you can only do one of two things – simply order that one of the 12 players leave the field and chalk it up to your error or you can tell the captain (or the coach) to pick which of his team’s players must leave but whomever he picks is also going to receive a yellow card for illegally entering the field. By the way, note that neither of these two options is supported by the Laws of the Game because the Law assumes you did what you were supposed to do and would therefore always know who the extra player was!  They are entirely our own, decidedly unofficial, practical advice.

There is one seriously complicating factor if you discover the extra player at a stoppage resulting from a goal being scored.  Now, you have an additional problem – what to do about the goal.  The Law says that the goal counts if the team that scored had the correct number of players on the field at the time but does not count if it was scored by the team which had the extra player.  If the goal is cancelled, the restart is a direct free kick from where the extra player was at the time play stopped for the apparent goal.  Unfortunately, if the continued existence of that extra player is not discovered until after play was restarted with a kick-off, the goal is counted.  The best way to prevent this from ever happening is to do a quick count of the players, both at the time the goal was scored and again before the restart (in case an extra player entered during the stoppage). In any event, the presence of an extra player after a kick-off must still be handled as described above even if it is ultimately determined that the extra player was on the field prior to the goal being scored.

Finally, note that everything described here applies equally to any extra person on the field, including team officials.  However, if the extra person is an outside agent (e.g., spectator), any stoppage requiring a restart must use a dropped ball instead.

Field Conditions and the Referee

David, a U-12 and under player, asks:

Referee called a foul in the penalty area. Walks over to the coaches and says the match is terminated due to unplayable field (rain). Should he allow the PK to continue?
Should he allow players to remain of the field?

Answer

This will be one of our shortest posts in at least the last year and a half.

For the first question, Yes.  The only “maybe not” is if the field generally is unplayable (meaning, not safely playable) but, at one end of the field, there is a penalty area which is safely playable (relatively speaking).  If this is the case, the penalty kick could be taken but under “extra time” rules — meaning that the kick ends either in a goal not with, in the latter case, no further play and an official termination.

For the second question, of course the players can remain.  Once the referee terminates the match, the referee’s authority effectively ends.  Others might take over — e.g., the field owner, the coaches, etc. We dislike putting it this way but, absent someone else stepping in, the players can do whatever they want.  Even in the case of dangerous weather conditions (e.g., lightning), the referee’s direct authority stops once the match is terminated (not merely suspended) and the officials would have no responsibility to do anything more than encourage the players to leave (along with getting out of there themselves!).

Interfering with Play or An Opponent

David, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

The recent interpretations about the location of restarts for offside infractions seem to need clarification. Sure, if multiple attackers are running onto a through ball, we must wait until we know who reaches the ball first, an onside attacker or an offside attacker. The restart would be at the point that the offside player touches the ball or becomes involved in play or interferes with an opponent.

However, in the case of a through ball pass by an attacker to 30 yards from the half-way line with a lone attacker running onto it, and perhaps. a defender in pursuit, ARs have previously flagged the attacker as offside as soon as the offside attacker indicated that s/he was going for this ball. This is still the case we have seen recently in professional games, world-cup games, and college games. Some referees, and instructors, are taking the position that ARs must still wait until the attacker touches the ball before raising the flag, even if this causes an unnecessary long run by the attacker and defender.

It would seem that as soon as an offside attacker runs toward the ball, especially with a defender in pursuit, that s/he has become involved in play, or interfered with the opponent, and the offside infraction should be flagged and the restart would be at that point, not another 20 yards closer to the goal line when a touch might eventually take place. It’s this latter scenario that needs clarification for the majority of referees for youth games.

Answer

An outstanding (if rather long) question that is not easily answered.  Remember, the Laws of the Game were never intended to be exhaustive regarding every possible permutation of what happens on a soccer field.  Thank goodness for that!  So, here goes.

For ease of reference, we have divided your original single paragraph scenario into three sections.

Everything you say in the first section is correct and, as you state, is now the current Law regarding the restart location for an offside offense.  There is one correction, however, which might be thought minor but actually isn’t — Law 11 (Offside) states that the offense consists of becoming involved in active  play, not just “play.”  The second section is a factual description of the difficulty some referees have had in understanding this change, applying it correctly, or reacting to offside offense scenarios that are rather uncommon in youth play but are more likely seen in highly competitive levels of play.  The third section lays out a concrete scenario for discussion.  It is the more speculative last part of section 2 and all of section 3 that we will focus on.

Remember when we said that the Laws of the Game don’t cover everything?  One of the reasons for this is that the International Board (IFAB) assumes we will incorporate into the current Law various earlier statements they have made on Law topics.  In other words, have there been any prior decisions or interpretations that are relevant here that have not been specifically overridden?  There are.

The two scenarios below assume that Player A is in an offside position (i.e., the ball was last touched/played by a teammate of Player A and Player A meets all relevant offside position requirements).

In scenario 1, Player A runs toward the ball and the AR/Referee judges that, though no contact with the ball or interference with an opponent has occurred as yet, the movement of both Player A and the last defender is such that a collision, with resulting injury, is likely.  In this case, call an offside violation with the restart location being the position of Player A when this judgment occurs.  Given the speed at which this sort of play develops, the decision needs to be made quickly in order to forestall the collision.

In scenario 2, Player A runs toward the ball and the AR/Referee judges that there is no other attacker who is not in an offside position with a realistic opportunity to reach the ball before Player A,  In this case, call an offside violation with the restart location being where Player A was when the AR/Referee made this decision.  It is important to remember that the intent of this scenario is withhold judgment until it is clear that only Player A’s pursuit of the ball is clear and likely to continue.  After all, Player A should be given at least some brief opportunity to recognize (or hear teammates shout about) his situation and cease his potentially illegal pursuit.

Scenario 3 below has become a subject of strenuous debate and no official interpretation has yet been announced which resolves the issue (same assumption as above regarding Player A being in an offside position).

Player A is several yards away from the ball (at the edges of what would be considered “playing distance”) with an opponent (either the original “last defender” or some other defender who has moved into a competitive distance as the play has developed) also in a position to challenge for the ball when Player A makes a sliding tackle toward the ball,  This would be an obvious offside offense if contact with the ball (or with the defender) is made, but some referees argue that the mere attempt to “slide tackle the ball” itself constitutes an offside offense even if no actual, discernable contact with the ball is made.  They base this response on the argument that this is a form of interference with an opponent even though the similarity with any of the stated examples of “interfering with an opponent” are tenuous and, at best, arguable.  We express no opinion as to the correct solution, only note that there is a difference of opinion that has not yet been resolved.

The above scenario has become one of those situations where the ultimate question – so far answerable only on an individual referee basis and only in an actual (as opposed to theoretical) game situation – is “what would soccer want?”

Goalkeepers and “Challenging for the Ball”

Steve, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

In open play, goalkeeper saves the ball in his area. To restart play does the ball have to go outside the area or can the keeper roll it to one of his defenders who is inside the area so he can dribble up field taking the ball out of the area?

Answer

Let’s clear out some underbrush in this scenario before getting to the central issue of your question.  There is an important distinction in the Laws of the Game between taking a ball out of play and taking a ball out of challenge.  The simplest way to take a ball out of play is to kick the ball off the field — the ball is automatically out of play the moment it entirely crosses the field’s outer perimeter lines (touch line or goal line, including the part of the latter which is between the goal posts).  Players can also take the ball out of play by becoming injured or committing an offense, for either of which the referee stops play.  Finally, the referee can take the ball out of play simply by whistling for a stoppage for any reason (weather, outside interference, or any other reason).  Obviously, if a ball goes out of play, it means that no one can play it until there is a formal restart (unless the stoppage is when the final period runs out of time).

This is completely (and importantly) different from taking the ball out of challenge.  This is the chief difference between a goalkeeper and any other player on the team because only the goalkeeper can do this but they can only do it within their own penalty area (anywhere in that area) and only by taking hand possession of the ball.  “Out of challenge” means that, from the moment the goalkeeper takes hand control of the ball until the ball is fully released from hand control, no opponent can challenge the goalkeeper for the ball!  The ball is still “in play” during this whole time, but an opponent cannot attempt to tackle, charge, or otherwise challenge for the ball.

Having “hand control of the ball” is operationally defined as the goalkeeper holding the ball with a hand (including having the ball resting on the hand, usually but not necessarily on the palm) or between both hands or between one or both hands against a surface (the ground, the body, a goal post, etc.).  Once hand control is achieved (in the opinion of the referee), all challenges must cease.  Period.  Any attempt to challenge could result in the referee stopping play, issuing a caution, and restarting with an indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.  Referees understand that, in general, goalkeepers prefer for this not to happen,  They are, at heart, egotists who firmly believe they are far more capable of getting rid of the ball their own way and for their own purposes than via an indirect free kick and so referees understand that (a) they should try to prevent interference from occurring in the first place and (b), if it is so blatant as to be unavoidable, the added punishment of a caution should be given.

The interesting part of all this groundwork is determining what constitutes releasing the ball back into challenge.  Basically, it means getting rid of it — throwing it, kicking it (punt, dropkick, etc.), or setting it on the ground and kicking it.  The Law allows the ball to be tossed up in the air and then to catch it or to bounce it on the ground and catch it, all without losing hand control (tossing it up, allowing it to hit the ground, and then catching it on the rebound, however, is a second possession offense — don’t do this, goalkeepers, just kick the ball on the rebound).  All of these actions are considered part of “releasing the ball into play” and are as protected from challenge or interference as is simply holding the ball.

OK.  That’s the groundwork.  Now to your scenario, which basically has nothing to do with everything we just talked about.  You asked about “restart play” and now we know that play never stopped in the first place!  What stopped was the ability of an opponent to do what he or she would normally do while the ball was in play — challenge for it.   Accordingly, there is no restart issue here.  There are special things to remember about restarts from within a team’s own penalty area and the issues you raised involve that, none of which are relevant to how a goalkeeper puts a ball back into challenge.  Most players, coaches, and spectators (plus many well-paid commentators) commonly call this “putting the ball back into play” but this is incorrect.  Referees know that this is “putting the ball back into challenge” because the difference is crucial.  Except for leaving the field or the referee stopping play or time ending, the ball is always in play.

Interfering with the Goalkeeper

Michael, an adult amateur player, asks:

When a goalkeeper has the ball in his hands and goes to kick it down field, can an opposing striker block the ball? Especially if they are outside the box?

Answer

Your scenario is a bit unclear.  If by “they” you mean both the goalkeeper and the striker and if by “outside the box” you mean outside the penalty area(as opposed to the goal area), then the solution is easy — the goalkeeper is committing a handling offense and this takes priority.  We suspect, however,  you meant that only the striker was “out of the box,” in which case it doesn’t matter which “box” you meant.

As long as the goalkeeper has hand control of the ball, including when he is in the process of releasing it (i.e., throwing or kicking the ball), no opponent can interfere with the release or challenge for the ball.  Sometimes, opponents make it easy for you by looking at the goalkeeper and obviously moving closer or moving around to block the direction that the goalkeeper apparently is considering in which to release the ball.  Once the ball is released, however, the ability to challenge for control of the ball returns.

This is very clear and easy to enforce in the static situation where the goalkeeper is clearly holding the ball but becomes murkier during the actual release of the ball.  The general principle is that an opponent cannot be allowed to be close enough to the goalkeeper to interfere with the release.  How far back is that?  It’s in your opinion.  That opinion should take into account whether the opponent has merely established a location which does not block the direction of the release … and stays there.  Sometimes, an opponent makes it easy for you by actually moving around to interfere while the goalkeeper is attempting to move in response to find a clear release direction.  And it becomes ridiculously easy if the opponent runs into an area which is the direction of release while the release is taking place.  The referee should handle these situations proactively (before any interference could occur) by warning an opponent to back away and to stay out of the way.  If you have done so and the opponent ignores your warning or if events happened so quickly that there was no time to give the warning in the first place and the interference occurs, this is a cautionable offense – whistle, show a yellow card to the opponent, and order an indirect free kick restart from where the interference occurred.

Keep in mind that experienced goalkeepers generally prefer to perform their own release rather than to have that changed to an indirect free kick so choose your options carefully and step in only when the potential interference is blatant and/or when the players are inexperienced and/or when you have warned the opponent but the opponent interferes anyway (the caution is for unsporting behavior but ignoring an actual warning from you adds an icing of dissent).

Remember that the issue is not limited to “how far back.”  Where the opponent is in relation to the direction of the release is just as important.  There is no specific distance offered in the Laws of the Game as is the case for example with retreating at least ten yards for a free kick.   Here, the decision is solely “in the opinion of the referee.”  As the International Board (IFAB) put it in this year’s edition of the Laws of the Game:

The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, “what would football want/expect?”

Dismissing a Team Official

Gareth, a U-13 – U19 player, asks:

What happens if a coach has been ejected and asked to leave the field of play but does not go far enough to be out of sight and sound? If the same person returns to the field after regulation time to instruct players, what is the next action to be taken?

Answer

First, if a team official (e.g., coach) has been dismissed from the field, the game should not be restarted until and unless the referee is satisfied that the dismissed team official is in fact “out of sight and sound.”

Second, if a dismissed team official reappears in “sight and sound” at any time prior to the end of the match, play should be stopped again, the team official removed again, and the match only then restarted.  Although not a “rule” regarding team official dismissal, we would recommend terminating the match if the dismissed team official reappears a second time.  The reappearance should be included in the match report.

Third, depending on the local rules, the formal dismissal lasts only until after the game is over.  Once it is over, the referee’s authority over the dismissed person ends but, even after the match ends and while the referee is still in the area of the field, any further irresponsible behavior from the same person should be included in the game report.

A DOGSO Scenario Question (REVISED Again)

Robert, an adult amateur player, asks:

A striker positions himself to make a shot on goal, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, in an obvious scoring opportunity. The goalkeeper shouts to startle him and causes the striker to fluff his kick.

Is the correct approach: 1) yellow card for keeper and indirect free kick, 2) red card and penalty, or 3) no action?

Answer

A reader has brought to our attention that the International Board has resolved the above question in its new FAQs (found only at the end of each Law separately listed on the IFAB website — these FAQs are not to be found in the downloadable document itself and appeared only at the end of May 2018).  What follows is our revised reply to the above question.  Our apologies for any confusion the original answer might have caused.  And then … another reader brought our inattention to our attention, hence the second update.  We hope this is the last. Only the final sentence needed correcting.

A very interesting question, Robert, one which has been affected by recent Law changes.  The relevant Law elements are as follows.  First, the goalkeeper’s action of shouting to distract is and always has been included in the general category of “unsporting misconduct.”  Second, though a misconduct, the goalkeeper’s action is still termed “an offense.”  Third, no direct free kick offense was committed.  Fourth, both the description of the scenario and the scenario itself declare that this was an “obvious goal-scoring opportunity” — also commonly referred to as a “DOGSO.”  It is the fourth fact that is the key to the problem here.

Prior to 2016-2017, Law 12 only required that the restart be a free kick or penalty kick, which would clearly have included an offense resulting in either a direct or an indirect free kick.  The International Board’s modifications to Law 12  over the last several years were mainly intended to lighten what was called the “triple penalty” stemming from the commission of a DOGSO offense (i.e., the penalty kick itself plus the send-off plus the attendant minimum one-game suspension that followed). To do so, it created a distinction between cautionable DOGSOs and send-off DOGSOs.

As Law 12 now stands, there are still two basic DOGSO scenarios, one of which involves illegal handling and the other involves any offense other than handling.  An illegal handling that prevents a goal will always result in a direct free kick (or a penalty kick) and a red card no matter where in the field the handling occurs (a caution is appropriate if the illegal handling does not prevent the goal). However, in the process of outlining when a caution is a correct response, Law 12 specifies that the caution is applicable where (among other things) the offense results in a penalty kick and this, in turn, is possible only when the offense is a direct free kick foul occurring inside the defending team’s penalty area.

However, in the Board’s Law 12 FAQ 12, the point is made that, since an indirect free kick restart does not, in effect, restore the goal-scoring opportunity that was denied by the OGSO, the defender must still be given a red card even though the restart would be an indirect free kick.  In FAQ 11, the Board resolved another issue in stating that a DOGSO offense must result in a red card even if the offense occurred outside the penalty area and would not otherwise have been cautionable but for the DOGSO.

Accordingly, the answer to your question is that none of the options is correct.  Add “4) red card and indirect free kick” to the options list in order to get one that is required by Law 12 and Law 12’s FAQ 12.

Goalkeeper Handling (or Not)

Christopher, an adult amateur player, asks:

The goalkeeper received the ball at his feet outside of the penalty box from an opposing player. Goalkeeper dribbles into penalty box, then dribbles outside penalty box, dribbles back inside penalty box and handles the ball. Referee awarded indirect free kick for handling. Correct?

Answer

We love these easy ones.  No.

OK, you would probably like an explanation.  As described, the goalkeeper’s running around into, out of, and then back into the penalty area is irrelevant.  We are mystified as to the indirect free kick restart because (a) it was not handling and, (b) if it had been, the restart would have been a direct free kick, not an indirect free kick.  The only time the goalkeeper could have committed a handling offense is if he picked up the ball when he was outside his penalty area.

On the other hand (but the answer is still No), perhaps the indirect free kick was not for handling but for a so-called “pass-back” violation.  Unfortunately, this also fails the “look to the Law” test because the goalkeeper’s handling was not directly from a deliberate kick from a teammate — it was from an opponent.  Note that it would have been an indirect free kick for a pass-back violation even though the goalkeeper played around dribbling the ball back and forth inside and outside the penalty area if it had come from a teammate because “directly” in soccer terminology means no one else touched/played the ball prior to the goalkeeper and so the goalkeeper would in fact have handled a ball, despite all that dribbling around, directly from the teammate.

So, we have an error in applying the Laws of the Game no matter how the scenario is interpreted.  If the ball had come from an opponent, it would have been an indirect free kick, but it didn’t come from  a teammate.  If the goalkeeper had handled the ball while he was dribbling about outside the penalty area, it would have been a handling offense but not an indirect free kick restart … and his handling of the ball occurred inside the penalty area so it can’t have been a handling offense.

What Are the Big Boys Doing?

Mike, an adult pro fan, asks:

Misconduct, feigning an injury.  We all watch higher level soccer, pro, world cup, etc.  Like most sports, rules, play, calls, behavior, etc begin at these levels and filter down.  I cannot believe how many times a player at the higher level writhes on the ground after any contact, then stays in the game as if nothing happened.  To me, this is wrong for so many reasons, (time, momentum, working the referee for a call-dissent, and assuredly in most cases misconduct).  Yet you rarely see a card given.  I know this is a very subjective area but it is getting out of hand and negatively affecting the game.  Also seeing more of it at HS and older club ages.

Answer

We don’t normally publish replies to queries that apparently don’t directly involve a question but we are going to make an exception in this case because what you are describing is a common gripe among Referees.

The game changes as the competitive level changes.  We have officiated up to the semi-pro level, plus we have numerous friends and acquaintances who have gone even higher, so we can relate to your frustrations.  We have felt them also at times.

Yes, the “demonstration effect” can get very bothersome.  When refereeing at a lower level and seeing a player trying something out that we’re sure he or she picked up watching WC games, or MLS games, or adult amateur games, or NCAA  games, etc., it’s easy to think that our refereeing life down here would be so much easier if those referees “up there” just called the game “the way they should” and not provide bad examples of player behavior to go publicly unpunished.  All this does is give younger players the notion that such behavior is acceptable … so why not do it themselves?  And they either get away with it or, worse, get called for it because the Referee is an idiot and doesn’t understand how the game is played.  After all, the WC referee let it go.  QED.

The point, though, is that if Referee A were to officiate, say, an MLS match the way Referee B would referee a U16 game, Referee A would be doing the MLS players a disservice — just like Referee B would be doing the U16 players a disservice if Referee B officiated them the way Referee A would an MLS match.

You might express shock at this and say, for example, “but the offenses are the same, shouldn’t they be treated the same?”  And the answer is that, with some exceptions, the offenses may be the same but how you handle them can differ greatly.  The games are different, the players are different, the incentives are different, and the entertainment aspects are different.  In an MLS match, for example, there might be “writhing on the ground” and some of it may be a serious attempt to gain a beneficial but unearned call from a distracted Referee, while at other times it’s merely for show and all parties know it and act accordingly.  A caution for such simulation or fakery is unnecessary because no benefit was gained and no participant (player or referee) was fooled.  What the casual observer is missing is the brief eye contact, the Referee smirk, and a silently mouthed “not this time.”

This is one of the sorts of things that a Referee learns as his or her assignments transition from one competitive level to another.  These things change over time as the sport changes and the contexts in which the sport is played change.  Go back, say, 50 years to the early days of US professional soccer and realize that it hung by a thread for a long time.  Spectators (ticket-buyers) and sponsors (ad-buyers) were desperately needed.  There were some premier European and Latin American players who could see the light at the end of their professional tunnels and were interested in coming to the US for significant salaries.  Were they “protected” by the referees so that spectators wouldn’t lose the opportunity to see the players (and the plays) that made attending a game an “event”?  Is it the same today?  No.

At the same time, referee training in this country (which is all we can confidently speak about, as opposed to what happens elsewhere) follows the same pattern.  The higher the level of the match, the more the emphasis is on “managing the game” rather than whistling for all the fouls, offenses, mistakes, blow-ups, etc. that might be called.  We assume, as a referee approaches this competitive level, that the fundamentals have been well learned – the referee recognizes what the players have done, what they are doing, and what they are attempting to achieve, and the objective is to let them do their job within certain acceptable bounds of safety, fairness, and the enjoyment of all.  Does that sometimes make the job of officiating a local recreational U16 or weekend adult amateur match difficult when the players are trying out things they learned from “the big boys”?

Yes.