Question:
On what grounds can a referee stop and abandon a soccer match

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
An interesting question, one that requires a good bit of space to answer completely.

Under the Laws of the Game (or, as they are called in Great Britain, the Laws of Association Football), the referee has the power to stop, suspend or abandon the match, at his discretion for any infringements of the Laws or for outside interference of any kind. A referee (or where applicable, an assistant referee or fourth official) is not held liable for a decision to abandon a match for whatever reason.

We need first to differentiate between “abandon” and “terminate” a match. The difference between terminating a match and abandoning a match is a subtle one, but it is historically correct and supported by traditional practice. (Research into the history of the Laws will reveal this clearly; the IFAB now uses “abandon” almost exclusively, most likely just to confuse us all.) The referee may abandon a match if there is an insufficient number of players to meet the requirements of the Law or the competition, if a team does not appear or leaves before completion of the game, or if the field or any of its equipment do not meet the requirements of the Laws or are otherwise unsafe; i. e., for technical (Law 1) or physical (Law 4) safety. An abandoned match is replayed unless the competition rules provide otherwise. The referee may terminate a match for reasons of non-physical safety (bad weather or darkness), for any serious infringement of the Laws, or because of interference by spectators. Only the competition authority, not the referee, has the authority to declare a winner, a forfeit, or a replay of the match in its entirety. The referee must report fully on the events. “Suspended” means that a match was stopped temporarily for any of various reasons. After that the match is either resumed, abandoned, or terminated and the competition rules take over.

CONDITION OF THE FIELD (AND APPURTENANCES)
• Law 1 states that if the crossbar becomes displaced or broken, play is stopped until it has been repaired or replaced in position. If it is not possible to repair the crossbar, the match must be abandoned. In addition, if the referee declares that one spot on the field is not playable, then the entire field must be declared unplayable and the game abandoned.

• A careful inspection of the field before the start of the game might lead the referee to abandon the game before it was started. If, once the match has begun, the referee discovers a problem that is not correctable, then the referee’s decision must be to abandon the game and report the matter to the competition authority.

• Under Law 5, the referee is authorized to stop play if, in his opinion, the floodlights are inadequate.

INTERFERENCE BY PLAYERS, OTHER PARTICIPANTS, OR SPECTATORS
If an object thrown by a spectator hits the referee or one of the assistant referees or a player or team official, the referee may allow the match to continue, suspend play or abandon the match depending on
the severity of the incident. He must, in all cases, report the incident(s) to the appropriate authorities. Using the powers given him by Law 5, the referee may stop, suspend or terminate the match, at his discretion, for any infringements of the Laws or for grave disorder (see below). If he decides to terminate the match, he must provide the appropriate authorities with a match report which includes information on any disciplinary action taken against players, and/or team officials and any other incidents which occurred before, during or after the match. In no event may the referee determine the winner of any match, terminated or not. Nor may the referee decide whether or not a match must be replayed. Both of those decisions are up to the competition authority, i. e., the league, cup, tournament, etc.

“Grave disorder” would be any sort of dustup involving the players and/or spectators and/or team officials which puts the officials in immediate or likely subsequent jeopardy — fights which metastasize beyond just 2 or 3, masses of spectators invading the pitch, throwing dangerous objects (e. g., firecrackers, butane lighters, etc.) onto the field, and so forth.

THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS
• The referee has no authority to force a team to play if they do not wish to continue a game nor to terminate the match in such a case. The referee will simply abandon the game and include all pertinent details in the match report.

• In the opinion of the International F.A. Board, a match should not be considered valid if there are fewer than seven players in either of the teams. If a team with only seven players is penalized by the award of a penalty-kick and as a consequence one of their players is sent off, leaving only six in the team, the game must be abandoned without allowing the penalty-kick to be taken unless the national association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

• The referee must not abandon the game if a team loses a kicker after kicks from the mark begin. The kicks must be completed.

• If a player has been seriously injured and cannot leave the field without risking further injury, the referee must stop the game and have the player removed. If, for whatever reason, there is no competent person available to oversee removal of the seriously injured player from the field for treatment, then the match must be abandoned.

• If player fraud is alleged prior to the game and the player will admit that he is not the person on the pass he has presented and the game has already begun, the referee will have to deal with the matter of an outside agent on the field. If the fraud were not discovered until after the game had been restarted, the only solution would be to abandon the match. If there is no goal issue, the fraudulent player is removed and the game is restarted with a dropped ball.

• If a player, from a team with only seven players, leaves the field of play to receive medical attention, the match will stop until this player has received treatment and returns to the field of play. If he is unable to return, the match is abandoned, unless the member association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

In all cases, the referee must submit a full report to the appropriate authorities.

AMOUNT OF TIME PLAYED
If the referee discovers that a period of play was ended prematurely but a subsequent period of play has started, the match must be abandoned and the full details of the error included in the game report.

TEAM OFFICIALS
The Laws make the point that the coach and other team officials must BEHAVE RESPONSIBLY and thus may not shout, curse, interfere, or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves The coach’s presence, or the presence of any other team official, is generally irrelevant to the game — under the Laws of the Game, but it may have some importance under the rules of youth competitions. If the coach or other team official is removed, known in the Law as “expelled,” that person must leave the field and its environs. If it is a youth game and the coach and all other team officials have been expelled, then the referee should consider abandoning the game. A full report must be filed with the competition authority. The referee has no authority to determine who has won or lost the game, whether by forfeit or any other process; that is the responsibility of the competition authority. The referee must file a report on all events associated with the abandonment.

RESULT OF THE MATCH
Once the game begins, only the referee has the right to decide whether the game continues, is suspended temporarily, terminated or abandoned. If a game is abandoned or terminated before it is completed, the determination of the result is up to the competition authority (league, cup, tournament). In most cases, competitions declare that if a full half has been played, the result stands, but that does not apply to all competitions. The referee does not have the authority to declare what the score is or who has won the game. The referee’s only recourse is to include in his game report full details of what caused the match to be abandoned or terminated. The status of an abandoned is determined by the rules of the competition or the competition authority itself. There is no set amount of time, but many rules of competition will call a game complete if a full half has been played.