November 16, 2010

As I center ref older travel/elite club games, I’m increasingly confronted with judging the legality of slide tackles.

Can you tell if there is a set of criteria that I can use to help me in assessing whether a slide tackle is legal? Has USSF issued any directive or other document akin to their “Handling the Ball” directive that could provide me with helpful guidance?

USSF answer (November 16, 2010):
One of the current sources is the “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”; the 2010/2011 edition can be downloaded from the USSF website.

The referee must judge whether the tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless, or involves the use of excessive force. Making contact with the opponent before the ball when making a tackle is unfair and should be penalized. However, the fact that contact with the ball was made first does not automatically mean that the tackle is fair.  The declaration by a player that he or she has “got the ball first” is irrelevant if, while tackling for the ball, the player carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force commits any of the prohibited actions.

A foul committed while tackling an opponent with little or no concern for the safety of the opponent shall be cause for the player to be sent from the field and shown the red card for serious foul play.

In brief, there is only one way to slide tackle– safely. And when it is not safe, it is almost always so unsafe as to require a red card for serious foul play.

The term “slide tackle” refers to an attempt to tackle the ball away from an opponent while sliding on the ground. A slide tackle is legal, provided it is performed legally. In other words, there is nothing illegal about a slide tackle by itself–no matter where it is done and no matter the direction from which it comes. Referees (and spectators) should not get hung up on the term “slide” tackling. There is nothing in our concern regarding endangering the safety of the opponent which limits this to a slide tackle. In fact, if, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle endangers the safety of the opponent, it makes no difference if there is contact or not.

FIFA emphasized in the past the great danger in slide tackles from behind because, if this tackle is not done perfectly, the potential for injury is so much greater. Nowadays, if the referee decides that the foul while tackling from any direction–from the front, the side, or the rear–was done in such a way as to endanger the safety of the opponent, the proper action is to send the violator off the field with a red card.

How can tackles become illegal? Two of the most common ways are by making contact with the opponent first (before contacting the ball) and by striking the opponent with a raised upper leg before, during, or after contacting the ball with the lower leg. Referees must be vigilant and firm in assessing any tackle, because the likely point of contact is the lower legs of the opponent and this is a particularly vulnerable area.

The referee must judge each situation of a tackle from any direction individually, weighing the guidelines published by FIFA and the U. S. Soccer Federation, the positions of the players, the way the tackler uses his/her foot or feet, the “temperature” of the game, the age/skill of the players, and the attitude of the players. Only then can the referee make a sensible decision.

While one may (and should) sympathize with the injured player, soccer is a tough, competitive sport, and injuries can happen with no associated infringement of the Law. Players who act on the basis of the opposite presumption, abetted by like-minded spectators, do the sport no good.

For the sake of those who would punish any tackle, we ask that players and referees alike remember that it is not a foul if a sliding tackle is successful and the player whose ball was tackled away then falls over the tackler’s foot. It has to be in the opinion of the referee, but if the tackler accomplishes the objective of taking the ball safely and within the meaning of the Law, then it makes no difference if the player who was tackled then falls down. With a big “UNLESS”: if, in the referee’s opinion, the tackler has used excessive force, then the tackler should be sent off for serious foul play. Or, if the tackler makes the tackle and then lifts either the tackling foot or the other foot and trips the opponent, that is a foul. Simply because a player falls over the foot of the tackler is not a dangerous thing. It’s one of the breaks of the game.

Finally, an acronym to help you remember the elements of tackles that merit red cards: SIAPOA.
Red card tackles usually involve combinations of the following components:
1. Speed of play and the tackle
2. Intent
3. Aggressive nature
4. Position of the tackler
5. Opportunity to play the ball
6. Atmosphere of the game