Assistant Referee mechanics on signaling a defensive foul in the penalty area. Since both FIFA in the 2008/2009 LOTG interpretation and guidance, and USSF in a Memorandum in May 2008 have issued instructions on AR signals for a foul in the penalty area, I would like some advice to see if my interpretation is correct. The FIFA LOTG states that an AR who sees a foul that would result in a penalty kick, but is not seen by the Referee, should make eye contact with the Referee, raise his flag, and then move briskly to the corner flag. On the other hand, the USSF memorandum states that an AR should indicate that a foul signaled by the Referee has been committed in the penalty area by raising his flag horizontally at waist height. In order to correctly instruct my Assistant Referees I want to be sure: the FIFA instructions are for a foul in the penalty area seen and indicated by the Assistant Referee. The USSF instructions are to indicate to the referee, who has already signaled the foul, that the foul is in the Penalty Area.

USSF answer (October 6, 2008):
Not quite correct, but there is a difference in mechanics between when the referee signals a foul and when the assistant referee signals a foul. In addition, at present there are two possible signals for the assistant referee to make, depending on the level of play.

Referee signals a foul:

  • No further AR action is needed beyond getting in position for the restart (unless the referee requests assistance in enforcing the minimum distance)
  • If the referee, after stopping play, makes obvious eye contact with the AR, the referee is asking for assistance in locating the foul (probably because the referee saw the foul but was too far away to be sure about whether it was inside or outside the penalty area)
    • If in the AR’s opinion, the offense occurred outside the penalty area, stand still with the flag held straight down at the side (left hand, assuming a standard diagonal)
    • If in the AR’s opinion, the offense occurred inside the penalty area, stand still with the flag held horizontally between the hands (new signal as of 2008)
    • Maintain the signal until acknowledged by the referee

AR signals a direct free kick foul inside the penalty area by a defender:

  • Flag straight up
  • Eye contact with referee
  • Brief waggle of the flag
  • If referee waves it down:
    • Drop flag
    • Maintain the offside position as play will be continuing
  • If referee stops play:
    • Drop flag
    • Begin moving toward corner

For the highest-level games (MLS and USL) there is another signal, one outlined in a position paper published by USSF in May 2008 and reinforced in the Week in Review WIR 27:

If the AR was of the opinion the foul occurred inside the penalty area and therefore a penalty kick should be awarded, the AR should raise and wiggle the flag and then – after the referee’s whistle – indicate that the foul occurred in the penalty area by holding the flag across his waist mimicking the substitution signal.

We will reconcile these different signals and instructions in the next (2009) edition of the Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials. In the meanwhile, the matter should be covered thoroughly in the pregame conference among the match officials.