The Handball Violation

An adult amateur coach from the Czech Republic asks:

[After describing several potential handball violations which depend on the position of the hand or arm and wondering which, if any, violate the Law, the question ends with the following request.] Maybe you can describe some model situations, which can help me. IFAB LOTG 16/17 does not explain it clearly.

Answer

The handball violation (and, yes, it is now permissible to use this phrase to describe the infraction rather than the traditional  “handling offense” so we will take off our grumpy hat and bow to common usage) is the quintessential foul that cannot be described — you have to be there.  Nevertheless, it is possible to offer some generalizations that may assist both new and experienced officials in properly evaluating all the facts and circumstances so that our understanding of it is better grounded.  What makes the handball such a contentious issue is its history as one of the most important reasons why and how the sport of soccer originated.  It is also useful to remember (particularly for Americans) that the sport in most parts of the world other than North America is called football.  Simplifying dangerously, soccer is soccer rather than rugby because the use of hands is forbidden to all participants except for one specially identified player for each team and only if he or she is in their own penalty area.

Law 12 uses just 17 words to define the offense: “involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”  The physical act itself is simple and very concrete (contact with the ball by the hand) which may be easy to see or it may be hidden from the referee but seen by others or it may be so brief that no one is entirely sure it even occurred.  What requires us to earn our money, however, hinges on one word — “deliberate.”  The act must be deliberate, and that is where we can supply some guidelines.

Law 12 (notably in the current edition of the Laws) itself offers several thoughts.  For example, the contact might be entirely reflexive or instinctive as when a player sees a hard object hurtling toward some part of the body which he or she is conditioned by nature to protect due to its importance or sensitivity.  The face, for example, but there are others, and while many may be assumed for male and female players, others could be entirely individual (as, for example, a player attempting to protect an area of the body which was previously injured and has not yet healed).  A reflexive or instinctive act is not deliberate.

What triggers an instinctive act?  One factor might be the speed of the object as in the case of a ball hard struck in a volley as opposed to rolling on the ground.  Another factor might be the lack of time to avoid contact using any other means as might be the case when the origin of the ball’s movement is close rather than distant.  A third factor might be the unexpected nature of the imminent contact, as when the ball coming from a peripheral direction is not noticed until bare moments before the inevitable collision.  These factors underlie, in part, the common aphorism that handball offenses usually involve the hand moving to the ball but rarely the ball moving to the hand.

The notion has been around for a long time that an important factor might be where the hand is at the time of contact, often verbalized as a “natural” versus “unnatural” position.  Given a player in motion, pumping legs, driving forward, trying to maintain balance, pivoting quickly, trying to get the attention of a teammate, and so forth, we are hard-pressed to conclude that there really is any such thing as a “natural position” for the hands unless we picture such extreme examples as a player standing still with a hand up in the air waving to someone in the crowd at the moment the hand is struck by a ball played in the air.  Furthermore, it has been argued that players may protect their balance while in motion by using their arms differently due to gender-based differences in body structure and/or how weight is carried on those structures.  This has frequently confused officials and has resulted in their making mistakes through not understanding gender and age differences in players.  The IFAB emphasized this concern when they stated in Law 12 that “the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

We have heard of and have ourselves seen players running with arms pumping back and forth being whistled for handling because the ball, struck from behind the player, has hit the hand while it was in motion extending behind the player!  We have seen players whistled who have fallen and are in the process of lifting themselves off the ground when the ball rolls into the weight-bearing arm!

The bottom line is that, while extremes in hand positioning might be a factor in deciding whether ball contact should be treated as deliberate based on that fact alone, it is far more important to focus on the totality of the player’s situation and what led to the contact.  Moreover, referees must consider that contact which initially should be judged as not deliberate (for reasons noted above) may become deliberate (and therefore a violation) if the player then uses that contact to subsequently control or direct the ball.  Actually, truly “whistleable” handball offenses are surprisingly rare — most hand contacts with the ball are accidental and often a surprise to the player.  Many fall under the “doubtful or trifling” rubric and are not a justifiable reason for stopping play.

By the way, you may feel that, regarding the handball offense, the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game “does not explain it clearly,” but we would suggest instead that the current Law does a much better job in this regard than at any time in the past.

Recalcitrant Coaches

A HS/College Referee asks:

I was officiating a U15G game. Before the game even started, I and my ARs took our positions on the field. I blew my whistle to get the teams to take the field. The Home team came right out and took their side of the field. The Visiting Team stood on the sideline listening to their coach give last minute instructions. I proceeded to wait another 15-20 seconds (to let him complete his instruction) then I blew my whistle a second time … no response. I then waited another 15-20 seconds and whistled a third time and stated loudly and within 10 yards of the team “Coach, let’s get your team on the field” … still no response. I then stepped closer and said “Coach, let’s go,” but he stuck his head up and stated “What???” I said “Let’s go” … but he proceeded to keep coaching. I said “Coach, you have a warning.  Let’s get them on the field” but again only “What??” I gave him a yellow card for dissent.  Is this the correct procedure, or is this a delay of game?

Answer

First off, any answer to this has to depend on a critical issue — namely, who or what was the competition authority?  In other words, (a) what set of rules were you under and (b) did those rules involve any local exceptions?  We ask because, although none of the standard rule sets (IFAB, HFHS, NCAA) has an explicit rule or ruling pertaining to a team failing to take to the field when requested by the referee, each rule set provides different tools the referee can use in such a case.  Moreover, specifically with respect to IFAB’s Laws of the Game as practiced in the US, many local competitions (leagues, tournaments, etc.) have special rules which can and do provide recourse.  Indeed, we are not familiar with a single tournament in this country which does have some sort of unyielding mandate to start and stay on time.

For example, many youth and adult amateur leagues around the US require that a game must start on the scheduled time and that, if a team does not or cannot field at least the minimum number of players at the scheduled time (or within some certain number of minutes thereafter), the referee is authorized either to consider the match as forfeited then and there or to go ahead and start the clock (this would apply to any period of play, not just the starting period) until some point is reached after which the match is considered abandoned by the players.  This can cover not only situations in which a team doesn’t have enough players present to start and either knows no more will appear or is waiting to see if more will appear.  This would also cover the situation you describe where a team refuses to take the field when required (which can also happen at any stoppage — a coach might decide to withdraw his or her team due to disagreement with circumstances or some specific decision with which the coach vehemently disagrees).

So, we cannot answer the core question without knowing the rules applied to the game.  And, if there are such rules, our answer would have to be, first, know what they are ahead of taking the assignment and, second, simply and faithfully follow them.  You might even engage the coach of the team which is ready to play in an effort to advise the visiting team of these rules.  However, if there are no local or competition-specific rules pertaining the scenario, we suggest you look to common sense and what you would do if, at the scheduled time, there was only one team present.  How long would you wait?  What reasonably could you do to ascertain the circumstances for the absence?  If this involved the very beginning of the match, could you adjust the length of the periods of play to accommodate the delay?  Are there following games which would be adversely affected by the delay?  Is it late enough in the day that the delay could result in unsafe lighting?

There is another approach that might be considered.  Even though the opposing team in your scenario is there, technically they are not “there” because “there” is defined as “on the field of play” and, as long as they are not, they are in effect not there at all.  This means that they are subject to any requirement that a game start on time or at least within some specified grace period … and that might become the most potent item of information you could bring to the attention of the recalcitrant coach.  “Coach, the game must begin in [x] minutes.  At exactly that time, I will whistle to start play, note the absence of the minimum number of opposing team players on the field, terminate the match according to Law 3.1, and include full details in my report to [the competition authority].”  Nothing needs to, nor should be, added to this little speech.  Then follow through.  Period.

By the way, don’t even consider formally cautioning the coach in this scenario.  First, it is not permitted under the Laws of the Game.  Second, it will only step on the tail of the dragon.

Offside and Playing the Ball

A referee asks:

Player A1 kicks the ball.  Player B1 heads the ball and it falls directly to player A2 who is standing in an offside position.  Is Player A2 offside?

Answer

Whenever we discuss anything pertaining to an offside question, it’s always useful to make sure we are speaking the same language.  Your basic question is “Is Player A2 offside?” and our first response is “What do you mean by ‘offside’?”  Law 11 uses the term to mean two related but very different things.  If by “offside” you mean “offside position,” then clearly the answer is “yes” because this is a given in your scenario but, as we all know, there is nothing illegal or immoral about being in an offside position.   Our next question therefore is “So what?”

The challenge for an offside position player is to not become involved in active play while carrying that tag.  If you do, then you have committed an “offside violation” and an offside violation involves a whole different set of issues.

If A1 had kicked the ball directly (which, in soccer, means only that there was no intervening touch or play of the ball by anyone else) to A2, we still do not necessarily have an offside violation because A2, before being whistled, needs to become involved in active play.  To say that the ball “falls … to A2” indicates nothing more than that the ball wound up from A1’s play somewhere at or near A2 and it says nothing about what A2 did about this.  Did A2 then make contact with the ball, which is at the core of “becoming involved in active play by interfering with play”?  At this point, A2 could play the ball (violation) … or A2 could make eye contact with the referee and begin backing away while shouting to his teammates “No!  I can’t play the ball.” (no violation).

Your scenario, however, adds a twist.  The ball off A1 didn’t go directly to A2 — there was an intercepting contact with the ball and, in fact, it was by an opponent.  If, instead, the interception had been by a teammate (A3) in an onside position, then there would be no offside violation and thus ends that particular segment of play for offside analysis, only to begin another when A3 heads the ball to A2.  Was A2 still in an offside position at the time A3 headed the ball?  Did A2 then become involved in active play by touching the ball in any way?  If the answers to both questions is “Yes,” then there has been an offside violation; if the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then no offside violation.  (For purposes of this scenario, we’re focusing on “interfering with play” and not such additional ways of active play involvement as “interfering with an opponent.”)

So, we come to the heart of your scenario and the really important question becomes “What do you mean by ‘heads’?”   In an offside scenario involving intervening contact with the ball by an opponent (B1), the referee must decide whether the contact was deliberate or accidental (e.g., a deflection off the opponent’s head, trunk, or legs).  If deliberate, then there is no violation because, by the deliberate play, the opponent took possession of the ball and, when that ball then went to A2, it was no longer coming from A2’s teammate.  If accidental, then there is a violation because the accidental contact is deemed not to have given B1 possession and, thus, the ball at A2’s feet had indeed come from A1.

There are one note and two important caveats to remember in all this.

The note is that, historically, this distinction between deliberate and accidental applies only to a defender, not to an attacker.  In other words, any contact with the ball by an attacker, without regard to whether it was accidental or deliberate, is deemed as “coming from the attacker” for purposes of evaluating the offside position.  A rather extreme example of this might start with both A2 and A3 in onside positions but with A2 moving forward toward the opponent’s goal.  The ball is struck toward the intended target A3 by A1 and it glances of A3’s head.  Since A3 was in an onside position when A1 kicks the ball, there is no violation.  The glance of the ball redirects it to A2 who, at the time of the glance, had moved far enough toward the opposing goal line that A2 is now in an offside position.  There is an offside violation now if A2 interferes with play because, although not in an offside position when A1 kicked the ball, A2 is in an offside position when the ball accidentally deflects off A3.  The accidental deflection is treated the same as a deliberate play.

The first caveat is that the decision about whether B1’s contact was deliberate or accidental is solely in the opinion of the referee.  There are no hard and fast guidelines for this — you have to “be there” to see all the facts and circumstances.  That said,  using the phrase “heads the ball” generally suggests a deliberate play.

The second caveat is that there is a significant exception to the whole deliberate/accidental dichotomy — namely, it doesn’t matter even if the contact was deliberate if the opponent’s resulting play is deemed to be a “save”!  The 2016/2017 rewrite of Law 11 requires us to develop some general notion of what a “save” is.  Fortunately, the Law has given us an excellent start on this by defining a “save” (p. 166, current Lawbook) as “an action to stop the ball when it is going into or very close to the goal.”  “Into the goal” is easy … this has long been meant as “but for the intervention, the ball would have gone into the net.”  “Or very close” is tougher but could be thought of as “so close to looking like it would go into the goal that a reasonable defender would expend every legal effort to prevent the goal” — some might think of this notion as meaning something desperate enough to be virtually reflexive (e.g., a goalkeeper fisting the ball away).

So, finally, we can answer your question about whether A2’s actions constituted an offside violation.  “Yes” if “heads” is pictured as an accidental deflection, “No” if the referee decides B1’s play was deliberate, and “No” if the accidental deflection was a save.

 

The Dropped Ball

A referee asks:

Situation 1: There is no ‘double touch’ rule applicable to a dropped ball, right?  Only to all other restarts? Because the moment it touches the ground, even if simultaneously touched by a player, it is in play….& double touch rule doesn’t apply to the ground (which is what put it in play).

Situation 2:  The player who is the first to touch the ball…if he/she pulls it away or pushes it away & dribbles it, can that player shoot on goal?  What if, with his/her first touch, the player passes it to his/her other foot, which means the other foot or the one that first touched the ball = can be used for a shot on goal + a successful shot on goal can be allowed, as it is not a ‘direct kick on goal’ from a dropped ball?

Answer — Situation 1

It is correct that there is no “double touch” (also known as a “2nd touch”) violation possible on a dropped ball, but not for the reason you suggest.  It is not “the ground” that started the sequence of events which led to the ball being in play, it was the referee.  All second touch violations are based on and apply only to the person who performs the restart and only if that person is a player.  Touching the ground is merely a requirement for the ball to be in play, the same as the ball leaving the penalty area is one of the requirements for the ball to be in play on a goal kick.

Answer — Situation 2

Three people are important in understanding a dropped ball restart: the referee (who does it), the first player to make contact with the ball (who gains possession), and all other players on the field regardless of which team they are on.  The referee initiates the restart. If there is no “first player who contacts,” this means that the ball left the field directly from the drop and the Law requires that the ball be retrieved and dropped again at the same location.  Once you have a “first person who contacts,” a different dynamic takes over.  The referee goes back to officiating and this “first contact player” (let’s make this easy and say A12) takes center stage.  A12, in all respects but one, can play the ball in any way permitted by the Law.  This means, of course, that A12 can move the ball anywhere on the field by dribbling it (either or both feet), by heading the ball, by passing it to a teammate (or an opponent), and so forth.  The single thing A12 cannot do is score a goal (against either team!).

Notice, we didn’t say can’t “shoot on goal” because, in fact, that is something A12 could certainly do — it’s just that, if A12 did so and the ball went into either goal, the goal cannot be counted.  Using the left foot and then the right foot while dribbling makes no difference because it stays the same person and the rule applies to the person, not to one or the other of his/her feet.  Nor does it make any difference if A12 pushes the ball into space, then runs to the ball and continues moving it by any lawful means.  And it also makes no difference if A12 kicks the ball such that it deflects off the referee (or a crossbar or goalpost) and goes back to A12, who proceeds to continue moving the ball — A12 remains the “first contact player.”

So where do all players other than A12 come into this thing?  Once any of the “other” players (regardless of team) makes legal contact with the ball, the special identity of being the “first contact player” totally disappears — even to the point of A12 passing the ball to A43 who then passes it back to A12 who then shoots on goal … and scores (legally).  The moment A43 made contact with the ball, A12 is no longer the “first contact player”and now, along with any other player, can score legally.

By the way, if A12 did put the ball into the net without any other player making contact with the ball, the restart would be a goal kick if it was the opponent’s net but a corner kick if it was A12’s own net.

What Is a Kick?

A HS/College coach asks:

Is it within the laws of the game to “lift” the ball (meaning to slide your foot under and propel the ball up in the air — as opposed to striking or rolling it with your sole) on a kick-off, corner, free kick, etc.

Answer

Yes.  We think.  Probably.  Actually, the only place which specifically deals with your question is in Law 13 (Free Kicks) where it states that “a free kick can be taken by lifting the ball with a foot or both feet simultaneously” (2016/2017 edition).  So, at least for direct and indirect free kicks, the answer is clear.

What we don’t know, because the Law doesn’t mention it, is whether the same “ruling” would apply to such other restarts as penalty kicks, kick-offs, corner kicks, or goal kicks.  Because, in general, all restarts involving kicking a ball are similar in many respects, our conclusion would be that, in practice, the “lift with the foot” approved for free kicks would apply to all “kick the ball” restarts, but with the proviso that all such restarts must still be governed by any other characteristics specified in the Law.  For example, a penalty kick must still “go forward” even if lifted up.  Another example would be that, even if the ball is put into play by lifting it up with the foot (or both feet), a player who did so and then headed or volleyed the ball would still be guilty of a second touch violation.

Perhaps the reason the Law is silent on whether the “lift with the foot” kick applies to kicked-ball restarts other than free kicks is that it really makes little sense (at least as regards to the purposes and dynamics of these other restarts) to kick the ball in this particular way.  Why, for example, would a player want to take a goal kick or penalty kick using that technique?

In any event, however, the answer is absolutely clear with regards to free kicks, and probably the same for any other kicked-ball restart.

What’s Under YOUR Uniform? (with apologies to a popular credit card commercial)

A high school/college referee asks:

I have been seeing a lot of players in other sports lately wearing arm sleeves. I would judge this to be similar to wearing tights (compression shorts) which should match the main color or hem of the shirt and if there are more than one, the team should have the same color. Would I be correct in my thinking or are those pieces of cloth prohibited? Does the uniform / sock / undergarment language also address Captains bands or other arm (compression) sleeves?

Answer

First of all, until we begin seeing in soccer what you are seeing with respect to “other sports,” there is little basis on which to offer any sort of definitive answer.  All we can do at this point is speculate within the framework of what we already know regarding the Laws of the Game.

Some things are easy.  For example, don’t worry about captain’s armbands.  They are permitted and don’t come under any provision of the Law beyond the restriction that they must not present a danger to anyone (though we would be hard-pressed to contemplate an armband that might even faintly be considered unsafe!).  This, of course, assumes that it is not being worn over the sock.  Like anything, however, which is not part of the required uniform described in Law 4, it should be inspected — or at least given a brief glance.  Law 4 also includes “arm protectors” as part of the category it calls “protective equipment” and states that they must be “non-dangerous” (which is a wordier version of “safe”) if made of “lightweight padded material.”  Conceivably, if something worn on the arm did not specifically extend below the sleeve of the jersey but, rather, started from below the jersey sleeve, it could be considered as falling in this category.

The difficult question regards something worn on the arm that does begin from some point under the jersey sleeve and then extends downward on the arm.  This would give every appearance of being an “undershirt” which would then become subject to the rule about its color being the same as the main color of the shirt sleeve.  The sticking point here is that, without having the player undress to some point, there would be no way of telling whether this type of armwear was part of a true undergarment or just a sleeve extension.

Our recommendation, should you find yourself facing such a situation, is to treat armwear that starts under the sleeve and then continues on the arm as an undershirt and apply the Law appropriately.  If it begins below the sleeve, treat it as an arm protector and limit your concerns to whether it is safe.  Finally, you always have the option if things start to look sticky to point out to the player that, if the armsleeve is not a true undershirt but is otherwise not in conformity with the undershirt rules, simply pull it down far enough to show skin, thus demonstrating that it falls under a different rule.  Keep in mind the core objective of the undershirt rule is to standardize jerseys … and anything which appears to be an extension of the jersey.  Also remember that the wearing of anything other than compulsory equipment may be a topic covered by a local rule of competition.  The final thing to remember (so much to keep in mind!!) is that many technical violations may be considered trifling: choose to insist on those things that really matter (but include details of situations like this in your game report).

Player Disappears During Kicks from the Mark

An adult referee asks:

Kicks from the penalty mark 11 v 11 and all subs used.Last player on one side scores their 11th as it is now sudden death but the other team player says they are too injured to take theirs, possibly fear of losing the game?

Answer

This will likely not be the last time we entertain questions regarding how the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game changed elements of the Kicks from the Mark (KFTM) process.  This question, at least, is one of the easier ones (the really difficult questions will emerge after enough experience accrues to highlight the less well known ins and outs of KFTM).

Before proceeding, however, we need to clarify some terminology.  There is no such thing as “sudden death” in the KFTM procedure.  If the tie has not been broken by the time five pairs of kicks have occurred, the process moves to a phase in which the two teams take kicks in pairs and the tie is broken only if one team has scored and the other team has not. The term “sudden death” would be applicable only if the tie is declared broken (and KFTM is ended immediately) because the first kicker in the pair was successful.  In point of fact, both teams always have a chance to kick once the first five pairs have finished with the score still being tied.  In fact, this requirement for there to always be a second kick is at the heart of the question here.

With that settled, the scenario we are faced with here is fairly simple. The teams have started with 11 v. 11 and not lost anyone so far through ten pairs of kicks due to a send-off or injury.  We come then to the 11th pair of kicks with two and only two players (one from each team) who are eligible to kick in the 11th pair.  The team which started each pair of kicks is up and its 11th player kicks.  The opposing team by rule must also have the opportunity to kick using its 11th player.  Note that, so far, it doesn’t matter whether the first kicker of the pair scored or not.  The referee, who has been keeping track of who has kicked so far (assisted by the AR in the center circle), calls for Red #55.  No one comes forward.  Calls again but still no one.  Maybe Red #55 isn’t even there (not a likelihood in a high level match), maybe he or she has become ill (but has not officially withdrawn), or perhaps (as in this question) Red #55 is merely feigning injury for unsporting reasons.  With some variations, it really doesn’t matter why Red #55, the last eligible Red player, will not come forward to proceed with the 2nd kick of the current pair.

There is nothing in the Law dealing directly with this.  The closest “on point” guidance is in Law 10: “Kicks from the penalty mark must not be delayed for a player who leaves the field of play. The player’s kick will be forfeited (not scored) if the player does not return in time to take a kick.”  Note that this language is specifically directed at a player who has left the center circle where all eligible players are required to remain(excepting only the goalkeepers), hasn’t returned, and therefore is delaying the taking of the next KFTM.  It is a fundamental principle of interpreting the Law to find the core issue and expand from there and this delay is the prime issue.

Red #55 is clearly delaying the KFTM by not coming to the penalty mark when called to do so as the last possible player eligible to kick.  Law 10 says that we should declare Red #55 to have forfeited his or her opportunity and to be marked as having not scored … and now, finally, it makes a difference as to what happened when the last Blue player took his or her team’s 11th kick.  If it was successful, then the Red team failed to score and the KFTM is over, favoring Blue.  If the 11th Blue player had missed, then so also had the 11th Red player (our unresponsive #55): the two teams remain tied and so the referee must move to the 12th pair (thus beginning a new round).

Red #55 could be cautioned for all sorts of reasons — leaving the field without the permission of the referee, delaying the restart of play (if you count a KFTM as a “restart”), or simple unsporting behavior (showing a lack of respect for the game, which might be particularly pertinent if Red #55 were feigning an illness or simply willfully refusing to take the kick entirely despite being present).  Whether cautioned or not, this behavior must certainly be included in the match report, as well as any factually supportable evaluation of the player’s reasons (it would be up to the competition authority to determine punishment, if any, for the recalcitrant Red #55).

Anything beyond this is pure speculation.  For example, in a 2nd round, would Red #55 still be eligible?  If no longer eligible, then does “reduce to equate” apply and the Blue team must drop one before proceeding to round 2?  Let’s save these and related issues for another day.

Misconduct Before the Match

An adult referee asks:

When can a referee show cards before the game as the new laws talk about when the game starts and during field inspection?

Answer

This is actually one of the more interesting Law changes announced in 2016.  Previously, referees were allowed to show yellow and red cards for misconduct before the match (from the time they entered the area of the field) and after the match (from the end of the match , including any tie-breaking procedures, to when the officiating team left the area of the field.  More to the point, a yellow card issued before the match “counted” if a second yellow card were issued during the match — the second yellow would earn a red card just as if the first caution had occurred during the game.  A red card before the match, which resulted in the usual dismissal from the field, did not also result in the team having to play “short.”

With the 2016/2017 Laws, however, the International Board changed things in two ways.  First, no cards (red or yellow) could be displayed, regardless of the conduct, before the opening whistle of the match and therefore a “second yellow” send-off could only be based on cautions issued during the match (not before or after).  If any misconduct occurred before the match which would otherwise warrant a send-off (e.g., spitting or violent conduct), the player involved would still be sent off and (as before) the team could still field the same number of players.  In either case, all misconduct before or after a match, including otherwise cautionable offenses, must be documented in the match report.

Something else changed as well.  The International Board decided to mark the beginning of the “before the game” time by the appearance of the officiating team for the purpose of conducting the inspection of the field.  While this sounds acceptable, the Board was thinking of international and national  matches and other very high level matches where much of what happens is governed by tight schedules and highly ceremonial activities (such as formal field inspections).  In these kinds of matches, the officiating team is usually sequestered in stadium rooms until their first official appearance and so their formal entry onto the field to begin their publicly visible responsibilities under Laws 1, 2, and 4 is easily recognizable.

For most of us, though, things are much looser, less regimented, and often complicated by assignment schedules which include multiple matches where the same officials, as a team, may be “at the field” for long periods of time throughout the day.  This makes it difficult to determine the precise moment when the authority to send off a player before the game actually starts.  Our advice to you is that it starts when you decide it starts (and, likewise when the match is over, when you want your authority to send off a player will end).  It would be a good idea not to abuse this flexibility by, for example, marking the start of your before-the-game authority by when you drive into the parking lot or the end of your authority as late as the middle of the next game!

The bottom line in all this is that you are no longer authorized to show any cards before the first whistle or after the end of official play (including overtime and other tie-breaking procedures mandated by the rules of competition).  You can send off any player, substitute, or substituted player before or after the game (within the limits described above).  All misconduct before or after a match (cautionable or red cardable) must be included in the game report.

When Is It Over?

A high school/college player asks:

The game has seconds remaining. There is a deliberate handball in the penalty area. The referee does not see it but the AR raises his flag. The referee then whistles to end the match. The players start walking off of the field. The AR runs up to the referee and they talk. The referee then brings the players back on the filed and awards a penalty.

Can the referee award a penalty after the game has ended?

Answer (note: answered solely in terms of a USSF sanctioned game)

The 2016/2017 Laws of the Game state clearly in Law 5 that “the referee may not change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or on the advice of another match official if play has restarted or the referee has signalled the end of the first or second half … and left the field” (emphasis added).  There are several important aspects of the Law which must be understood  in order to provide guidance on this question.

The AR is an integral member of the officiating team and Law 5 tasks the referee with performing his/her responsibilities “in cooperation with the other match officials.”  This means that the referee has a duty to receive and act appropriately on information provided by an AR.  There are several situations that help us understand the relationship between the referee and an assistant referee.  For example, the Law allows a card for violent misconduct (but not a foul) to survive a stoppage and restart of play if an AR had seen the offense, signaled the referee, and maintained the signal until recognized by the referee.  Another example is an attacker in an offside position who becomes actively involved in play (and is properly signaled for an offside violation by the AR but the signal is not seen), followed shortly thereafter by a foul committed by an opposing player which was seen and whistled by the referee.  Here, the Law allows the referee to accept the offside violation signaled by the AR and, since it occurred before the defending player’s foul, to punish the offside violation and then to deal with the defender’s actions as misconduct occurring during a stoppage of play.

Put these things together and we have (a) the AR signaling a PK offense just before time expires but not seen by the referee until the end of the 2nd half is whistled combined with (b) the fact that, although time had expired, the referee had not yet left the field.  Accordingly, the referee could properly accept the information from the AR, rescind his decision that time had expired (which it hadn’t prior to the offense), and bring the teams back onto the field for a PK — which would be in extended time because time would expire while the PK restart was being administered.   All the rules applying to “a PK taken in extended time” would apply.

Of course, this sort of scenario would not occur if proper mechanics had been followed — specifically quickly making eye contact with both the ARs before signalling for the end of the period (first or second)!   Nor should the correct referee’s decision here be complicated by such extraneous factors as the score (no matter what it is).

 

Illegal Substitution Problems

An adult/pro level referee asks:

A goal is scored in the 50th minute and, during the stoppage that results, the referee notices that the scorer had not been a player when the first half ended.  Apparently,  the scorer had swapped places with a teammate who had been a player at the end of the first half and then, as players were returning to the field for the start of the second half, entered the field in effect as a substitution that had not been brought to the referee’s attention. What should the referee decide?

Answer

First, this sort of thing should not happen, either as a result of referee inattention or as a breakdown in communications within the officiating team, all of whom have a collective and individual responsibility for ensuring that the Law’s requirements are met (see Law 3, section 3: “If a substitution is made during the half-time interval or before extra time, the procedure must be completed before the match restarts”).

Second, although this situation could theoretically occur in any match, it is much more likely to happen in a match which is not being governed by the strict substitution requirements of Law 3 … in other words, in a youth game where substitutions are usually unlimited and with a “right to return” (see, again, Law 3, section 2).  Detailed recordkeeping of who enters and leaves under these common circumstances is often nonexistent because it is so cumbersome.

Third, following from the first two comments, it is highly likely that the “substitution” was not the result of a willful, intentional desire to circumvent the Law to gain an advantage or to show a lack of respect for the game.

Frankly, this situation is not directly or clearly covered by the Laws of the Game.  You might think it is but it really isn’t.  A student of the Law would likely point to Law 3, Section 5, which suggests that the scorer, having entered the field illegally (i.e., without the referee’s permission using standard substitution mechanics), should be cautioned and play restarted with an IFK where the ball was when play was stopped.  This is fine if the entry had been during play, was seen, and play stopped for this infraction.   Others might suggest that the situation is governed by Law 3, Section 7, which provides for sanctions in the case of an “extra person” who enters the field and interferes with play.  But the scorer is not an “extra person” as that term is generally used.  Here, the stoppage occurred solely because the ball left the field (into the goal — but it could just as easily been across the touchline for a throw-in restart.

“By the book,” there isn’t a clear answer.  Is there something close?  Consider the following: caution the scorer for entering the field without the referee’s permission, cancel the goal, require the scorer to leave the field and be replaced with the original player, and restart with a goal kick.  This stitched-together set of referee actions is supportable by various sections of the Law and by the underlying intent of the Law.

For a match below the highest competitive levels (where, as suggested, this sort of thing is more likely to have occurred), there is, however, a fairly simple alternative.  It is commonly understood that, when the referee signals for the start of the second half (as with the first half and all subsequent periods of play), this is an implicit confirmation that the referee (assisted by both ARs) accepts that all players are correctly on the field under Law 3, their uniforms and equipment meet the requirements of Law 4, and the field itself is acceptable under Law 1.  The signal to start the period of play could thus be reasonably taken as an implicit acceptance of the player “substitution.”  If this line of argument is persuasive, then the substitution has been tacitly accepted, the score stands and no caution for illegal entry is needed.  Absent a belief by the referee that the “substitution” was undertaken for nefarious  and unsporting purposes, why make things more difficult for everyone and for no particularly compelling reason?  The player (and the player’s coach) could be reminded of their obligation to make sure in the future that the referee is more properly advised about any otherwise well-meaning substitution that had been made during a between periods break.

We hasten to add that the immediately preceding suggestion is not officially recognized and you are welcome to act according to your own conscience.  However, we believe that the way Law 3, section 5 (“a named substitute starts a match instead of a named player and the referee is not informed of this change”) resolves this situation is in the same spirit in which our “simple solution” is offered.

Update:  As of the 2017/2018 revisions to the Laws of the Game, the “common sense” answer suggested above has been approved by the International Board.  The new version of the Laws of the Game provides that a substitution made during any break between periods of play (e.g., half-time) without the prior knowledge or approval of the Referee is to be accepted as valid and is not subject to a caution for misconduct.