In a recent Premier League game Manchester City hosted a match and distributed balloons to fans. The balls were behind the City goal most of the time but quite a few blew onto the field in front of the goal when, you guessed it, the ball was sent across the goal mouth on the ground. A defender was positioned to kick the ball away but instead kicked a balloon. An attacker struck the correct round object and scored the goal that won the game. The referee allowed the goal to stand but it is thought that the rule about “outside agency” should be applied instead.
What is correct?
In another recent professional game the ball was kicked high to a player who was dashing along the touchline looking at the descending ball. He had to step over the line to receive the ball but fell as he ran into the unseen AR who was also running tight along the touchline off the field. The player would likely have been able to play the ball as no opponent was anywhere near. The AR could see the play and I expected him to drift wide of the play, which he didn’t do. Possession went straight to the opponents. There was no call; no drop ball restart.
What is correct?
The use of arms to protect the defenders who are formed into a “wall” in front of a goal has been accepted to protect the face, groin area and heart. I expect the arm/hand should be touching the body, or almost so. However it’s a common enough sight on replays to see defender’s arms deliberately reaching out to prevent the ball from striking them. I’ve even seen the ball repelled by an elbow. Consider an arm extended about 14 inches in front of a contorted face (I’m measuring this right now with a ruler) seems to be a deliberate act of directing the ball away to an unthreatening area of the field than would occur if the arm was held protectively close to the body.
What is correct?
USSF answer (February 12, 2008):
Under Law 5 the referee has the powers to protect the safety of the players and to stop, suspend or terminate the game for outside interference of any kind. The only reasons for the referee to stop the play for balloons or other foreign objects being thrown onto the field would be if he or she considered that (a) the state of the ground was hazardous for the participants, (b) the balloons were causing the game to become farcical, or (c) he or she considered them to be outside interference.
If it is at all possible, the referee should act preventively to have foreign objects removed from the field before any incidents occur to mar the game. In these circumstances the game would be suspended until the playing surface had been cleared of the foreign objects. If play was stopped for this, the restart would be a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped. If the referee had the time to act preventively to have the items removed, play would be suspended at an appropriate stoppage in the game and restarted according the reason for the stoppage — throw-in corner kick, etc. However, if there is a great number of foreign objects in one playing area, such as in the penalty area, and this could interfere with both sides enjoying an equal opportunity for a good game, the referee should stop play immediately.
This problem is a difficult one for referees to manage at any level of play, but particularly at the professional level, as the longer the game is suspended to deal with this type of incident, the greater the risk of the spectators continuing to disrupt the game. In most countries the referee would not hold up the game for such incidents unless the foreign objects were completely covering a large area of the playing surface.
2. Player knocking over the AR (or vice versa)
The assistant referee is considered to be part of the field. If he or she is hit during the course of play by the ball or by a player, there is no infringement, nor is there any need to stop play; the only reason to stop play would be if the ball has left the field. (Let us note that the AR should be well off the field in all cases.)
3. Raising the arm from the body to play the ball
Players are indeed allowed to put their arms across their bodies to protect themselves. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the player so doing is actually moving the arms or hands to control the ball, that constitutes deliberate handling and must be punished accordingly.