Wade, a High School and College referee, asks:
So, I am seeing different answers for this all over. Can a referee give a red card before the match starts? It says “disciplinary action” in the Law so does that constitute a Red Card if, say, two players on the same team start punching each other?
Wade then quotes from Law 5 the following:
• has the authority to take disciplinary action from entering the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends (including kicks from the penalty mark). If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player commits a sending-off offence, the referee has the authority to prevent the player taking part in the match
It’s very simple – you just have to understand the mind of the International Board. Our best advice is to “read” the language of the Law as plainly as possible. Also note that you may have to “unlearn” what you were taught many years ago because the quote above and the explanation below are based on a fairly recent (2016-2017) change in the Laws of the Game.
What comes out at the end is this … the referee’s authority to discipline starts from when he/she enters the area of the field of play and continues until he/she leaves the area of the field of play. That authority extends to dismissing a player before the game actually begins (i.e., opening whistle) but no actual red card is shown (note the Board’s careful language — “prevent the player taking part in the match”). The team does not play down under these circumstances because the team can simply replace the player with a substitute from the roster (without triggering any limits under Law 3 on the number of substitutions allowed – if, that is, the game actually follows the substitutions requirements of Law 3, which very few actually do). However, the team now has one fewer substitute available for use because, under IFAB rules, someone cannot be added to a team’s roster once the roster is given to the referee. From the opening whistle and continuing through to the end of the match (including any tie-breaking procedures), both red and yellow cards can be given but not afterward (read the bullet point that comes immediately after the one you quoted). On the other hand, the Laws of the Game specifically provide for the referee to include in his/her match report all misconduct, both before and after the match (at least up to the time the referee leaves the area of the field), as well as of course all misconduct occurring during the match.
The problem with these otherwise clear, clean, and easily administered requirements is that they assume a type of game which is different from, roughly, more than 95% of all games played in the US (and this already excludes games played under NFHS/NCAA rules). Go out to almost any park field for a youth/competitive game or any adult amateur game and you will seldom find such formality. So, you improvise. Suppose you don’t have a roster? Suppose the local rule is that the team has until halftime to get a roster to you? Suppose a player strikes another player just as you are being handed the roster? Suppose you have been assigned to a game where the local competition authority expects you to show cards for all misconduct whenever it occurs? And just exactly what constitutes the “area of the field”? For a stadium, it’s easy. For anything else, not so much. Suppose you are the AR on a 9am game and, just as it ends, you see a player who has arrived at the area of the field for an 11am game for which you are the referee and that player strikes one of the players who is exiting the field from the game which just concluded?
Despite all of this, however, the formal expectation of the Laws of the Game is simple. You now know exactly what to do if you are refereeing an MLS match; otherwise, try to get close to the intent of the Law but do the best you can.