The Law Is (Generally) Genderless

Kai, a U13 – U19 Referee, asks:

I’ve got a general question about girls and hand ball offenses when players cross their arms to cover their chests. Is there a rule of thumb? I’ve had more experienced referees give me directly conflicting guidance on whether they’d whistle it or not. (Speaking specifically here about a U14 game, but general question applies.) Thanks.

Answer

We try to avoid directly distinguishing between genders when it comes to the Laws of the Game.  There is no “rule of thumb” – the rule applies to all five fingers and the arm up to the shoulder joint (insert smiling emoji here).  Both by general interpretation and, since the 2016-2017 Laws of the Game, by more explicit guidance, a handling offense should not be called if the contact was:

  • not deliberate
  • not a “hand-to-ball” situation
  • not and could not be expected due to the speed of and/or short distance from the launching of the ball
  • entirely defensive (i.e., an involuntary response to perceived danger to any part of the body that could be painfully harmed by contact with the ball)

and the player does not, after contact judged to be not illegal by these guidelines, subsequently clearly attempt to direct the ball.

Note that the 4th bullet point expressly makes no mention of differences between genders.  It is the Referee’s responsibility (particularly given the emphasis on safety underlying the Laws of the Game) to determine if protecting any specific body part is reasonable.  We, ourselves and personally, have at least a half dozen important body parts that we would unhesitatingly seek to protect.  Your mileage may differ.

By the way, we are sure most Referees have heard the expression “feel the foul” — they should also try to “feel the pain.”

Stopping for an Injury

Brian, a U-12 and under Referee, asks:

During a youth game (U-8 or U-9), there is a stoppage for an injury. The coach comes on to check on the player.  Since the coach entered the field to help the player, does that player need to step off the field before play resumes?  I know at older levels, this is the case, but am curious about at the younger levels.

Answer

Actually, some of your question assumptions are incorrect.  Under the Law, an injured player must leave the field if play has been stopped due solely to an injury.  It has nothing directly to do with the coach coming onto the field because, under the Law, the coach cannot enter the field without the express permission of the referee and no referee is going to give that permission until and unless play had already been stopped.  Some referees read the Law “sideways” and forget that the Law is expected to be understood as a whole, not in pieces.  So, the fact that the referee has stopped play solely due to an injury means by definition that the injury is serious because only serious injuries can be the basis for stopping play.

Where things get a bit complicated is if the referee stops play for some other reason (e.g., a foul) and then determines that a serious injury occurring during the stoppage or as a result of the foul that caused the stoppage in the first place.  Then and only then does the referee call for the entry of a team official (coach, trainer, etc.) – which, also as a result, requires that the player leave the field.  There are certain exception to this “must leave the field” requirement – e.g., the injured player is a goalkeeper, the player was injured in a “common collision” with a teammate, the injury was so severe that the player cannot be safely moved, or the injury was caused by a foul for which a caution or red card was given.

And we would never say that “the coach comes on to check the player” because you have already performed such a “check” and thus the coach does not.  There are no circumstances under which a coach can decide whether or not a player is to leave the field if the referee has (a) stopped play solely for the injury or (b) waved the coach onto the field for an injury caused by an opponent’s foul.  The player must leave according to the Law.  The only time a coach has any “say” in whether the player leaves or not is if the injury has occurred under circumstances where the Law itself does not require the player to leave (e.g., the goalkeeper was injured).  In short, if the Law says the player has to go, the player goes.  If the Law says that the player doesn’t have to go, the player doesn’t have to go unless the coach/trainer/parent wants the player to go.

Everything said above applies to all age groups, not just for U-littles.  The only decision in which the age of the player is relevant is your decision as to what constitutes a serious injury in the first place.  Once that decision is made, all the rest of it happens strictly in accordance with the Laws of the Game — neither you nor the coach (or anyone else) has any subsequent say in it.  This is one of the reasons why we train officials from entry level upward that, if play is stopped solely because an injury has been determined by you to be serious or if it is already clear to you at the moment of stoppage for a foul that the resulting injury is serious, your very first task after whistling for the stoppage is to wave someone from the injured player’s team (coach, trainer, etc.) onto the field — not to “assess the injury” because you have already done that, but to arrange for the safe removal of the player from the field (unless one of the exceptions applies).

Hanky-Pank with KFTM

Shawn,  a HS and College Referee, asks:

Have you ever had a kicks-from-the-mark situation where, in the execution phase, an eligible player became ineligible due to injury, misconduct, or other cause? How did you handle it?

According to LOTG, “the opposing team will not further ‘reduce to equate’” and “the team with fewer players may use all its eligible players before the other team and will therefore begin allowing its players to kick a second time before this occurs for the other team.” Also, KFTM “will continue so long as the team has at least a single eligible player”. This seems ripe for abuse, as, in a worst case scenario, a team whose keeper is also an excellent penalty kicker could declare all other eligible players “injured” once the execution phase has begun, or after the initial group of five have kicked. The guidance from expert referees is the referee should “reduce to equate,” using Law 18.

Answer

We can tell you how it used to be handled in the “good old days,” how that changed to the not-so-long-ago days, and how it is supposed to be handled as of June of this year.

First of all, take note that what follows your opening to the second paragraph below of “According to the LOTG” is out of date.  Second of all, the scenario you describe is always possible if there are bad intentions on the part of a team – the consequences may be in accordance with the LOTG and the Referee may have little recourse because nothing illegal is being done but the Referee can include in the match report the behavior of a team which is otherwise legal but offends the spirit of the game.

As of this year’s version of the LOTG, “reduce to equate” continues throughout the entire KFTM procedure, not just during the phase of the procedure that precedes the first kick.  The loss of an eligible player through injury or misconduct triggers a comparable reduction in the number of opposing players who are eligible.  The Law also specifies, though, that a player who chooses not to participate despite being eligible (i.e., not being declared injured or sent off for misconduct) is counted as having unsuccessfully kicked from the mark.

If the Referee believes that a team is apparently manipulating the availability of its eligible players in an unsporting manner, the solution resolves into two options.  First, if listed eligible players are being declared “injured” and unable to participate with no supporting evidence, then the solution is to proceed in regular order (i.e., following the rules) but then to report this information to the competition authority with full details in the match report.  Second, if after listed eligible players in any round have taken a kick but there remain other listed eligible players who, despite not having been sent off and not having been declared injured, do not respond to a call to take a kick, then after calling the name of a remaining eligible player several times without success, the Referee simply marks their “attempt” as a “miss” (i.e., no goal) and moves on in regular order.

Remember, the Referee does not choose who kicks — this information is supplied by the team at each kicking opportunity.  The Referee has four tasks: (1) signal for the kick to be taken, (2) observe if any misconduct occurs by the kicker or goalkeeper, (3) record the results, and (4) ensure that no eligible player from that team in that round takes a kick a second time in the same round.  The only way a player is removed from eligibility is to be sent off or declared injured and unable to participate, at which point the opposing team reduces its eligible play list accordingly and notifies the Referee which eligible player has been removed.

Playing Distance (and Happy Holidays to Our Readers)

Scott, an adult amateur Referee, asks:

Is there a distance from the ball when a referee should call an impeding foul instead of allowing the defender to “shield” the ball from the attacker. For instance, the ball is rolling quickly and is on a path to go out of bounds if no one touches it and there is an attacker running full speed towards the ball from a distance and the defender steps in 5 yards from where the ball is and shields the attacker so the ball will go out.

Answer

Good question and, as with many similar good questions, there isn’t a simple answer.  Fortunately, the answer became less complex in 2017 when the International Board published the 2017-2018 Laws of the Game.

At the core of your query is the concept of “playing distance” which arises in several different scenarios in soccer generally as well as in the Laws.  For example, it arises in Law 12 when the offense of “impeding the progress of an opponent” is discussed:

Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player. [emphasis added]

A bit later on in the same section of Law 12, your scenario is targeted:

A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent. [emphasis added]

Other places where the concept of “playing distance” arises include “interfering with an opponent” as one way of committing an offside violation, as one of the criteria for DOGSO (denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity), and as one of the ways that a legal charge can become illegal.  Clearly, knowing what “playing distance” is and is not is an important element of refereeing.

Years ago, it was common for referees to treat “playing distance” as some absolute value – e.g. one or two yards or several steps – in all cases and circumstances.  More recently, the 2014 version of Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game made the following observation:

The referee’s judgment of playing distance should be based on the player’s ability to play the ball, not upon any arbitrary standard such as a specific number of feet or steps a player is away from the ball. The decision as to whether a player is or is not within playing distance of the ball belongs solely to the referee.

In 2017, the International Board for the very first time provided an operational definition of the concept as follows:

Playing distance.  Distance to the ball which allows a player to touch the ball by extending the foot/leg or jumping or, for goalkeepers, jumping with arms extended. Distance depends on the physical size of the player

In essence, the now-official definition is completely consistent with USSF’s 2014 Advice to Referees that the concept has to be defined by the “player’s ability to play the ball” and adds the critical reminder that, even so, it has to depend on “the physical size of the player.”  Obviously, for most referees, this means that an average-sized U14 player will have a shorter playing distance than would an average-sized adult amateur player – all of which takes us back to what we said at the start of this answer and what Advice to Referees said in 2014, that decisions about playing distance belong solely to the Referee. What has changed (and improved) is that the International Board has now given us a “yardstick” for exercising this judgment – the distance between the ball and how far a player can stick his or her own, individually-sized leg out (or a goalkeeper can jump up or out while reaching for a ball in the air).

Game Ends – What Do You Call It?

(Originally published on 7/8/17, “Operation Restore”)

Elizabeth, an adult pro fan, asks:

Is there a proper word or phrase that’s used if a match has to be stopped early? Also is there a difference between a match ending because of weather or an emergency, something that the referee cannot control, and the match having to stop because of something or someone involved in that particular game?

Answer

This is an interesting question that calls for a bit of history (one of our favorite kinds of questions … we love history!).  Back when we started officiating, it was traditional to distinguish between “abandon” and “terminate,” both involving a game which ended before the prescribed length of time.  A game was “abandoned” due to deteriorating and/or unsafe weather or field conditions, or the absence of a sufficient number of players to meet the minimum requirement of Law 3 (or the local competition rules), or the lack of sufficient light to safely illuminate the field (game running later than expected and past the availability of light fixtures or natural daylight).  A game was “terminated” if the Referee determined that, due to unruly or violent player, team official, and/or spectator behavior, the match should not continue out of concern for the safety of players and/or match officials.

That distinction, while remaining officially “on the books,” gradually declined in proper usage until, in the 2016/2017 edition of the Laws of the Game, the International Board essentially defined or used both terms to mean the same thing — namely, end the match before the scheduled time.  Because “abandon” is somewhat less familiar a term for Americans (its roots as a soccer concept are essentially as British as “whilst” and “colour”), our guess is that even die-hard traditionalists will abandon the use of “abandon” and accept “terminate” as the all-purpose description of ending a game early (whilst still explaining in the match report the details of exactly how this occurred).

The Approach We Take Here

We wish to take a moment and explain a bit of what we are trying to accomplish here (please also reread the statement we offered early this year which is found underneath the “About” tab).  It is important to reaffirm that neither we nor this website claims or should be thought of as “official” in any way regarding The Laws of the Game.  We will always make every effort to research and consult all official publications both at the international level and for the United States, but what we take away from these sources must always be understood as our understanding of what they mean and how they should be applied.

Everyone who has refereed beyond several seasons has to know that there are (and always have been) pockets of text in the Laws of the Game which are not “self-evident” — they require explanation based on the best and most current understanding of how they were intended.  In regard to this, the International Board did a great service in the 2017-2018 edition by adding, for the first time, to the Laws of the Game the following official statement (p. 11):

The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, “what would football [soccer] want/expect?”

Useful as this is, however, there are also parts of the Laws that appear to be inconsistent, incomplete, or so broadly stated as to include two or more reasonable explanations.  Some referees, for example, have been at this game long enough to remember how relatively recently it was when the Law writers decided to finally add the proviso that a sent-off player had to leave the field, could not be replaced, and could no longer play any further part in the game!  This was always true and “everyone knew it” but it wasn’t in the Law.  Or when, in 1996, the International Board dropped from the Laws of the Game one of the single most arguably important tenets in the philosophy of refereeing (how to handle doubtful or trifling breaches of the Law) with the simple explanation that “everyone should know this so it isn’t needed”!  This casual, informal connection between the formal, written word of the Law and the allegedly widespread understanding by “everyone” of what it means is uniquely British in origin — not surprising given that is where the sport originated.  Americans have a hard time with that and it is a philosophy inconsistent with the tremendously detailed rules for sports that had their origins in the United States.

As for us, however, we will attempt to faithfully answer questions and provide advice based on our experience and training and will seek always to remain as up-to-date as possible on new or alternate interpretations as we understand them.  If we make an actual mistake — and it happens, hopefully rarely  — we will correct it as quickly as possible.  If we give advice based on an interpretation that has changed, we will announce the change as quickly as possible.  If we ourselves have interpreted an apparent ambiguity in the Law and believe there is a reasonable basis to act on that interpretation (i.e., that’s what we ourselves would do on the field) but responsible authority later clearly resolves the ambiguity contrary to the way we have proceeded, we will explain the situation as quickly as possible.

More than this we cannot promise.

Watch Out for Those Hands and Arms!

David, a U13 – u19 fan, asks:

I have a question on a player constantly having their arms outstretched fully or halfway every time they challenge for a ball. Is there any infraction here? I personally don’t like to see that because it causes them to contact their opponent with their arms and hands at some point.

Answer

A rhetorical question for anyone other than an active soccer player …  do you do a lot of running that includes sudden changes in direction, starts, stops, etc?  Running on the soccer field is not like Irish clog dancing, where the arms are ceremoniously held straight down at the sides.  A soccer player needs the counter-balancing effect of arms held out (forward, backward, or to the side) at various angles from the body in order to maintain stability.

However, to your question.  There is nothing in the Laws of the Game which prohibit the arms from being held away from the body or even, more spectacularly, held straight above their head!  If and when the result of such behavior leads to contact with an opponent or the ball, then the referee uses this information as part (and only part) of deciding if an offense has been committed.

As a game moves up the competitive ladder, increasingly you will see an attacker and a marking defender running side-by-side, each with her arms (or elbows) held out jostling with the opponent.  Are there probably mutual violations occurring virtually every second?  Undoubtedly, yet at this level and assuming neither player is gaining an unfair advantage and the level of contact is merely irritating rather than painful, you will rarely hear a whistle (at most, a quiet verbal from the Referee to “watch the contact”).  Very likely, both players will finish their elbowing run and, later, brag to their teammates that “I really showed him I was serious!”  Why no whistle?  Because the violations (if they were) never rose to the level of needing to stop play.  Each player was “accepting” the level of contact as “par for the course.”

Contacting an opponent or the ball with a hand or arm is not, by itself, a violation of any Law or, even if it is, the referee has the authority to decide that the possible offense was doubtful or the actual offense was trifling.   In the case of making hand/arm contact with the ball, the Law is very clear that the action must be deliberate and involve directing the ball in a controlled fashion by moving the hand to the ball rather than having the ball simply move toward and contact the hand/arm.

In all these cases, the making of actual contact is only one factor to be taken into account in deciding if the contact was illegal, much less illegal enough to stop play — in logic, this is called a necessary but not sufficient condition.  There are only three offenses in Law 12 where actual contact is not specifically necessary as of 2016 — attempting to strike, kick, or trip are punished by an indirect free kick but actual contact involving any three of these actions makes the offense punishable by a direct free kick.

Please leave these decisions to the referee – he or she is the only one who knows the intent of the Law, the severity of the offense (if there is one), the pace of the game, the character of the players involved, and the general level of experience/skill of the players in the game.   The Referee is also the only one who has seen the event from the perspective that counts — the field rather than a sideline.

Several Ways to Mess Up a Throw-In

Stephen, a U13 – U19 fan, asks:

What is the correct restart if a player takes a throw-in incorrectly but the ball touches the ground before entering the field of play? It appears that in the past there was a clause in the interpretations to the Laws that explicitly stated that, in this situation, the throw-in was given to the other team, but that doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Could you provide evidence that shows what the correct call is? Thanks.

Answer

It’s always nice to see fans who have a desire to know, and keep up with changes in, the Laws of the Game. Unfortunately, sometimes there are complexities that only Referees (at least most of the time) are aware of even when the language seems pretty clear.  You are partially correct in your basic question.

Specifically, for many years the interpretation of Law 15 (The Throw-in) was that, if the ball hit the ground before it entered the field, it was considered not to have entered the field at all (even if it physically did).  In short, for the ball to be in play, it must enter the field of play and do so without hitting the ground outside the field.  However, that’s all it was — never properly put into play and therefore retaken by the same team (but not necessarily the same player on that team) in the same location as the original throw-in attempt.  Let’s shorten this to “legally put into play.”

On the other hand, and separate from the issue of the ball being properly put into play, Law 15 has several requirements for how (the mechanics) the ball must be put into play — both feet in the ground, at least a part of both feet either on or behind the touch line, ball thrown over the head, taken from within a yard of where the ball left the field, etc.  If a player violates any of these requirements, that can make the throw-in itself illegal even if it is properly put into play by entering the field without making contact with the ground outside the field.  If this happens, the control of the ball is given to the opposing team for a throw-in at the original location (a requirement that is often forgotten or not known, thus leading to the new throw-in frequently being taken from the wrong location … which, surprise!, makes the first retaken throw-in illegal, which leads to ….  well, you get the idea).  Let’s shorten this to “legally thrown.”

So, on a throw-in in years past, the ball can be (a) legally put into play and legally thrown, (b) legally put into play but not legally thrown, (c) not legally put into play and legally thrown, and (d) not legally put into play and not legally thrown.  In (a), the throw is entirely good and play continues but this is not the case with (b) – (d), in each of which the throw-in is not completely good and play must be restarted.  But how and by whom?

In scenario (b) — the throw-in restart is given to the opposing team.  In scenario (c) — the same team is allowed to retake the throw-in.  In scenarios (c) and (d) — the same team was allowed to retake the throw-in because the controlling factor was the correctness of the throw-in itself and it didn’t matter how it failed to legally go into play.  Now it apparently does.

The current language of Law 15 is both clear and specific — there is a difference in who gets the restart if the ball fails to go into play as a result of making contact with the ground outside the field of play and then continuing on to enter the field versus all other possible ways for the ball to have failed to legally go into play (i.e., at no time entering the field regardless of whether or when or how the ball made contact with the ground.  In the case of the “all other possible ways,” the result is the same as in scenario (c) above.  However, now, if the “not legally put into play” is caused by the ball making contact with the ground before entering the field but was legally thrown, the result is that the throw-in is taken by the original team (as in scenario (c).   However, if the ball makes contact with the ground before entering the field and was not legally thrown,the thrown-in restart goes to the opposing team (as in a revised scenario (d).

Frankly,  we are uncertain as to why there should be two versions of how a ball has not legally gone into play or why that should make a difference, but there it is.  Nevertheless, until such time as the International Board states otherwise, Referees are advised to follow the clear wording in Law 15.  Fortunately, we have rarely seen actual throw-ins in which the thrower perfectly executes the throw itself, only to have the ball bounce on the ground and then enter the field.

Speaking of good and bad throw-ins, we are going to exercise our ability to mount a soap box and rant about a related topic.  While the above discussion necessarily was wrapped up in part with illegal throw-ins, we would like to emphasize once again (as we have in prior posts about Law 15) that an illegal throw-in does not necessarily call for a whistle.  Most illegal throw-ins are harmless transgressions (another name for which is “trifling offenses“).  Purists, hardnoses, brand new referees, and the like would gasp at this heresy and that is their right.  But, for the good of the game, plus experience with skilled play,  at least admit (and maybe follow through on it at least occasionally) that pristine throw-ins are about as rare as motionless balls at a free kick because players (and hopefully referees) know that the purpose of these restarts is to get the ball back in play and to do so as quickly as possible.   Except for enforcing the location of the restart as it edges closer to the goal the thrower’s team is attacking, the significance of faults in the performance of a throw-in is vanishingly small.

Advantage in the Penalty Area

David, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Advantage in the penalty box.  Attacker receives ball in penalty box, Defender trips Attacker who stumbles but does not fall while going around Defender and gets a shot on goal which deflects off keeper past goal line.  Referee did signal advantage.  What is the correct call?

Answer

Your question is a bit ambiguous … what exactly are you wondering was “the correct call”?  If the issue is whether advantage can/should be applied to events in the penalty area, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”   If the issue is whether the Referee applied advantage correctly in the given scenario?  Again, the answer is “Yes!” but not necessary resounding because we weren’t there and can only assume that the correct criteria were used.  If the issue is whether the Referee used the proper mechanics in applying advantage in the penalty area, the answer is “no.”

Why “no”?  Because US Soccer has long indicated that what should happen is what might be called “silent advantage” so, in essence, it is a matter of preferred mechanics.  The Referee could certainly, amidst the fast moving events in a critical area of the field where seriously important events are occurring second by second, use the recognized advantage signal (swing his/her arms upward while shouting “Play on!”) but this carries the danger thereby of momentarily missing some important event and/or diverting the attention of nearby players away from their tasks.

Furthermore, the application of advantage inside the penalty area involves some fundamental differences from advantage applied elsewhere on the field.  For example, elsewhere, the Referee is looking simply for the likelihood of enabling the offended player or team to continue its attack on or toward the opponent’s end of the field — the possibility of a goal is not a major objective.  Not so for an offense committed by a defender inside the opposing team’s penalty area.  There, the Referee’s objective involves  protecting the likelihood of scoring a goal within the next play (or 2 quick ones, at most). This is understandable since not applying advantage means stopping play, followed by a penalty kick restart.  Let’s say, just for purposes of comparison, that PKs on average convert to a goal for the offended team 75% of the time, but applying advantage opens the possibility for the offended team to score a goal (which represents 100% success!).

Accordingly, we urge Referees to use “silent advantage” (i.e., stay quiet, keep the arms down) and use “wait a moment to see what happens” (good advice in many other situations as well).  The option of whistling for the offense remains if, after the offense, neither the offended attacker nor any of his/her nearby teammates are able to score in the next 1-2 plays on the ball.  Plus, the Referee can (as with any advantage anywhere) return to deal with misconduct whatever the outcome.  Note: starting in 2016, the Laws of the Game limited the misconduct options to a caution if (a) the offense involved an attempt to play the ball and (b) the outcome was a decision for a penalty kick (this includes the commission of both  OGSO and non-OGSO situations).

 

Kids and Misconduct

Antonio, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If a U12/13 player commits a dangerous tackle or a DOGSO, should I be lenient and give a yellow card or should I give a straight red and send him/her off?

Answer

This one is easy (mostly) and comes down to a simple “give the card prescribed by the Laws of the Game.”  Of the two scenarios you listed, the “dangerous tackle” is straightforward — assuming by “dangerous tackle” you mean a tackle which is more serious than careless or reckless (i.e., involves excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent), then a red card is clearly set by Law 12 (the recorded misconduct would be either “serious foul play” or “violent conduct” depending on whether the tackle was committed while challenging for the ball or not).

The only caveat here is whether the local competition authority has (as some have) forbidden the showing of cards to young players (usually limited to U-10s and below) — then you follow the Laws of the Game as modified.  It is not your decision to make.  Once you have identified the offense, you deal with it properly.  It is important to remember in all this, particularly where fouls involving physical contact are concerned, that the send-off following the display of the red card is only partially for the purpose of punishing the offender, it is also for protecting the safety of the remaining players.

As for the DOGSO, there are complicating elements to this misconduct which have been recently introduced into the Laws of the Game as of 2016 which could affect the color of the card (what follows assumes that all DOGSO requirements — i.e., the “4 Ds” — have been met).  Was the foul successful in preventing a goal and a penalty kick was awarded?  Starting in 2016 and clarified further in 2017, the Law now provides that a caution should be given for the DOGSO only if the player committing the foul was engaged in an attempt to play the ball.  In all other circumstances, the offender must be sent off.