(Originally published on 7/6/17, “Operation Restore”)
Matt, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:
What is the required clearance on touchlines for obstacles such as fences and light poles? I’m asking for US Youth Soccer guidance and field side clearance.
We do not speak “for” US Youth Soccer anymore than we speak “for” USSF. We suggest you contact US Youth Soccer directly and ask if they have any specific guidelines on the matter.
However, we also don’t like to seem as though we are shirking our responsibility to give whatever advice we are able to provide — particularly because doing so is quite easy. There is no such thing as “required clearance,” at least not in the sense that the Laws of the Game deal with this issue. The field is the subject of various requirements (mostly in Law 1) but they all have to do with (a) the layout and constituent parts of the field itself (e.g., lines, goals, dimensions, etc.) and (b) the technical areas just outside the field. Advice to Referees added guidelines about “appurtances” (things attached to goals) and “pre-existing conditions” (e.g., overhead wires, overhanging branches, pop-up sprinkler heads, etc.) — none of which connect directly to your question.
What do you do when a potential problem pops up which seems important but which is not covered explicitly by anything in the Law? You step back to common sense and the three ultimate objectives of officiating — safety, fairness, and enjoyment. The Referee has a duty to inspect the field and to deal affirmatively with any condition reasonably pertaining to what goes on in and around that field related to the match. Suppose you saw a large trash bin on the ground less than 2-3 yards away from the goal line. What would you do? What can you do? You can go to the home team coach (the person traditionally held responsible for providing a safe, legal field for the match) and advise him or her about a dangerous condition that potentially affects the safety of players on both teams and urge that it be corrected. This sometimes works.
If it doesn’t, then you have another decision to make — how important (i.e., dangerous) is the situation? Important enough that you would be willing to declare that the field was unsafe and an officiated match could not be held at that location? If so, stick to your decision. If the teams can move to another field, well and good. If they want to play anyway despite your warnings and final decision, let them (just walk away, after making clear the basis for your decision). Finally, include it in your game report and know that you have upheld one of the prime principles of the Laws of the Game.