The Officiating Team and Misconduct

Karyn, an adult/pro fan, asks:

If neither the Referee nor either Assistant Referee saw a foul but the fourth official did, can the Referee still give a straight red card?

Answer

Yes.  The referee is obliged to take into account any information provided to him or her by a member of the officiating team – including the ARs and the 4th official but not including the reserve assistant referee or a volunteer linesman – and then render a final decision.  The referee is not required to accept the information but is required to listen.  However, the referee’s ability to follow through on the advice and information remains limited by the Laws of the Game.  For example, if at the halftime break, an AR or the 4th official indicates that Blue #14 had used abusive or offensive language in the 20th minute, the only way the referee could issue a red card to Blue #14 is if there had been no stoppages between the 20th minute of the half and the midgame break.  The Law requires that a card to any player, substitute, or substituted player must be given no later than the next stoppage (which includes the end of a period of play).

There are only two exceptions to this mandate.  The first is if the referee realizes or is advised by a member of the officiating team (excluding the reserve assistant referee or a linesman) that the referee had issued a second yellow to a player but had failed to follow through with a red card as prescribed in Law 12.  In this case, the red card can be given whenever the Referee is made aware of the oversight.  The other is a bit more complicated.  The referee can issue a red card to a player, substitute, or substituted player if an assistant referee observes an act of violence (including spitting), raises the flag, and continuously maintains the raised flag until the referee becomes aware of the signal, at which time the red card for violent conduct can be given even if one or more stoppages and restarts have intervened.  Since this particular exception depends entirely on the AR performing in a certain way, it should be covered in the pregame discussion prior to any match in which such behavior might occur.

Fouls and Restart Locations

Gary, an Adult/Pro Coach, asks:

If there’s a foul off the ball, despite the ball being in the center circle, can the Referee award a penalty ?

Answer

Not only “can the Referee,” the Referee must.  With rare exceptions (and fouls are not one of them), the Law sets the location of the restart to be where the foul occurred, not where the ball was.  In this case, if it was a direct free kick foul and it was committed by a defender inside his or her own penalty area while the ball was in play, the restart is a penalty kick even if the ball was at the far other end of the field at the time.

For example, Red is attacking the Blue goal with play occurring just above the Blue team’s penalty area.  At the Red end of the field, however, the Red goalkeeper and a Blue opponent are having an intense debate inside the Red penalty area over something that happened several minutes earlier, during which the Red goalkeeper shoves the opponent.  The trail AR sees this and signals for the foul, the lead AR (down where play is currently occurring) mirrors the signal, and then directs the referee’s attention to what is happening behind the Referee’s back.  Trusting the judgment of the experienced ARs, the Referee stops play immediately (no advantage is applied), deals with the misconduct (if any), and orders the ball brought back to the other end of the field for a penalty kick by Blue.

The consequences would be much different if, instead of striking by the Red goalkeeper, it was the Blue opponent who committed the shoving.  Here, advantage might be applied depending on the seriousness of the offense (it is not recommended if violence is involved).  If the Red team’s advantage is maintained, then play should be allowed to continue and, at the next stoppage, the Blue player might be cautioned if the shove was deemed reckless.  If advantage was not maintained or if the shove was violent, play should be stopped and then restarted with a direct free kick by Red where the shove occurred after any misconduct with dealt with.  If the shove did not require an immediate stoppage, the trail AR would simply wait for the next stoppage, signal for the Referee’s attention, explain what happened, and let the Referee decide what action to take.

In situations like this, it is imperative that the AR observing this behavior understands the implications of signaling for a stoppage.  The AR’s decision must be based on believing — based on experience, the pre-game conference where the Referee made clear his or her preferences, and the AR’s observation of the Referee’s decisions in the match so far — that the referee would have stopped play (i.e., not considered the event doubtful or trifling and not have applied advantage) if he or she had seen the event.  The other AR must be aware of the trail AR’s signal and have the presence of mind to mirror it.  Finally, the Referee must trust the trail AR’s judgment that, under the circumstances and based on standard mechanics, play must be stopped.  The system works … when everyone understands their respective roles and acts accordingly.

Players Wanting to Assist the Referee

Daniel, a HS/College Referee, asks:

I have seen in many matches a player who has been fouled getting up and “demanding” a card for the opponent by signaling the motion of giving the card that referees do. Some players get cautioned and others get away with it. What is the stance of the Laws of the Game with regards to this action and why are referees not consistent when in my eyes it is taking away authority from the referees.

Answer

These are two very different questions.  The first (the “stance of the Laws of the Game” regarding this player behavior) is relatively easy.  There is nothing in the Laws about it, at least not specifically. But, we need to ask ourselves, why do players do this?  The answer is simple, they want to influence the decisions of the Referee.  Ironically, this sort of behavior is often (though not necessarily) associated with simulating a foul and/or exaggerating the seriousness of a foul.  The “carding motion” is often intended to “sell” the simulation.  It is not unusual that astute Referees, instead of carding the “perpetrator,” instead show a card to the “victim.”

Even if not intended for this purpose, the player action can be considered a form of dissent (remember, dissent can be delivered via actions as well as words) in that the player is expecting that, without his input, the Referee would not take the action the player wants.  If the Referee feels that simulation/exaggeration has occurred, a caution for unsporting behavior is appropriate whereas a caution for dissent might be given in the absence of simulation/exaggeration.  Despite there being two different forms of misconduct based on two separate events, it would be unwise to give two cautions (one for simulation and the other for dissent).

We quote from a USSF Memorandum (March 23, 2007) titled “Misconduct — Player Gesturing for a Card”:

Although there is no automatic rule that player gestures calling for a card must be cautioned, such actions can be considered cautionable if they are blatantly disruptive, for example, by indicating disagreement with an official’s decision, aggressively aimed at a particular opponent or an official, or being part of a simulation (faking) to gain a favorable decision. The public nature of the action often makes the gesture too obvious to ignore and can spread to other players, who either agree or disagree, thus provoking further conflict.

Now, as to the second question (why Referees seem not to be consistent in applying the above guidelines to this behavior), we can only speculate.  Referees may differ in their ability to recognize the behavior as misconduct.  Some may not wish to “stand out” by showing a card (note in this regard that the USSF memorandum makes the point that there is no “automatic rule” governing the carding gesture).  On the plus side, though, and apart from the possible connection between the carding gesture and the simulation/exaggeration which might precede it, the Referee might decide that, at any given instance of this possible misconduct and under the specific circumstances at this moment by this player in this match, a caution might not be a useful or productive response.

Rude Behavior

Mike, a youth player coach, asks:

This happened in a game recently.  The Blue team had the vast majority of possession in the game with the ball rarely coming out of the Red team’s half.  The Blue goalkeeper sat down in the Blue goal whilst play was in and around the Red goal for a long spell.
Firstly is the Blue keeper committing any offence?  They did not interfere with any other player, or in any way impede play.  Secondly, the Red coach complained to the Blue coach about these actions being disrespectful!  Is this deemed unsporting behaviour by the Blue goalkeeper?

Answer

Probably not.  It was rude and disrespectful, certainly, but did it rise to the level of unsporting conduct?  Goalkeepers are strange ducks to begin with (I was one when I played so I speak from some experience here) and rather egotistical to boot.  The trouble here is one of implementation.  Would you caution the Blue keeper the moment he first sat down?  Almost certainly not.  After 2-3 minutes of staying in this position?  Ten minutes?  Where do you draw the line?  Suppose his rudeness was watered down somewhat by his merely leaning up against a goal post (would yawning ratchet up the problem?).  Would laying down on the ground be more rude than  merely sitting?

We do know, of course, that actions sometimes speak louder than words (and actions are specifically included in evaluating dissent or abusive/insulting/offensive language) so a good case could be made that the goalkeeper’s action was a form of speech.   We might note that, at least, the Blue goalkeeper was keeping his options open by sitting down “in the Blue goal” rather than, say, at midfield.  And if he was actually “in the Blue goal,” he could certainly be cautioned for leaving the field without permission in a manner which would clearly not be considered “in the course of play.”

The bottom line here is that the Referee could caution for unsporting conduct for behavior which showed a lack of respect for the game (see p. 86, 2016/2017 Laws of the Game).  More effective, however, would be to signal for a stoppage of play (preferably at a moment when Blue had control of the ball — which appeared to be often the case), walk down to the Blue keeper and have a public (visibly, not audibly public) word of warning to the goalkeeper to the effect that his behavior was disrespectful and that, if it continued, there would be consequences.  Note the careful use of words here — no specific threat, only the promise that, having been warned, the goalkeeper would be foolish to engage in this behavior again at any time during the remainder of this game.

The restart?  Clearly, a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped.  Should it happen again, caution and restart with an IFK for the opposing team where the goalkeeper committed (again) the behavior which is being cautioned.

Whatever the referee wound up doing, the goalkeeper’s behavior should be documented in the game report.

Cards — Must versus Need

Esther, a youth level referee, asks:

Last week I was center Ref for a U12BR game. A Red player was dribbling along near the center circle.  An Orange player came up and did a sliding tackle with both feet from the front. He didn’t contact the player or the ball, but I believed the tackle to be careless given that it was with two feet and was very close to the other player. I whistled and called a DFK for the Red team. I was discussing this with another Ref today and he believes that I should have given a red card to the Orange player because he tackled with both feet. What should the call have been? Should I have given a card?

Answer

We don’t believe in “hard and fast” rules which don’t have a clear, firm basis in the Laws of the Game.  You decided that the tackle was careless and the reasons you offered are relevant.  Given this, a card of any color would have been inappropriate, if for no other reason than that an illegal tackle does not rise to a cautionable level until and unless it is deemed at least reckless.

Apparently, the conversation with “another Red” you related involved someone who thought there was some “hard and fast” rule involving having to give a red card for sliding tackles + both feet.  The common indicators of a cardable tackle do not include “sliding” — what they do include are such things as:

  • the direction of the tackle (because coming from behind or outside the peripheral vision of the player being tackled prevents the victim from being able to prepare for the challenge)
  • coming in at high speed (greater chance of injury)
  • both feet (because a two-footed slide is considered uncontrolled)
  • with cleats exposed (the danger there is obvious)
  • with one or both feet higher than ball height (because it suggests that there was not an attempt to play the ball, plus the inherently greater susceptibility to injury the higher up the leg you go)

The only one of the above criteria you specifically alluded to was the use of both feet and that element is one of the least likely to lead to a card.

But this leads us into another issue and that is the question of whether, all other things being equal, you must give a card under specified circumstances (which brings us back to the “hard and fast” rule business).  There are only six offenses listed in the 2016/2017 version of Law 12 which can draw a caution and seven offenses leading to a red card.  Some are very specific, some are couched in general terms.  Once you decide that what you have seen is, in your opinion, one of these thirteen offenses, a card is expected (not giving one would require a persuasive rationale) but the real decision is whether what you saw fit the offense.  It may or may not,  Or, even more commonly, it might fit … and if it only “might,” then what do you use to decide?  The answer is “does this behavior need a card?”  For the good of the player, the good of the other players, the good of this game (the one going on right now), or the good of the sport?  We know you don’t think you asked this particular question but, really, you did when you said “Should I have given a card?”

Abandoning a Match

A youth referee asks:

Can the Ref abandon the match and not tell the coaches? Had a situation where the Ref said that, in his eyes, the match was over after a parent and coach came on the pitch to stop two kids fighting then ended up fighting themselves. The Ref never blew for full time but said to the other coach it’s finished anyway. Now in his report he is saying he abandoned the game but did not tell anyone this. Can he do this?  I am a a Ref myself and don’t know.

Answer

Not wishing to be flippant but the obvious answer is, yes, he can do this … because he did it.  And we’re not sure how the Referee could do anything more to signal that the match has been terminated beyond leaving the field himself.

On a more serious note, the referee is given the authority to terminate a match due to what used to be called “grave disorder” — which means any events on or around the field which would cause the Referee to be concerned about the ongoing safety of the players or the officiating team based on actions by the players, substitutes, team officials, and/or spectators.  By the way, the Law no longer distinguishes between “abandoning” a match or “terminating” a match — the terms are used interchangeably.  There is no particular need to blow the whistle to announce this but, in practice, the whistle has usually already being blown (perhaps numerous times!) in response to the events which eventually resulted in the decision to terminate the game (in this case, the start of the players fighting).

Just based on the information provided, it would seem that termination would not be considered an incorrect response to (a) players fighting, (b) a coach and a parent entering the field illegally (which would be the case if the Referee didn’t explicitly give them permission to enter) and (c) then themselves fighting.  That would definitely be a “hostile environment” not conducive to trying to get the teams back onto the field after removing the fighters and expecting the teams to play peacefully.  It might have been useful to officially notify both teams that the match was being terminated with a simple statement that the decision was required based on a concern for everyone’s safety.  Neither is required.

Anytime the Referee ends a match via termination (or abandonment), full details must be included in the match report.  Further, most leagues, tournaments, referee coordinators, or assignors appreciate a quick telephone call or email message alerting them to the likelihood of further “discussion” about what happened.

Coach in Trouble

A Premier League coach from an Asian country asks:

[Revised and summarized]  I’m the Assistant Coach in a Premier League for one of the Asian countries. We had an eventful match last week. Around minute 65, an opposing player made a very harsh tackle against my team’s striker and created a very heated situation involving both teams. I felt the Referee did not control the situation and I ran onto the field to help him control things. The situation became more heated when the Referee only gave a yellow card for the tackle. After the game, I approached the Referee and said ” Hi Referee —  it should be a red card — come on Referee. I hope next time you can make a better decision.” I didn’t use any vulgar words. However, the Referee wrote in his match report that I pulled his hand and used vulgar words towards him. How can I defend myself when there was no video evidence showing either of these things? I was fined by my football federation. How can I defend myself?

Answer

We’re sorry that this occurred and that you feel the punishment you received was not justified.  Unfortunately, there is no way we can assist you either generally or in particular.  We cannot comment on what goes on in other countries, much less on what is essentially an internal administrative matter.  What punishments are assessed after a game is over are outside the scope of the Laws of the Game, particularly where it involves a coach.

What we can say, however, it that you should not have come onto the field “to help [the Referee] to control things” unless you were actually given permission by the Referee to do so.  This would be considered a violation of Law 3 if a player had done it and, if done by a team official (which, as an assistant coach, you are), could be the basis for a dismissal from the field for “irresponsible behavior.”  It is also the case that having any conversation with members of the officiating team after a match is over — particularly if the conversation goes beyond how nice the weather was — is not a good idea.  First, nothing you might say would likely educate the Referee.  Second, you might in fact be wrong.  Third, even if right, immediately following a difficult, heated match, is not a conducive time for “educating” anyone (I’m sure you would agree were the situations reversed and the Referee wanted to talk to you about your coaching strategy!).  We Referees have a saying, “if you don’t want the coach to referee, don’t try to coach the players” and it applies here as well.

Finally, coming onto the field as you did, with the conversation not being documented by film or sound recording, merely sets up a “he said/did, no I didn’t say/do” debate which, on balance, will usually be decided in favor of the Referee.  We cannot comment directly regarding your federation but our experience has been that there are almost always channels for filing complaints after the match using official forms and giving everyone a chance to cool down at least a bit.  Most such opportunities provide for responses and offers of proof or extenuating circumstances.

While we can’t help in your case, we hope that all team officials will take note of our advice here and respond to similar situations accordingly.

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.

DEALING WITH ILLEGAL ENTRY OF A SUBSTITUTE AND ENSUING EVIL

INCIDENT ANALYSIS
An interesting question came up the other day about a recent game in Asia and what the referee should do when a substitute, warming up behind his team’s goal, sees that his goalkeeper is down and there are no defenders nearby to stop the ball, which is rolling quickly toward the goal. The substitute enters the field of play without the referee’s permission and prevents a goal from being scored by kicking the ball away.

Any debate as to what the referee should do must center around four issues:

1. What infringements of the Law have occurred?
• The substitute has entered the field without the permission of the referee and then interfered with play by kicking away the ball heading for the goal.

2. Where the infringement involves misconduct, what kind and what card?
• Substitutes entering the field of play without permission have committed unsporting behavior, a cautionable offense. In addition, a substitute can be sent off for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, a sending-off offense.

3. What did the referee actually do?
• He whistled play dead, sent off the substitute, and restarted with an indirect free kick from the place where the substitute kicked the ball. While effective in dealing with the greater offense, the referee’s action was not entirely correct. Nor did the referee caution the substitute for unsporting behavior (entering the field of play without his permission).

4. With play stopped, what actions should the referee have taken, and what should have been the restart and from where?
• According to Law 12, “A player [and this includes substitutes and substituted players] who commits a cautionable or sending-off offense, either on or off the field of play, whether directed towards an opponent, a team-mate, the referee, an assistant referee or any other person, is disciplined according to the nature of the offense committed.”
• In this situation, the referee must first caution the substitute for unsporting behavior for entering the field of play without permission; that is the infringement that governs the restart. Second, the referee must send off the substitute for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick; this infringement does not figure in the restart — although it did during the game in question.
• The restart must be an indirect free kick for the initial misconduct, entering the field of play without the referee’s permission. The correct place would have been the position of the ball at the time of the stoppage (see Law 13 – Position of free kick). It would seem that an otherwise well-intentioned referee simply didn’t understand what the Law requires of him.

The place where the ball was when play was stopped would be its location at the moment the referee makes the decision to stop play, not where the ball might have ended up after the whistle was blown.

TAKING BACK THE CAUTION AND FOUL

Question:
I was the Center referee for an A division Co-ed match. There was a through ball for the attacking team, the forward run through to dribble into the penalty area. The keeper runs out to stop the ball, and missing it completely, and collided with the attacking player and took him out of play. I was near the top of the 18 yard, and had a clear view of the contact. I signalled a penalty kick, and issued a caution to the keeper. Since, it was his 2nd caution in this match, then I proceeded to show him the red card.

The defending team started screaming and said look at your assistant referee. He is standing firm around the 25 yard line, signalling an offside.

I reversed my call to an indirect free kick for the defending team, and took back the cards.

My reasoning is that I should have looked at my assistant referee first, and blown my whistle for the offside. If I had done that, it would have avoided the contact by the keeper and the forward.

Did I make the right call ?

USSF answer (March 28, 2012):

Your decision to use the information supplied by the AR was correct. Award the indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team. It is possible that the goalkeeper still engaged in certain behavior, whether it was during play against an opponent or during a stoppage resulting from the offside offense, so pleases consider the following:
Misconduct is separate from the foul (unless the foul was for serious foul play or denying a goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick). Accordingly, the second caution which resulted in a red card should not have been withdrawn SOLELY because the referee accepted the advice from the AR and declared that the stoppage was for the offside. The ‘keeper’s act itself might warrant the caution (and red) or a straight red regardless of the change in the decision. If the goalkeeper’s act was purely careless, rather than reckless (caution) or done with excessive force (send-off), then there is no need to caution the ‘keeper.