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.