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.”

Freedom, Honor, Safety, and Jewelry

Fred, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

A recreational youth player wearing religious headgear that covers her ears is questioned by the referee during the pre-match player equipment inspection,  She states that she is not wearing any ear rings but is unwilling to show her ears or remove the head gear. The referee decides that the player cannot participate because he can not prove she is not wearing Jewelry.

Law 4 states a player must submit for inspection, right ? If so should a referee require a player to lift their shirt to check for belly piercings?  How far should a referee go to discover uniform infractions in the pre-game?

Answer

We don’t wish to seem pretentious or to engage in pontification (OK, too late), but this is an extraordinarily important question because it involves the intersection of personal safety, freedom, and honor.  Let’s start with some basics.

First, Law 4 does not state that “a player must submit for inspection.”  It merely states that the wearing of jewelry (with certain very limited exceptions) is not permitted.  Everything else is procedures and mechanics.  For example, we personally get very irritated with referees who demand that players on a team line up and engage in some ludicrous Irish dance move where they must display the soles of their footwear and then tap on their shins.  This is rather like being “penny wise and pound foolish” because it focuses on two specific things — illegal cleats (which are, for kids, almost vanishingly rare) and shinguards (the existence of which is easily determined by simply looking).  Slapping the shins may demonstrate that the player has rhythm but does little to determine if the player has age-appropriate shinguards — which is far more likely a violation than not having shinguards at all.

Second, why no jewelry?  Because it is a safety issue and that makes it important enough to be diligent in ensuring that Law 4 is followed.  But, again, there are limits.  The most common, easily understandable, and briefest definition of “inspect” is “to look at” — not uncover, probe, dig into, or discover.  We personally experienced, early in our refereeing career, a match at the start of which it was easily confirmable by casual visual inspection that there was no jewelry being worn by anyone on either team.  It rained and, as a result, thin white cotton jerseys became stuck to the skin and somewhat semi-transparent, which in turn made unavoidably obvious the fact that one of the players was wearing an item of navel (not naval) jewelry.  With this new awareness, the referee advised the player that he/she (we’re being ambiguous here) could not continue to play while wearing the jewelry.  Did anyone complain that this could have been avoided if the referee had just required all the players to bare their midriffs before the start of the game?  No.  And, in any event, that would potentially have the effect of implicitly recognizing that there are far more places than the navel for jewelry (thus leading down a path which we refuse to follow).

Your responsibility for safety issues raised by Law 4 has practical limitations that do not cover forcing, without evidence, a player to reveal otherwise lawfully covered places — i.e., it does not include doing searches that ordinarily would require a warrant.

Look at what can be seen.  Require clear and reasonable evidence that something not permitted may be deliberately hidden.  The specific facts here are a bit more complicated by the fact that the player was wearing an item of religious belief.  This is not even remotely similar to seeing a piece of tape over an ear lobe.  The tape is (a) prima facie evidence of a violation and (b) a violation in and of itself.  Seeing it requires you to ask if it is covering anything (which usually elicits a positive response based on the common misconception that merely covering whatever is underneath makes it OK) and, if the answer is negative, then the player is advised that there should be no problem in removing it.  If there is nothing underneath but a hole where a stud had been taken out, then allow the player to put the tape back on because then it is merely, in effect, a bandage covering a wound.

In the case of the religious headgear, there are numerous, sensible options other than declaring that the player cannot play because she cannot remove the headgear and thus prove that she doesn’t have anything illegal underneath it.  Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?  No player can ever, short of entirely disrobing, prove that he/she is not wearing anything illegal.  What’s wrong with taking her word for it?  It seems more likely to us that a player with sufficient character to be wearing something that otherwise draws attention is not likely to lie about jewelry.  Or you could ask the player’s coach to attest to the absence of jewelry and note this in your game report.  Frankly, doing either of these last two things would bring far more honor to the officiating profession.

Injuries, Fouls, and Misconduct

Enos, a HS and college coach, asks:

What does the rule book say about the following situation in a HS Soccer game?

During the play, a defender player came in with a 50/50 slide tackle against an attacker with the ball.  The tackle looked bit hard.  The Referee issued a yellow card on the play and the whistle was blown.  Unfortunately, the attacker sustained an injury.  During the visit of the sideline coaches and trainer, it was determined that the injured player might have a broken leg. The Referee came to the sideline and issued an additional red card stating that she is changing a card due to injury.  Is that allowed or should the report be made where yellow card is recorded and explanation is added to the match report?  What would be suspension in that case?

Answer

First and foremost, readers may recall from the information under the “About” tab above that our primary focus is on the Laws of the Game.  While we are fairly familiar with such other rules as those used  by NFHS and NCAA, we avoid interpreting them or offering guidelines about their implementation except where their meaning is crystal clear.  Accordingly, for the most part, we will treat this question as though the scenario occurred in a match controlled by the Laws of the Game.  Perhaps, later, if we are feeling frisky, we might branch off briefly into high school play.

Also, one minor observation — we hope that, in this scenario, the Referee had sufficient presence of mind to have whistled play stopped before actually issuing any card, no matter what it’s color.  We also wonder why the Referee felt it necessary to come to the sideline in order to change the card from yellow to red.

Anyway, two principles are in play here.  One is that the Referee has the authority to change a decision as to any matter (including, in fact, whether to have stopped play in the first place, though that leads then to the issue of how to restart play if this is the case) before play is restarted.  Accordingly, the Referee has a right (arguably even a responsibility) to change a decision in pursuit of more accurately implementing the Law upon private reflection or becoming aware of additional relevant information or receiving information from a member of the officiating team.  So, changing a card, by itself, is certainly permitted by all Law/rule sets.  Here, it was yellow to red but it could also have been red to yellow or to no card at all, or it could have involved removing the card from one player and charging a different player with misconduct.  There are only two misconduct-related changes that can occur even though play has restarted (we have dealt with them in other Q&As).

The other principle, however, is a bit more problematical.  We referred above to “relevant information” as the basis for changing a decision.  Suppose the Referee had announced that, upon reflection, she thought the defender should receive a red instead of a yellow card because his hair was red.  Does the Referee have the right to change the card?  Yes.  Is this information about hair color relevant?  No.  The seriousness of an injury is not a relevant fact.  Law 12 provides that, for each of seven specifically-named player actions, the Referee is to  decide the action is a direct free kick foul if the act was careless or reckless or if it was performed using excessive force.  Any one of these is sufficient to make the decision that it was a direct free kick foul.  As for the possibility that the action might also be misconduct, the Referee is advised in Law 12 that carelessness by itself does not involve misconduct, that recklessness by itself is cautionable, and that the user of excessive force should be sent off.  Nowhere here or in the subsequent explanations of each of these three critical terms is the word “injury” used.

Injuries can occur any time, caused by anyone or by no one, be the result of deliberate action or simple accident.  Even carelessness can result in an injury.  Furthermore, the seriousness of the injury is not, by itself, any indication of how to treat the action.  Clearly, the risk of serious injury increases with the use of excessive force, but a “serious injury result” does not make its cause a red card offense.  When the tackle occurred, the Referee’s job was to assess carelessness, recklessness, or the presence of excessive force.  None of these three things can be inferred by the subsequent decision that an injury was serious, just as the lack of a serious injury cannot infer that the action did not involve excessive force.  Neither can the presence of a serious injury be cited as proof that the safety of an opponent had therefore been endangered any more than the absence of a serious injury be offered as proof that no opponent had been endangered.  The seriousness of an injury is a function of the injury’s impact on the player, not a function — an element perhaps, but not a function — the Referee should take into account in deciding the color of a card.

In the given scenario, it would have been entirely appropriate (indeed, good officiating team communication) if, before play was restarted, an assistant referee had advised the Referee that the “50/50” tackle, in addition to being a “bit hard,” had come in uncontrolled from the attacker’s blind side, and with studs up.  Any of these factors, much less all of them, would have been clear-cut grounds for the Referee to decide that the caution should be changed to a red card.

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?”

CONTINUING FOULS AND MORE

Question:
I was curious about the free kick foul in last night’s USA-GER game in which the referee awarded the U.S. a penalty kick. Is there an interpretation of the German defender’s foul as “continuing” as Alex Morgan entered the penalty area? The defender certainly initiated contact outside the area and kept Alex Morgan from following her touch.

So was it clearly a correct call? An incorrect call? Or somewhere in between?

Question two relates to the caution on the U.S. back that resulted in the German penalty. Should she have been sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity, or was the goalkeeper’s proximity to the play enough to bring that within the referee’s discretion.

Answer (July 1, 2015):
All the pundits—the “soccer personalities” in broadcasting and some members of the soccer community, have it wrong: The referee’s award of the penalty kick was perfectly correct. This is based on the continuation principle, which has been implicit in the Laws of the Game for some years and was expressed in a paper issued by the U. S. Soccer Federation in 2007:

Subject: When Fouls Continue!
Date: April 30, 2007

Prompted by several recent situations in professional league play, a discussion has developed regarding the proper action to take when a foul continues over a distance on the field. Many fouls occur with the participants in motion, both the player committing the foul and the opponent being fouled, and it is not unusual for the offense to end far away from where the initial contact occurred.

Usually, the only problem this creates for the referee is the need to decide the proper location for the restart. Occasionally, however, an additional issue is created when the distance covered results in an entirely different area of the field becoming involved. A foul which starts outside the penalty area, for example, might continue into and finally end inside the offending playerеs penalty area. Or a foul might start inside the field but, due to momentum, end off the field. In these cases, the decision about where the foul occurred also affects what the correct restart must be.

In general, the referee should determine the location of the foul based on what gives the greater benefit to the player who was fouled. FIFA has specifically endorsed this principle in one of its “Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game” (12.31) which states that a penalty kick is the correct restart if a player begins holding an opponent outside the playerеs penalty area and continues this action inside his penalty area.

And yes, Julie Johnston should have been sent off for denying the obvious goalscoring opportunity for Germany.

“COWBOY” REFEREES STRIKE AGAIN

Question:
During a game, can goalie speak to someone beside the goal during game? Referee issued yellow for not paying attention to game?

Answer (June 30, 2015):
There were two people of diminished mental competence involved here: the goalkeeper and the referee. There is no such rule in the Laws of the Game, and referees are forbidden to interfere in any player action that is not covered in the Laws.

NOTE: There are too many “cowboy” referees in our game. That is my term for referees who make up their own rules as they go along, confusing players, fellow officials, and the spectators. My recommendation to them: Just call the game in accordance with the Laws. It is so much easier on everyone.

IT’S THE PLAYERS’ GAME, REFEREES, NOT YOURS

Question:
My team had a pK shoot out last weekend. The referee placed the ball on the mark. We kicked first and my player moved the ball because it was in a hole but left it on the mark. The referee walked back to the ball picked it up and appeared to push it even harder in the original spot. Is the referee allowed to move or place the ball even though it’s on the mark. It clearly bothered my player. The referee did place the ball every single time after that as well So at least he was consistent.

Answer (May 13, 2015):
The ball must be placed on some part of the spot/mark. It can be moved to avoid holes or water. The only restriction is the ball may not be moved closer to the goal line than the spot itself.

As I am fond of saying, some referees make too much of themselves and fail to remember that it is not the referee’s game, it belongs to the players.

KICKING THE GOALKEEPER

Question:
Hello, I am a U10 coach in CA. And recently had a game where our goalie was kicked four seperate times while picking up the ball,twice in the hand, leg and chest. I got a little verble by saying how many time are they going to kick our goalie before the Ref does something. The Fef came over to me and said our goalie did not have “possession” of the ball. I replied what does that have to do with kicking the goalie.

I was under the impression and have been teaching our team that if a goalie had even a finger on the ball not to kick the ball because that is putting the goalie in danger and would draw a red card.

So my questions are,
1- in u10 what is the rule on kicking the ball if a goalie is touching the ball .
2- if while attempting to kick a ball that the goalie is touching but kicks the goalie instead, Is there a foul or at least a warning to that player or coach?
3- if there are multiple players directly in front of the goal from both teams all scambling and kicking the ball, during the chaos can the goalie pick the ball up if the last foot on the ball was one from his own team, Not an attentional pass.

Could you give me a clear answer and give me a link in the rule book were I can reference.

Answer (October 13, 2014):
Coach, Answers here depend on what rules your team is playing, i.e., USYSA U10 small-sided rules, normal Laws of the Game (the rules the world plays by), or something else. For US Youth Soccer Rules (and links to the Laws of the Game and other interesting items, see http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/coaches/PolicyonPlayersandPlayingRules/ .

Yes, the Laws of the Game (again, I cannot speak for any local rules) suggest that a player be sent off for kicking or attempting to kick any other player, if the act is seen as either serious foul play or violent conduct:

Sending-off offences
A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
• serious foul play
• violent conduct

Clearly your referee needs to see his or her optometrist very soon. Why? Because the goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball if he has as few as one finger on the ball and is pinning it to any surface (ground, body, whatever). And, as you state, it makes no difference if the goalie actually has possession of the ball when he is kicked; it’s still a foul (and possible misconduct).

On to your questions:
1. As above, either a direct free kick and no disciplinary action or a direct free kick and either a caution (yellow card) or send-off (red card). This is no different in U10 rules than in the Laws of the Game.
2. Usually immediate dismissal for serious foul play, followed by the direct free kick. Coaches do not receive any warnings; they either behave responsibly or are expelled for irresponsible behavior.
3. Yes. It would be a very poor referee who called this an infringement of the Laws.

REFEREE CANNOT CHANGE A DECISION ONCE THE MATCH HAS BEEN ENDED

Question:
My 15 yr. old son was involved in a physical altercation during a soccer game with 5 seconds left in the game.

The altercation involved 2 of our players and 3 players from the opposing team. One of our players and one of the opposing players were each given a red card and ejected from the game. The Referee gave my son a yellow card and he was allowed to play out the remaining 5 seconds of the game.

After the game had ended, the referee and 2 linesmen gathered at centre field. About 5 minutes after the game had ended, the referee walked over to my son (where he was sitting on the team bench getting changed) and proceeded to give him a red card without explanation. There was no further incident nor foul language or anything that prompted the yellow card being increased to a red card. I believe perhaps one of the linesmen convinced the ref after the game had ended that my son was deserving of a red card for his participation in the initial altercation that resulted in 1 player from both teams being red carded and ejected from the game.

Can a referee change a yellow card to a red card after the player has been allowed to continue playing in a game and/or after the game is over and the player has left the field for the day and without further incident?

Answer (July 24, 2014):
Major referee error, Dad. Once the game has been ended, the referee may not change any decisions made prior to the final stoppage. This wording from Law 5 (The Referee) confirms that:

Decisions of the referee
The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.

The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.

Your son has the right of appeal against this decision and the referee should be sent back for further training—along with whichever assistant referee recommended changing the original decision.

THE REFEREE CANNOT REVERSE A DECISION AFTER THE GAME HAS ENDED

Question:
Goal is scored in the closing seconds of the game. Referee sets up with a restart and blows the whistle for the match ending. As a referee exits the field the losing coach complains that that goal was scored after time had run out. The referee confers with this ARs and decide that he did play more than the allotted time.

Question is once a referee signals the end of the game, can he change facts.

Answer (March 30, 2014)
No, the referee cannot change the facts of the Game or his decisions once the game has been terminated (declared over). Law 5 is quite clear on this matter. Under Decisions of the Referee, the Law states:
The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.