Paula, a U13-U19 player, asks:
My friend asked the ref if he was paying attention from the sideline because he was talking to the other girls of the team. He got super mad and gave her a yellow card. How is that fair??
Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)
There is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to start … but start we must. First, we don’t decide issues of fairness. Whether what the referee did was fair or not cannot be answered by the Laws of the Game. Since “safety, fairness, and enjoyment” are the three ultimate objectives of officiating, it follows that anything done which is lawful is also fair … at least to some degree (i.e., maybe not in the mind of any one person, but overall).
Second, as we read your question, and without regard to whether you yourself were a player on one of the competing teams, we assume your “friend” was not — which leaves the friend as either a team official or, more likely, a spectator there to see her friend (you) play. As a spectator, this person is immune from all direct action by the referee. No whistling, no cards, no warnings, no nothing. According to USSF protocols, the referee has no direct authority over spectators or, in fact, anyone other than players, substitutes, substituted players, or team officials. The most a referee can do if a spectator is disruptive, aggressive, foul-mouthed, critical of decisions, and so forth is, initially (if possible), to warn one or both coaches that the spectator’s behavior is unacceptable, to then (if possible and necessary) advise one or both coaches that the game may need to be suspended while they deal with the spectator, and finally, if the first two steps fail, to declare the match terminated if appropriate action is not taken or, even if it is, the behavior nevertheless continues. It is also permitted, if necessary, to skip one or both of the first two steps and go directly to the list one mentioned.
Third, even if the person were a player, substitute, or substituted player rather than a spectator, no referee should get “super mad” and use that as the basis for giving a card. Carding, regardless of whether it is yellow or red, must be a rational decision that the action is needed to maintain “safety, fairness, or enjoyment” and have a clear basis of explanation within the Laws of the Game. Being chided, accurately or not, for inattention or for giving the appearance of inattention is a potentially valid criticism which, though voicing it may lead to discomfort or embarrassment, is nonetheless an observation worth consideration, plus maybe a card (but not to a spectator).