A Clarification Unrelated to Any Question

(Originally published on 10/22/17, “Operation Restore”)

From time to time, we become aware of an authoritative clarification of some element in the Laws of the Game and it is our intention to make sure that this website’s readers are informed.  This posting relates to a relatively brief, somewhat unexpected, and a bit confusing new sentence that was added in 2016 to Law 12 immediately following the list of those seven actions (a.k.a. fouls) for which a direct free kick should be the response if the action were careless or reckless or performed with excessive force.  Here is the sentence (p. 82 in 2016, p. 95 in 2017):

If an offence involves contact it is penalised by a direct free kick or penalty kick.

Among the seven offenses in the list prior to the above sentence were three which explicitly included the attempt to perform the action (striking, kicking, or tripping).  Attempting to do something like striking, kicking, or tripping normally implies that, being unsuccessful, the action missed — i.e., did not involve contact.  Adding a bit of mystery to this issue was the introduction into the 2016 edition of the Laws of the Game (continued in this year’s edition) of the first specific and concrete distinction between impeding involving contact and impeding not involving contact with the added admonition that the latter was an indirect free kick foul while the former, because of the contact, must be considered a direct free kick (or penalty kick) offense.

The explanation in 2016 did not clarify the reason or purpose of this sentence and was primarily a simple restatement of its language.  It has now been clarified.  We thought that the positioning of the new sentence was unusual (right in the middle of Law content related to direct free kick offenses).  It turns out that the reason the sentence was added was because a disturbing number of Referees (no numbers, no indication of where they were, etc.) were treating a “dangerous play” event involving the so-called “high kick” as still an indirect free kick offense even if the kick was not only high but also made contact with the opponent!  To disabuse Referees of this notion, the sentence was intended to advise all Referees that an indirect free kick offense can become a direct free kick offense if it includes contact with an opponent.

This was abundantly clear given the International Board’s Law revisions involving impeding (with and without contact) but, for some reason, the Board handled the application of this concept differently in the case of dangerous play.  We personally felt that that the principle the Board was setting forth here (an eminently reasonable one which has been part of USSF training for years, we should add) might have been more clearly understood if the sentence had, for example, been located in the section on IFK offenses or if each of the IFK offenses that might involve physical contact with an opponent could have been rewritten (as the Board did with impeding) to emphasize that an IFK foul which included physical contact raised the level of the offense to that of the DFK/PK offense.

Impeding (of course) and now dangerous play have this contact/no contact distinction but the principle could just as well be extended to interfering with the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play.  It seems to us reasonable, for example, to treat kicking the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hand(s) as a DFK offense since a ball in the goalkeeper’s possession is an extension of the goalkeeper and therefore kicking a ball held by the goalkeeper is the functional equivalent of kicking the goalkeeper — ergo, a DFK restart (with possible misconduct punishment levied the same way as would be considered appropriate if the kick had been delivered directly to the goalkeeper’s body).  This also, by the way, has been the guideline used in USSF Referee training for more than 20 years.

Yelling “Mine”

(Originally published on 7/21/17, “Operation Restore”)

Sue, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

Is it an offence for a player to call out “mine” to let his teammates know he is intending to play the ball?

Answer

Maybe.  It depends on the circumstances as seen at the specific moment by the Referee.  Here are some issues or concerns that the Referee would probably consider before deciding what (if anything) to do about it.

  • Was the shout done in such a way as to startle, confuse, or redirect the attention of a nearby opponent who might also be “intending to play the ball”?
  • Did the shout actually result in startling, confusing, or directing the attention of an opponent?
  • Was the shout performed in close proximity to the opposing goalkeeper who was also in a position to receive the ball?
  • Had there been a history during the game up to this point of shouting such claims?
  • Was the shouter easily identifiable at the time of the incident  as in fact an opponent (i.e., not coming from someone directly in view rather than behind or out of the peripheral vision of a player hearing the shout) or could the hearer believe that the shout came from a teammate?

All these factors come together to form an opinion in the Referee’s mind as to whether the shout of “Mine” was or was not either intended to distract generally or to confuse the identity of the shouter such that a player might be deceived and allow the ball to be left to someone the hearer thought was a teammate.  It doesn’t really matter what the shouter intended, which may have been entirely innocent, but what happened as a result — much the same as what happens with other offenses, such as fouls, particularly with younger player.  One of the most common aphorisms among Referees is that the older the players the less likely anything that happens is by accident.

If the Referee decides that the shout was not permissable, it becomes a misconduct (caution for unsporting behavior) but the Referee might also decide that, while the intent to deceive was there, it might not be worth a caution if, for example, it was unsuccessful (i.e., the misconduct was trifling).  Alternately, the Referee might decide that it was misconduct, it deserves a caution, but play ought not to be stopped because “advantage” should be applied (the practical consequence of which is to hold the caution until the next stoppage and then show the offender the card).

 

Rules of Competition

(Originally published on 7/18/17, “Operation Restore”)

Mike, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

My son’s U12  team recently won a game 4-3 but scored a goal on a PK which was awarded in error when the opposing GK touched the ball outside the penalty area. It should’ve been a free kick, but the ref awarded my son’s team a PK. The PK was converted and we won 4-3. The next day we received an email from the opposing coach who said he was protesting the game as the ref told him AFTER the game he had awarded the PK in error. The game was over-turned and the game is going to be replayed. Is this correct?

Answer

Yes, probably, on both counts.  First, the referee clearly “set aside a law of the game” which is the official reason for a protest.  It doesn’t require any admission by the Referee that he or she made a mistake to file a protest, merely a recitation of the facts of the case.

Second, it is entirely up to the rules of competition under which your game was played whether a protest would be considered at all.  Most tournaments don’t but, for regular season games, the local league probably does but usually only for an issue which clearly involves a rule of law.  Usually this means that issues which are based solely on judgment, no matter how wrong they might be, are not allowed to be protested.  In this case, for example, deciding if an offense occurred inside or outside the penalty area is a judgment call, but deciding that stopping play for an offense occurring outside the penalty area could be restarted with a PK is governed solely by the Laws of the Game.

Third, once a protest is allowed and decided, again the local rules of competition determine what the person or body of persons who made the decision can do about it.  This could certainly (and often does) include ordering that the game be replayed in its entirety.   The close score could be a factor but often this solution is taken no matter what the score was … on the theory that a wrongfully given PK-which-converted could affect the playing dynamics for the rest of whatever time remained in the match and, literally anything could have happened.  But the decision could also have been to replay the game from the point of the erroneous decision but using the correct restart.

In brief, what you described would not be an unusual decision, but everything depends on the local rules of competition.  This is not something that is determined by some single rule or law that covers the entire country.  We wonder, however, whether either team sought to bring the mistake to the Referee’s attention or whether either of the assistant referees saw the location of the foul and, as would be their duty, sought to prevent the Referee from compounding the error.  Given that a PK is the most ceremonial of all restarts, there certainly would have been time and opportunity to do so.  Just wondering.

 

Helpful(?) Dissent

(Originally published on 7/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Roy, a U12 – U19 referee, asks:

An attacking player, feeling he was fouled, expressed his frustration with me (the referee of this U19 game) by talking with his fellow players – “he’s not calling anything.”

Does this rise to the level of dissent? This was a player already on a yellow card and someone with whom I had been talking all game long about not complaining to me about calls or non-calls.

Answer

OK, please don’t take this the wrong way but, you care about this why?  What is it about what was going on that you would feel justified in pulling a yellow card for dissent and then, perforce, showing a red card because the yellow card you just showed was the player’s second one of the game?  We are not asking these questions as an indication that we are about to tell you that you are all wrong about this and you should just “man up” about it.

Dissent is misconduct for a reason.  Publishing (i.e., making public) negative, argumentative, abrasive, disrespectful, derogatory, etc. comments directed at an official (Referee and/or ARs) is an insult to the game and to its long history of “gentlemanly” conduct upon which its Laws are based.  In the match, dissent which continues becomes insidiously pervasive to the detriment of the sort of communal trust which makes the sport enjoyable for its participants (including the members of the officiating team).  We think there should be and probably is widespread agreement regarding this.  And yet … there it is.

Sometimes you can see (and hear) it coming.  It may build slowly and incrementally until it crosses the line and becomes like the roaring sound of an approaching tornado.  Sometimes it just jumps out at you, full-blown, unexpected, and caustic enough to strip skin on first touch.  Are these inevitable end-points?  Only if left untouched or undiverted.  Rarely does dissent cease of its own volition because the very essence of dissent is “try war, not diplomacy.”

Was the player’s comment “he’s not calling anything” dissent?  Who’s the “he”?  You?  Did you automatically assume the “he” is you because of your history during the game of talking to him about his expressed unhappiness regarding your decisions?  Do you think the player expressing this opinion now to his teammates is an escalation of the situation?  Senior referees should already have been exposed to the “3 P” philosophy about dissent — the need to deal with dissent grows according to the degree to which it is or is becoming Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • Personal – directed at an official by eye contact, by name, by nearness
  • Public — increasingly easily heard or seen by an increasing number of persons
  • Provocative – the specific content of the speech or the common interpretation of the nonverbal communication — e.g., wagging the finger versus “the finger”

How effective is any concrete act of warning about possible dissent watered down by repetition without retribution during the game?  Is running by you and suggesting that “you’re not calling anything” as a quiet aside more “dissentful” (a word we just made up to express the concept of a qualitative amount of dissent) than shouting it out loud in a stadium full of people or than saying it to some of the speaker’s teammates loudly enough that you and perhaps a few others could hear it?

At some point, the dissent virus begins to spread, which is exactly what you don’t want because, if you are at that point, you will either have lost control entirely or, alternately, it will take a huge amount of your professional resources to halt it.  Far better to kick the snowball apart at the top of the mountain than to be crushed by it at the bottom.

Oh, and by the way, get in the habit of listening carefully to what players are saying, even if it is disagreeable, because you might need to hear it even if you don’t like the manner of expression.

Goalkeeper Possession

(Originally published on 7/16/17, “Operation Restore”)

Mike, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

A goalie going for the ball on the ground  holds on to an opponent’s leg with one hand while also gaining control of the ball with the other hand.  Is the goalie considered to maintain possession when the opponent attempts to disengage his foot from the goalie’s hand and, as a result, the ball pops free?  With the ball and his leg now free, the opponent kicked the ball into the net. This was a U12 game.

Answer

The events you described, even in a U-12 game, happen rather quickly.  In a perfect (and therefore unrealistic) world, the referee’s recommended course of action is easy to describe but difficult to implement.

Here is what should happen.  The referee sees the play developing through the point of the goalkeeper grabbing onto the attacker’s leg.  This is a holding offense and even goalkeepers are not allowed to do this.  The referee should wait no longer than the next play to see what then happens — this is a “silent” form of applying advantage without the usual verbal “Play on!” and swinging upward arm movements.   What happens next confirms the wisdom of this choice — the attacker manages to gain control of the ball and scores a goal despite the goalkeeper’s illegal behavior.

The referee should count the goal and either admonish the goalkeeper or show the yellow card to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  Under the Laws of the Game, a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (OGSO) is not justified because … well, simply, because the goal-scoring wasn’t denied!

Note that the course of action described above is based on the facts of this case and particularly the fact that, while his leg was being held by the goalkeeper, the opponent did not kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession because this would have been an offense by the attacker immediately following the offense by the goalkeeper.  It makes no sense to apply advantage and then have the opponent take advantage of the opportunity by committing a foul himself.  However, in this case, play is stopped for the goalkeeper’s offense (because the advantage did not develop, which was the attacker’s fault!) so the restart is a penalty kick and the referee could admonish or caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.  This year’s Law changes appear to specify that the goalkeeper be cautioned because a penalty kick has been awarded and the goalkeeper was, in addition to committing a foul, also playing the ball.

And then there is the potential factor of the age of the players.  Anytime, with young players, there is a situation involving one or more attackers and defenders (one being the goalkeeper) in close proximity, with one or more fouls being committed under dangerous circumstances, it is often better to get play stopped as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe.  The U12 – U14 age group is right on the edge where on the one hand safety is emphasized but, on the other hand, if the players are experienced despite their age, applying advantage may be justified.

Sorting Out a Flurry of Kicks

(Originally published on 7/11/17, “Operation Restore”)

Alistair, an adult amateur player, asks:

Who fouls if a defender kicks the ball away from the attacker’s strike zone while in mid-swing and the attacker then kicks the defender’s ankle in the follow through?

Answer

OK, Alistair, were you the defender or the attacker in this little scene?  Fess up.  By the way, “strike zones” are for baseball players, but we think we get your drift.  What makes you think that the only two options are to charge one or the other player with a foul?  How about, no one committed a foul?  Or, perhaps, each committed a foul?

We’re not necessarily advocating any of these options but you have to admit they have to be considered in addition to the two you posed.  Frankly, without seeing the scene unfold, together with what immediately preceded and followed the main event, any answer we might give would be totally theoretical.  This is one of those decisions that vitally depend on nuances.

To be a foul within the framework of Law 12, the kick by the defender would not be an offense if, under all the facts and circumstances, the referee deemed the action to be not careless, reckless, or performed with excessive force.  Likewise for the kick by the attacker (though at least the attacker has one thing going for her — her kicking action started as a play of the ball and only evolved through momentum into a kick of the opponent’s ankle.  Nor do we have any information as to the vigor with which each kick was performed.  And about that “strike zone” — where and how wide is it?  And what happened as a result of this interplay of kicks?  Was the attacker in motion at the time of the contact?  Did the defender have to reach through the attacker’s legs to get to this “strike zone?”  Was the attacker’s follow through of her leg truly due solely to momentum or did she see a way she might “get even” for having the ball stolen from her while otherwise seeming innocent of any evil intent?  All of these questions (and others) provide potentially relevant data bearing on the carelessness, recklessness, or excessive force of each of the respective player’s actions.

If we were a lawyer arguing a case based on “balancing the equities,” we might say that the sequence was initiated by the defender who should thus bear the burden of proof that her kick endangered the safety of the attacker.  The attacker’s lawyer might argue that she couldn’t help what happened and the defender’s ankle simply got in the way.  And the judge might conclude that both parties were guilty of contributory negligence — they were adults, after all,  and old enough to assume the risks rather than being kids for whom we have a special responsibility to protect their safety.

Sorry.  It still comes down to — you hadda be there.  All we can do from our safe, off-field vantage point is to suggest some of the issues that would need to be taken into account in reaching a decision.

Retreating the Required Distance on a Free Kick

(Originally published on 7/8/17, “Operation Restore”)

Jose, a U-12 and Under parent, asks:

If the Red team commits a foul, does the Referee need to tell whoever of the red team is standing close to the ball to start moving away from it or does the Referee have to wait for a blue team member to ask for it?

Answer

This is a frequent topic of conversation because actual practice in this matter is all over the board (or should we say “all over the field”?).  The best we can do here is to outline what are considered to be standard and accepted practices and procedures.  By the way, although the question was asked in the context of a free kick restart. what follows is roughly applicable as well to any restart where there is a distance requirement for the opposing team (e.g., particularly corner kicks and throw-ins but to a lesser degree also goal kicks — kick-offs and penalty kicks also have opponent distance requirements but these restarts are already ceremonial, a fact which is highly relevant and which we will explain shortly).

Let’s start off by noting that the Law assumes all opponents will immediately begin backing away the required 10-yard distance as soon as the offense is whistled because they know that is what is expected and, anyway, it is the sporting thing to do.  Uh huh.  This is not true across all player age groups — though for different reasons as between young players versus older, more experienced players.  For the former, failing to back away immediately is a matter of ignorance as to what the Law requires.  For older players, it is because they are at an age when they try to push the limits and “get away” with things (both at home and on the field).  For upper level youth, senior amateur, and pro players, it is because they are engaged in rational decision-making in order to achieve as much advantage as they can at minimal cost.

Effective mechanics for the Referee start immediately upon whistling the offense.  Free kicks are intended to be taken quickly and without interference (hence the word “free”) so one might think the Referee should begin shooing opponents away to allow this to happen.  One would be wrong.  Because the Law assumes opponents are supposed to do this automatically and immediately, Referees are advised to move away (preferably toward a position optimal for the free kick which is about to occur) and keep their mouths shut.  The attacking team, in fact, has the right to take the free kick as soon as the ball is properly placed even if there are still opponents closer than the minimum retreat distance.  A quick free kick may be advantageous to them because of any disarray among the opponents.  If the failure of all opponents to retreat to the full minimum distance hinders the attacking team’s ability to capitalize on the opponents’ confusion, the apparent kicker (not the spectators, not the coach, etc.) can request that the minimum distance be enforced.  That act, once acknowledged and announced by the Referee, turns the free kick officially into what is termed a “ceremonial” restart — i.e., from that moment, while the Referee is performing the requested service, the free kick cannot be taken except upon a signal (whistle) by the Referee.

Of course, the Referee might have turned the free kick restart into a ceremony on his or her own initiative if, for example, the event resulting in the free kick involved an injury or was the basis for a card being shown.  There are two other scenarios where the Referee might step in to turn the restart into a ceremony without being asked to do so.  One is if, in the opinion of the Referee, there are one or more opponents who are not simply failing to retreat the required ten yards but who are actively, clearly, and effectively engaged in forcing a delay in the taking of the free kick.  This can happen if an opponent takes possession of the ball and withholds it from the team given the restart or kicks the ball away, thus immediately interfering with how quickly the restart can be taken.  Another possibility is that an opponent is standing so close to the ball that no beneficial kick is even physically possible. These situations are usually considered so obvious and egregious a form of misconduct (delaying the restart of play) that it should result immediately in a caution (thus turning the free kick into a ceremonial restart anyway).  The other scenario where the Referee might step in without being asked (thus again resulting in a ceremonial restart) is if the teams are at a young enough age level that it becomes apparent they are not aware of or know how to exercise their rights in a free kick situation — usually, the look of utter confusion in the expressions of the attackers is sufficient to draw the Referee’s intervention.

So, there you have it.  No, the Referee does not get involved in shooing opponents away unless specifically asked to do so … and the asking is normally expected to come from the apparent kicker.  Only rarely and only under fairly specific conditions would the Referee intervene and, in all such cases, whether asked or not, the restart becomes ceremonial.

Arms and the Free Kick

(Originally posted on 7/6/17, “Operation Restore”)

Shane, a U-12 and Under parent, asks:

When blocking a free kick when your arms are by your side, is there an offense if the ball hits your arm and your arms do not move from your side?

Answer

No.

The International Board has been very clear in the section titled “Handling the ball” in Law 12 (2017-2018 Laws of the Game).  It starts off by explicitly stating that the offense involves “a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm” and goes on to note that, among the things to be considered are “the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)” and “that the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

What you described doesn’t even come close to an offense.

Dismissed Coaches

(Orignally posted on 7/5/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kristen, an adult pro fan, asks:

Can a coach who has been dismissed from the game watch the remainder of the game from the stands?

Answer

Maybe, maybe not.  First of all, a huge percentage of soccer games governed by the Laws of the Game don’t have “stands.”   Second, many local competition rules include specific restrictions on where a dismissed player or team official can or cannot be (e.g., at many tournaments, a dismissed team official or player has to report to the tournament tent for disposition).  Finally, the only general guideline available for dismissals (players or team officials) is that they must be “out of sight, out of sound” — meaning basically that they must be far enough away from the field and its immediate environs that they can take no further part in the match (which includes communicating through any electronic devices with “undismissed” players or team officials).  Violating this guideline, by refusing to leave or by returning or by attempting prohibited contact while the match is in progress, could be the basis for at least suspending play until the situation is corrected or by terminating the match altogether.

Teammate Plays Ball to Goalkeeper

(Originally posted on 7/5/17, Operation Restore)

Tim, an adult amateur Referee, asks:

Defender passes the ball to own goalkeeper who deliberately but inexpertly kicks the ball which then goes toward the goalkeeper’s own goal.  The goalkeeper catches up to the ball and handles it to prevent a goal.  Is the restart an indirect free kick and should the keeper be shown a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity?

Answer

Yes and no. Three matters of Law are involved here.  First, taken as a given, the goalkeeper’s initial contact with the ball did not involve the use of hands but the immediately subsequent contact did involve the goalkeeper’s hands.  It therefore meets the definition of the so-called “pass back” rule because there was no contact with the ball by anyone else between the pass by the teammate and the goalkeeper’s handling.  Second, the Law considers this an indirect free kick offense (no offense by a goalkeeper involving handling the ball can ever result in a restart other than an indirect free kick if the handling occurs inside the goalkeeper’s own penalty area).  Third, the offense for which the goalkeeper is being punished by giving the opponents an indirect free kick is not handling (meaning “handball”) and therefore does not come under the offense of handling (meaning “handball”) the ball to deny a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.  Accordingly, a red card for this play is not warranted.