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?


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.…

A Cool Drink of Water

Abdikadar, an adult amateur player, asks:

First, would there be a caution for a player to stand by the touchline and request water to drink though the match continues?
Second, in continuation of the above same question, what if he or she did the same by clearing a ball when he or she was holding a bottle of water in their hand?


First, could there be a caution?  Yes, potentially but there would have to be special circumstances.  Otherwise, no. This is an entirely ordinary action and is not considered misconduct.  However, technically, the player should make sure that he or she does not actually leave the field as this would be potentially cautionable.  Further, there is an express prohibition against throwing water containers onto the field (even at a stoppage!) and against players throwing water containers from the field in return.

Second. although we’ve never actually seen a player carrying a water bottle while actively engaged in play, it should be fairly obvious that this would not be permitted because the water bottle would be considered, in essence, illegal equipment.  It would be far better for a player at the sideline drinking water who feels the overpowering need to suddenly engage in active play to quickly return the bottle to someone or someplace off the field before rejoining the game.…

What’s Under YOUR Uniform? (with apologies to a popular credit card commercial)

A high school/college referee asks:

I have been seeing a lot of players in other sports lately wearing arm sleeves. I would judge this to be similar to wearing tights (compression shorts) which should match the main color or hem of the shirt and if there are more than one, the team should have the same color. Would I be correct in my thinking or are those pieces of cloth prohibited? Does the uniform / sock / undergarment language also address Captains bands or other arm (compression) sleeves?


First of all, until we begin seeing in soccer what you are seeing with respect to “other sports,” there is little basis on which to offer any sort of definitive answer.  All we can do at this point is speculate within the framework of what we already know regarding the Laws of the Game.

Some things are easy.  For example, don’t worry about captain’s armbands.  They are permitted and don’t come under any provision of the Law beyond the restriction that they must not present a danger to anyone (though we would be hard-pressed to contemplate an armband that might even faintly be considered unsafe!).  This, of course, assumes that it is not being worn over the sock.  Like anything, however, which is not part of the required uniform described in Law 4, it should be inspected — or at least given a brief glance.  Law 4 also includes “arm protectors” as part of the category it calls “protective equipment” and states that they must be “non-dangerous” (which is a wordier version of “safe”) if made of “lightweight padded material.”  Conceivably, if something worn on the arm did not specifically extend below the sleeve of the jersey but, rather, started from below the jersey sleeve, it could be considered as falling in this category.

The difficult question regards something worn on the arm that does begin from some point under the jersey sleeve and then extends downward on the arm.  This would give every appearance of being an “undershirt” which would then become subject to the rule about its color being the same as the main color of the shirt sleeve.  The sticking point here is that, without having the player undress to some point, there would be no way of telling whether this type of armwear was part of a true undergarment or just a sleeve extension.

Our recommendation, should you find yourself facing such a situation, is to treat armwear that starts under the sleeve and then continues on the arm as an undershirt and apply the Law appropriately.  If it begins below the sleeve, treat it as an arm protector and limit your concerns to whether it is safe.  Finally, you always have the option if things start to look sticky to point out to the player that, if the armsleeve is not a true undershirt but is otherwise not in conformity with the undershirt rules, simply pull it down far enough to show skin, thus demonstrating that it falls under a different rule.  Keep in mind the core objective of the undershirt rule is to standardize jerseys … and anything which appears to be an extension of the jersey.  Also remember that the wearing of anything other than compulsory equipment may be a topic covered by a local rule of competition.  The final thing to remember (so much to keep in mind!!) is that many technical violations may be considered trifling: choose to insist on those things that really matter (but include details of situations like this in your game report).…


NOTE: This Q&A was published back in 2002 with the full approval of the U. S. Soccer Federation. I cannot claim that it still has approval, but it is a good path to explore when prosthetic devices are necessary for a player. I sent it out last week in response to a similar question from a player’s parent. The final decision will always rest with the referee, no matter who else might approve.

May a player wear a titanium leg or other prosthetic device while playing soccer?

Answer (January 18, 2015):
The first concern of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment is for player safety: “Safety: A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).” The IFAB then lists the basic compulsory equipment of a player: jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards, and footwear. Artificial legs and other prosthetic devices are not included in the list.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) neither approves nor disapproves the wearing of such artificial legs or prosthetic devices, taking the position that this decision is outside the authority and competence of the USSF.

Custom and usage indicate that the use of artificial legs or other prosthetic devices by players was never contemplated by the International F. A. Board, but the case is analogous to that of a player wearing a cast or leg brace (when properly padded to prevent a danger to others). Injuring or reinjuring a limb is not considered to be a life-threatening situation, and it is commonly accepted according to custom and usage. The individual referee must consider the requirements of Law 4 and the Spirit of the Laws when judging the safety of wearing of an artificial leg or prosthetic device in the game he or she is to referee.

The National State Association may grant permission for players to wear properly padded artificial legs or prosthetic devices if the following requirements are met:
1. The player (or the parents of a player under the age of 21) must sign a release form stating that the player/parents are aware of the hazards involved with the player/child playing soccer under the conditions of his/her health.

2. The player’s doctor must sign a release stating that the player may play a contact sport such as soccer while wearing the device.

3. It is the sole responsibility of the player (and parents, if the player is underage) to ensure that the device is worn as required by medical personnel. It should not fall to a coach, tournament director, referee, nor anyone else to see that this is done, nor should the coach, tournament director, referee, nor anyone else be held responsible if it is not and an injury results.

4. The referee in each case has the final decision as to whether or not to allow the player to participate.

The player’s team must carry copies of the player’s/parents’ and doctor’s releases and a copy of the release from the National State Association (signed by the president, vice president for the appropriate competition, and registrar).

As noted above, the final decision to let the player participate will rest with the individual referee.


An instructor asks: Before we start teaching the recert clinics this year, I want to make sure I understand the change in Law 4.
Am I to interpret “head cover” as meaning any type of hat (or other head covering) that the referee deems safe?
I just want to make sure that it is meant to include “hats and caps” – like a knit hat or skull type cap with no protrusions

Answer (September 5, 2014):
With one slight addition, we see no reason why you should need to state anything other than what is stated in FIFA Circular 1419 of May 2014 for Law 4:

Where head covers are worn, they must
* be black or of the same main color as the jersey (provided that the players of the same team wear the same color)
* be in keeping with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment
* not be attached to the jersey
* not pose any danger to the player wearing it or any other player (e.g. opening/closing mechanism around neck)
* not have any parts extending out from the surface (protruding elements)


After a two-year pilot, there is no indication as to why the wearing of head covers should be prohibited, as long as their design restrictions are respected as defined in the pilot. Furthermore, the male football community also raised the need for male players to be permitted to wear head covers, as it was considered discriminative.

Hats or soft caps that are safe for all participants would be permitted. Equipment not permitted still includes snoods (a net or fabric bag pinned or tied on at the back of a man’s or woman’s head for holding the hair)…


In a recent match I had, a female player had her head gear off and in her hands while playing the ball and challenged by an opponent. I stopped the game and gave an indirect free kick to the opposing team for stopping the game, but did not give a caution.

Was I correct in the decision or did I misapply the laws? I could not find an answer in the law book or in advice to referees.

My question is, is it permissible for players to play with items in their hands such as head gear, water bottles, shin guards, cleats / boots, or an miscellaneous items while in possession of the ball and being challenged by an opponent? If not, what is the punishment and restart?

Answer March 8, 2014):
If the player did not use her headgear (not yet legal for anyone other than the goalkeeper) to play the ball or to ward off the opponent, then no offense has been committed. However, the referee should ensure that she replaces or legally disposes of the headgear as quickly as possible. If no offense has been committed, play is not stopped. If the player (other than the goalkeeper within her own penalty area) uses the headgear to play the ball, it is deliberate handling. If she uses the headgear to play the opponent, it is either holding or pushing. Deal with such infringements in accordance with the Laws.…


This question is with regard to Rule 4, player equipment.

There is a growing market for wearable health and fitness monitors in the form of wristbands/bracelets. They monitor activity including heart rate, temp and sweat levels. Jawbone and FitBit are two of the leading manufacturers. And the prices are dropping so coaches and referees will begin to see these devices more frequently. Will these health monitors be classified as jewelry and therefore banned from play? Thank you.

Answer (November 27, 2013):
My personal belief is yes, these devices should be classified as jewelry and treated as such by the referee in any case involving their use in an actual game. However, in practice this question will will have to be answered on a case-by-case basis by the individual referee on the match. Both pieces of equipment involve wristbands that could catch on the player’s equipment or that of an opponent, leading to injury for all involved, thus violating the principle behind Law 4’s requirement that no jewelry be worn.

Either of those pieces of equipment would be fine for training, but not for competition.

And just to be certain, I checked my answer with some folks who are still active. Amazing how we still agree:

It’s a tricky question that [one of my friends] actually posed to USSF back in September when a WPS player attempted to wear such a heart monitor device and was refused by the referee based on a decision that it was jewelry. However, subsequently, it was attempted again (don’t know whether it was by the same player or not) and was allowed by another referee who decided it was “medical” and could be worn if wrapped and was safe. I asked what (if anything) had been said or relayed to WPS referees as a guideline on the issue. The replay was that there was no formal “ruling” but that USSF had communicated to the USWNT in the past that the devices could be worn so long as they are deemed safe by the referee.

One can only assume that what is OK for the USWNT is good for everyone else and that the argument is persuasive that, although jewelry, the devices are medical in nature and should be approached in the same way as is done with medical alert bracelets.


Does USSF have any position on using of the Protective Face Mask by players? I realize that any equipment falls within the referee’s decision as to the safety of the item but I was wondering if this item has been discussed and your thoughts on this matter.

USSF answer (February 27, 2012):
We cannot speak regarding particular brands of masks, but the following information from the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees applies:

Law 4

Other equipment

A player may use equipment other than the basic equipment provided that its sole purpose is to protect him physically and it poses no danger to him or any other player.

All items of clothing or equipment other than the basic equipment must be inspected by the referee and determined not to be dangerous.

Modern protective equipment such as headgear, facemasks and knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight padded material are not considered dangerous and are therefore permitted.

In view of the new technology that has made sports spectacles much safer, both for the wearer and for other players, referees should show tolerance when authorising their use, particularly for younger players.
If an item of clothing or equipment that has been inspected at the start of a match and determined not to be dangerous becomes dangerous or is used in a dangerous manner during the match, its use must no longer be allowed.

The use of radio communication systems between players and/or technical staff is not permitted.

And, as in all cases related to player equipment, the referee has the final say.…


The first I cannot figure out after reviewing the LOTG etc. and asking fellow referees their opinions. It has to do with equipment. Team A was at the 18 yrd line with the ball. Defender from team B won the ball and passed it 10 yrds forward to another teammate. A player from team A ran toward him and in the process his boot came off. The team A player caught the team B player gaining control of the ball. I whistled for a foul and awarded the B team an indirect kick as Player A was not in uniform. I read something about a dropped ball being called but I would guess that would be rewarding the A team. Anyway, I am not sure what to do and seek your guidance.

The second has to do with kicking the ball back to the GK. I was told by one of our senior referees that we cannot read the field players mind when the ball is kicked to the GK, intentional or not and should award an IFK when if occurs unless it is so obvious that there was no intent. For example, the player kicks the ball into the wind and it blows back to the GK who grabs it. I was the center at a u14 game.

The ball was in the middle of the penalty area.

the defender ran and took a mighty kick at the ball which glanced off the foot and rolled towad the GK who picked it up. I did not award an IFK causing dismay in one of the opposing players who questioned me about it. What is the proper interpretation of the pass back rule regarding intent?

USSF answer (November 24, 2011):
1. A player is expected to replace his footwear as quickly as possible if it comes off during play, but that does not mean that he has to do it immediately. You would have been wrong to caution this player for misconduct; there was no foul committed in the scenario you present, so no kick was necessary. You should have started with a dropped ball (for stopping play incorrectly) and apologized to all concerned

2. The referee should not be looking for fouls to call when none occurs. You would have been mistaken in punishing the goalkeeper for his teammate’s misplayed ball. The ball was truly deliberately kicked, part of the foul, but it was not sent to any place where the goalkeeper could play it; that was pure happenstance, not a foul. Furthermore, the teammate kicking the ball in this sort of scenario is NEVER the one who commits the foul. The foul — if it exists at all — is committed by the goalkeeper if he chooses to use his hands instead of some other part of his body.…


I have a U12 Girl who is telling me that she cannot remove her earrings due to her religion. She is a Muslim.  They are saying that Islam will not allow her to remove the earrings for any reason.

What should I tell them ?

USSF answer (October 13, 2011):
No referee should be placed in a position in which a decision on this matter must be given by the referee. This is not the job of any referee. If learned theologians can disagree on what a religion requires, and armies of adherents can take up arms to enforce to the death their particular vision of salvation, then the lone individual referee has no chance.

The competition authority (league, tournament, etc.) should be the one to decide if a player may be permitted to offer the religious exemption by applying to them with a description of the item of clothing or equipment which the player desires to wear on the field and accompanied by an explanation of how and why (and under what authority) that item is required to be worn by the player’s religion.

The competition authority should then decide to accept or reject the application. If it accepts the application, it should issue a written decision which the player, the player’s coach, or the player’s parents should have with them at each and every game in which that player wishes to participate. The referee’s sole responsibility is, based on this approved application, to inspect the item described in the approval to determine if it is safe both at the start of play and throughout play.

The competition authority has no business encroaching on the referee’s responsibility for safety, and the referee has no business making any decision about religious doctrine.…