The Officiating Team and Misconduct

Karyn, an adult/pro fan, asks:

If neither the Referee nor either Assistant Referee saw a foul but the fourth official did, can the Referee still give a straight red card?

Answer

Yes.  The referee is obliged to take into account any information provided to him or her by a member of the officiating team – including the ARs and the 4th official but not including the reserve assistant referee or a volunteer linesman – and then render a final decision.  The referee is not required to accept the information but is required to listen.  However, the referee’s ability to follow through on the advice and information remains limited by the Laws of the Game.  For example, if at the halftime break, an AR or the 4th official indicates that Blue #14 had used abusive or offensive language in the 20th minute, the only way the referee could issue a red card to Blue #14 is if there had been no stoppages between the 20th minute of the half and the midgame break.  The Law requires that a card to any player, substitute, or substituted player must be given no later than the next stoppage (which includes the end of a period of play).

There are only two exceptions to this mandate.  The first is if the referee realizes or is advised by a member of the officiating team (excluding the reserve assistant referee or a linesman) that the referee had issued a second yellow to a player but had failed to follow through with a red card as prescribed in Law 12.  In this case, the red card can be given whenever the Referee is made aware of the oversight.  The other is a bit more complicated.  The referee can issue a red card to a player, substitute, or substituted player if an assistant referee observes an act of violence (including spitting), raises the flag, and continuously maintains the raised flag until the referee becomes aware of the signal, at which time the red card for violent conduct can be given even if one or more stoppages and restarts have intervened.  Since this particular exception depends entirely on the AR performing in a certain way, it should be covered in the pregame discussion prior to any match in which such behavior might occur.

Stopping Play and the End of Time

Ricardo, a Referee of youth players, asks:

When is the referee allowed to stop the play? Can he stop the play when time expires but the ball has already been kicked and is in the air going towards goal?

Answer

Your two questions are slightly different.  When is the Referee allowed to stop play?  By Law and tradition, anytime he or she feels it is necessary.  The stoppage could be for a specific reason or for no reason not specifically provided for in the Law.  Sometimes play stops despite the Referee.  For example, technically, play stops when the ball leaves the field and there is no specific action the Referee is required to take to implement or authorize the stoppage.  Nowhere in the Law does it say that the Referee stops play when the ball leaves the field but, on occasion, some action is needed to remind players that the ball has left the field (particularly if they keep on playing it) and, indeed, in such cases a whistle sounds solely to get their attention.

Other times, the Referee has discretionary authority to stop play.  The most common example here is the commission of an offense specified by the Laws of the Game — fouls, misconduct, offside, etc.  First of all, the Referee has to recognize that an offense has occurred, then decide that it is not trifling, then decide not to apply advantage, and then, finally, whistle play to stop.  Just as with a stoppage due to the ball leaving the field, it is not the whistle which forces the stoppage but the decision that play must be stopped.  Most times, the whistle merely marks that the decision has been made but happens so quickly following the decision that there is no appreciable time between the two.  Sometimes, this is not the case: advantage is often an example because, until the Referee has had a chance to determine that the advantage has been achieved and maintained for several seconds, there could be at least a short while before a whistle is blown or the actual advantage signal is made.

Now we come to your second question.  Every match has a specified length of half.  Law 7 (Duration of the Match) sets this at 45 minutes.  Although it can be less time for certain categories of players as determined by the competition authority, but it is always a specific number of minutes.  That time may be extended officially by the need to conduct a penalty kick despite time ending.  The time may also be extended due to time lost as a result of excessively lengthy delays but the Referee is required to carefully monitor such situations and decide, to the nearest whole minute (rounded down) how much time must be added.  The period of play (first, second, or any subsequent additional period to break a tie), then, is an exact measurement.

Unfortunately, there are many so-called rules or notions about how Referees are supposed to mark when a period of play is over.  By Law, no such rule exists or is authorized with the exception of the penalty kick in extended time.  Myths abound.  The Referee is supposed to wait until the ball is in the middle third before signaling the end of a period.  The Referee is not supposed to signal the end of a period if either team is attacking the goal (a version of this is that it applies only if the team which is behind has the ball).  The Referee is not supposed to signal the end of time if play is already stopped — which is taken to mean that the Referee must always perform the restart (goal kick, kick-off, free kick, etc.) before whistling the stoppage due to time expiring (apparently, this often gets the additional requirement that, after the restart, let the players play for at least a little bit).

Every Referee has a theory here, or was told “this is how it is done” in their entry level class, or was told by an assessor, or heard it on the grapevine, or from a TV commentator (!).  None of them is correct … or all of them are correct (though some are sillier than others).  Decide for yourself but, whatever you do, do it consistently regardless of what’s going on at the moment.  Time is up when it is up but, in a match governed by the Laws of the Game, no one knows for sure when this is except for the Referee and, as the Referee, you must be able to justify to yourself whatever you come up with.  We will advise one thing further and that is never to talk to anyone about “your rule” because none of them hold up to challenge.  Just smile mysteriously and simply declare that time was over.

One serious problem in all this is that the players in their current game will get all bent out of shape if the Referee does (or does not) whistle the end of a period when they think it should be — which is why they frequently ask how much time is left and which is why you should not answer this question except in the most general way.

Fouls and Restart Locations

Gary, an Adult/Pro Coach, asks:

If there’s a foul off the ball, despite the ball being in the center circle, can the Referee award a penalty ?

Answer

Not only “can the Referee,” the Referee must.  With rare exceptions (and fouls are not one of them), the Law sets the location of the restart to be where the foul occurred, not where the ball was.  In this case, if it was a direct free kick foul and it was committed by a defender inside his or her own penalty area while the ball was in play, the restart is a penalty kick even if the ball was at the far other end of the field at the time.

For example, Red is attacking the Blue goal with play occurring just above the Blue team’s penalty area.  At the Red end of the field, however, the Red goalkeeper and a Blue opponent are having an intense debate inside the Red penalty area over something that happened several minutes earlier, during which the Red goalkeeper shoves the opponent.  The trail AR sees this and signals for the foul, the lead AR (down where play is currently occurring) mirrors the signal, and then directs the referee’s attention to what is happening behind the Referee’s back.  Trusting the judgment of the experienced ARs, the Referee stops play immediately (no advantage is applied), deals with the misconduct (if any), and orders the ball brought back to the other end of the field for a penalty kick by Blue.

The consequences would be much different if, instead of striking by the Red goalkeeper, it was the Blue opponent who committed the shoving.  Here, advantage might be applied depending on the seriousness of the offense (it is not recommended if violence is involved).  If the Red team’s advantage is maintained, then play should be allowed to continue and, at the next stoppage, the Blue player might be cautioned if the shove was deemed reckless.  If advantage was not maintained or if the shove was violent, play should be stopped and then restarted with a direct free kick by Red where the shove occurred after any misconduct with dealt with.  If the shove did not require an immediate stoppage, the trail AR would simply wait for the next stoppage, signal for the Referee’s attention, explain what happened, and let the Referee decide what action to take.

In situations like this, it is imperative that the AR observing this behavior understands the implications of signaling for a stoppage.  The AR’s decision must be based on believing — based on experience, the pre-game conference where the Referee made clear his or her preferences, and the AR’s observation of the Referee’s decisions in the match so far — that the referee would have stopped play (i.e., not considered the event doubtful or trifling and not have applied advantage) if he or she had seen the event.  The other AR must be aware of the trail AR’s signal and have the presence of mind to mirror it.  Finally, the Referee must trust the trail AR’s judgment that, under the circumstances and based on standard mechanics, play must be stopped.  The system works … when everyone understands their respective roles and acts accordingly.

What’s My Line (and other matters)?

Abdullah, an adult pro player, asks:

1- if a Goalkeeper holds the ball exactly on the penalty area line , is that allowed ?
If that is allowed, what if he holds the ball and 80% of the ball was on the line and the rest is outside of the line ? (What are the punishments if..)

2- if there is a foul or an offside inside the PA, is it right the goalkeeper can put the ball anywhere in the penalty area to play ? Because I see goalkeepers take the ball up to the penalty area line even if the offside or the foul was near to the goal.

3- if a defender deliberately passes the ball back by his shin, is the goalkeeper allowed to hold the ball ?

Answer

Actually three answers.

  1. Yes.  Still yes.  None
  2. No.  They are wrong (and so is the Referee).
  3. Yes.

OK, perhaps you would like a bit more detail.

  1. All lines (except the midfield line, which is special) are a part of the area they enclose.  As with the touchline, a ball which is on the touchline — or even just 80% on the touchline — is still in the field.  So, a ball held by the goalkeeper which is even a little bit on the penalty area line is still in the penalty area and is thus being legally held.  By the way, considering the diameter of a soccer ball and the maximum width of the penalty area line, it ought to be obvious that it is physically impossible for the ball to be held “exactly” on the penalty area line — at least some part of it has to not be on the penalty line.  Also by the way, it doesn’t matter (so there is no punishment).
  2. It is one of the usually accurate generalizations in soccer that restarts are taken from where the offense occurs.  Some exceptions are obvious (e.g., DFK offense committed by a defender inside his own penalty area = penalty kick).  Some are specifically provided for in the Law (e.g., stopping play for a violation of Law 4 = taken where the ball was when play was stopped).  While in practice there is usually some “wiggle room” in actually spotting the ball for most free kick offenses (e.g., the farther away the official restart location is from the goal being attacked, the more “wiggle room” there is), the Law itself is quite clear as to what is required.  What you have described is the result of players being allowed to push, if not actually exceed, the limits of the Law by Referees lacking either a spine or good sense.  Allowing a variance of as much as, say, 5-6 yards might be justified under some circumstances, but moving a restart from in front of the goal to nearly 18 yards away  (just inside the penalty area) is ridiculous.  We are actually hoping that you have mistaken the goal area with the penalty area.  A free kick given the defending team for an offense which occurred within that team’s goal area is allowed to be taken from anywhere within the goal area.
  3. One of the very first questions that was asked and answered after the Laws of the Game were modified in the early 1990s to make illegal what quickly came to be called the “pass back to the keeper” offense was: what was meant by “kicked”?  The answer was swift and sure — it meant played with the foot.  This is not a case of “the hand” including the entire arm (as in a handling offence): “the foot” means “the foot” and only “the foot” as defined by a human’s anatomy.  The most common definition of “the shin” is the front part of the leg from the knee to the ankle (most often associated with the tibia).  “The foot” is thus defined as the rest of the leg at and below the ankle.  So, a ball played by the shin is not counted as having been played by the foot and, accordingly, there is no restriction regarding the goalkeeper handling the ball if it was was propelled by the shin (or the knee, the chest, the head, etc., just not the hand (including the arm).  By the way, as we have said in earlier answers regarding the “pass back to the keeper” offense, this is one of the worst ways to describe what this violation of the Law is all about: it doesn’t have to be a pass, it doesn’t have to be back, and it doesn’t have to be to the keeper.

Communications within the Officiating Team

Dave, a Referee of younger players, asks:

Red 1 is guilty of dangerous play. The assistant referee makes the call but the Referee does not see the raised flag and allows play to continue and a goal is scored by Blue 10. The Referee then sees the AR with his flag still raised and goes over to discuss the situation with him. The Referee disallows the goal and restarts play with an IFK for Red at the spot of the foul. Is this the correct decision? I have been instructed that, as soon as the flag goes up and is not waved down, subsequent play basically hadn’t happened.

Answer

Either you have not been instructed correctly or you have misunderstood the Instructor’s point.   Law 5 provides that the AR’s input (information, advice, etc.) should be listened to and may be accepted, but it remains the Referee’s decision.  Let’s look at an example of this in a very practical situation (which may, in fact, be what you heard the Instructor say but, through miscommunication, failed to catch the context).

Red #9 is dribbling the ball downfield near the touchline.  In the process, the ball temporarily leaves the field but is played back onto the field and Red #9 continues to attack downfield.  The AR raises the flag upon seeing that the ball did indeed fully leave the field but the Referee doesn’t see the signal … until, after dribbling the ball another 4-5 yard, Red #9 is pushed by Blue #25.  This does draw the referee’s attention and, at the same time, causes him to see the AR’s flag straight up, followed by the AR pointing the flag at a 45 degree angle upward from the horizontal for a throw-in by the other team (The AR’s mechanics are correct because the ball was still being played as though it had not left the field — the AR initially holds the flag straight up to get the Referee’s attention but the actual throw-in signal is not given until the AR and Referee make mutual eye contact).

Under these circumstances, the AR’s signal does indeed mark when the ball went out of play and therefore when play stopped (even though the physical motions of play continued).  And this, in turn, means that the push by Blue 25 was not a foul (because it happened when play was stopped) so Blue #25 gets at least a verbal dressing down or, depending on the force of the push, a caution for unsporting behavior or at worst a red card for violent conduct.  In other words, when the referee accepted the AR’s signal, play was considered to have stopped at the moment of the AR’s signal.  Theoretically, the Referee could have refused to accept the AR’s signal, in which case the push happened during play, there will be a DFK restart, and maybe a card.  Why the Referee might do this is largely immaterial to the immediate consequences.

Now, let’s deconstruct your scenario.  First, it is stated that Red was “guilty of dangerous play” — technically, this is only a supposition, it may be the AR’s interpretation of what he saw but a player isn’t “guilty” of anything until and unless it is declared so by a decision of the Referee.  Second, the AR does not ever make “a call” as that term is used and understood in soccer — the AR provides information and advice.  Third, it does not become “a call” until accepted by the Referee but, if this happens, then the Law provides that the “effective time” of the call is when the AR signaled whatever it was that the Referee accepted.  Fourth, the Referee could decide not to accept the AR’s flag (the delayed equivalent of having waved it down when the signal was made)  There could be any one of several reasons for this.  Fifth, the Referee could accept the AR’s advice as to what happened but disagree as to the consequences.  In other words, the Referee could agree that there had been a dangerous play offense but either the action was trifling because it had no negative effect or (more likely given what followed) advantage should be applied (after all, Red may have committed an offense but the offended team scored the goal!).

As we read what went on, the Blue goal should stand and the restart would therefore be a kick-off.   While we do not see a correct decision path leading to what the Referee ended up doing, the AR is not without fault.  The AR should not signal for what he determined in his mind was a dangerous play until he has a chance to see what happens as a result.  It is not his job to signal a foul just because he thinks it is a foul but, rather, to decide what the Referee would have done if the Referee had seen what the AR saw.   In short, the AR has to decide that the Referee would have decided to stop play, i.e., that this Referee so far in this game would not have considered the action to be doubtful or trifling and that advantage would not have been applied.  Perhaps, seeing that Blue kept or gained control of the ball despite Red’s actions and even scored a goal would have led to the AR not even raising the flag.

By the way, it passes all understanding why the Referee would punish Red for Red‘s dangerous play offense by giving the ball to Red for the IFK restart.  We are assuming (hoping would probably be a better word) that this was simply a misprint in your question and that the Referee actually gave the ball to Blue (that, at least would have been a mistake in judgment whereas giving it to Red would be a mistake in Law).

Restart Management

Hyung, a referee of U12 players, asks:

It’s not clear to me how to manage restarts for free kicks when the attacking team doesn’t know the procedure/options (e.g., ceremonial vs quick ).  Should the attacking team always initiate asking the Referee for a ceremonial restart? What if they don’t ask?  Is it the Referee’s duty to ask the attacking team?  A few seconds pass and it’s obvious the attacking team will not take the free kick quickly.  Also, they didn’t request enforcing the minimum distance (10 yds).  Is it at this point the Referee should take charge and do the free kick ceremonially?  If the attacking team doesn’t ask for 10, is 5 yds acceptable? Is this in the rules? Is it best for the Referee to lead in this confusing situation and restart ceremonially?

Answer

You have some good questions here, all of them pertaining to issues of correct or preferred mechanics and procedures but not so much matters of Law.  In fact, the term “ceremonial restart” is not found anywhere in the Laws of the Game — it is entirely a matter of tradition and recommended procedures.  In short, you will not find answers to any of your questions except in publications which, mostly unofficially, attempt to explain the art of refereeing.

We can, however, start with some fundamental principles and work from there.  First, the core definition of a free kick (Law 13) is a restart given to a team because the opponents have violated the Law in some way and the Referee has stopped play for it.  It is called a “free” kick because the team awarded this restart must be given the opportunity to put the ball back into play without hindrance or interference (i.e., freely).  To this end, all opponents are required by Law to retire (move away) at least ten yards from the location of the free kick in every direction.  This is a legal burden placed on the shoulders of every opponent and the Referee’s job is to punish any opponent who fails to do so (before, during, or after the kick).  In a perfect world, what should happen is that, as soon as the Referee whistles for a stoppage and signals a free kick restart (indirect or direct), all opponents hurriedly move at least ten yards away in the spirit of sporting behavior and the attacking team is able to take its free kick in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, this expectation is rather akin to also asking players who commit an offense to publicly admit their error, apologize to the opposing team, hand the ball over to them, and clear a path between the kick and the defending team’s goal.  Needless to say, this is not what happens in our imperfect world.  What usually occurs, depending on the circumstances of the stoppage, the temperature of the game, what’s at stake, and simple hormonal imbalances, is that some opponents will try to interfere — by not moving at all, by standing near the ball, by kicking the ball away, by blocking the likely path of the kick so as to diminish the attacking team’s ability to recover from their opponent’s commission of a violation, and other tactics limited only by the inventiveness of wily soccer players trying to gain an advantage at almost any cost.

All of this is summarized briefly in the general principle that the Referee’s obligation in these cases is to allow, expect, and protect as much as possible the taking of the quick free kick.  Why?  Because a quick free kick (a) gets play moving again — usually a good thing, (b) restores as much as possible the condition of the harmed team prior to the offense, and (d) serves as a better deterrent to future illegal acts.  The antithesis of the “quick restart” is the “ceremonial restart.” (more…)

Player Arms

John, a HS player parent, asks:

Watching high school soccer, I see a) players extending arms away from their bodies to shield or to prevent the opponent from going by and b) two players in pursuit of a ball and you can see the outside arm swing but the inside arm is not, one player is holding the other arm in close quarters but the REF does not call a foul.  Do these offenses deserve calling?

Answer

There are at least 2-3 distinctly different questions packed in these four lines.  For example, who said that what you described are “offenses”?  Or, do all offenses “deserve” to be called (where “call” means “blow the whistle”)?

Keeping in mind that we here at askasoccerreferee.com focus only on the Laws of the Game and rarely cross over to other rule sets (like high school), we have a question back at you.  Sports aside, have you ever tried running — at any speed, much less full out — with your arms tightly held at your side?  It’s very difficult.  Arms move all the time to maintain balance and to translate the extra effort into a stronger forward motion.

Neither the Laws of the Game nor any other rule set we know of demands that players must hold their arms straight down at their sides.  Of course, at times and in certain ways, not doing so can lead to committing an offense (holding, striking, handball, etc.) so it is very important to recognize when the entirely understandable and even unavoidable pressure to hold one or both arms away from the body during the normal course of play turns into an offense.

If the hand (or arm) is used to make contact with another player, it could be striking or it could simply be a handshake.  It could be an attempt to interfere with the path of an opponent by “making the body bigger” or it could be an attempt to prevent a teammate or even an opponent from falling.  It could fall into one of those “grey” areas where two players are running side by side and using their elbows in mutual attempts to cause the other to lose their stride.  It could be something that one of the players in this pair really doesn’t like it or it could be a more or less friendly competition which each expects and believes they have the skill to play through.

If contact is made and the referee determines that the action is aimed at preventing an opponent from getting around a body which is now larger (taking up more space) than would be the case if the arm were not held out, then the referee could certainly recognize it as an offense.  But what to do next?  Recognizing that something is an offense is only the first step in a process of deciding what to do about it (actually, deciding that something is not an offense is probably the single most common “call” in any game).  Perhaps the offense is doubtful — the referee is momentarily seeing it at only one angle and maybe there was contact, but maybe not.  Perhaps it was trifling — both players are doing the same thing and neither is bothered by it.  Perhaps there was a hard push by one of the players but the player he or she pushed was able to gain control of the ball, break away, and race down field — keep the whistle down but apply advantage (by the way, applying advantage is calling the offense, just not stopping play).  Perhaps the player who gave the hard elbow push was, as a result, able to gain the ball unfairly — whistle play stopped.  And then there are all sorts of “add-ons” like whether the action was a simple offense with no misconduct, or perhaps it was reckless (caution) or overly aggressive (red card).

Every one of these decisions is a “call” — calls are not just about blowing the whistle.  Anyone with a whistle can blow it — only trained, experienced, and perceptive referees know when not to blow it.  Figuring out what an offense “deserves” is at the heart and soul of effective officiating.

Referee – Coach?

Ian, a youth coach, asks:

Can a Referee coach a team during the game?  If not, which rule does this breach?

Answer

One of the really great things about the Laws of the Game is that it has only a few (17) actual “rules” and is written in such general terms that these rules include a lot of flexibility.  This allows Referees to interpret them (within accepted guidelines) in pursuit of the long-accepted but never-included core objectives of the entire body of rules — safety (of the players), fairness (among the players and between the teams), and enjoyment (of the players and, to a lesser extent, of the spectators).  As soccer (or football, as it is otherwise widely known) grew to become the most popular sport in the world, the actual word count of these Laws has grown: they have gradually become relatively more detailed, more specific, and (while remaining organized in modern times into 17 sections), the Law writers have added definitions, interpretations, information about mechanics and procedures, and advice on such specific important concepts as advantage and offside.

Moreover, we believe the Laws of the Game has always been unique among all the major sports as regards its reliance on tradition.  Sometimes (particularly in the case of participants in the United States) this is frustrating precisely because not everything they need to know is actually in those Laws.  The sport assumes that you will know, understand, and appreciate this.  The question you are asking is one of these things.

There is nothing in the formal Laws — nor in any of the parallel rules governing such variations of the sport as envisioned by NFHS (high school) or NCAA (college) — which would prevent a coach or assistant coach from serving as the Referee or Assistant Referee in a match involving their team, but it just wouldn’t happen.   Oh, it might at a level involving very young players (many games at the U4 – U5 – U6 age level are “officiated” by a parent or coach), or involving such unofficial matches as scrimmages, or if the assigned official fails to arrive (though even here it is more likely that the coaches would identify, if possible, a parent who happened also to be a certified official and who would step in by temporary common agreement to  meet the emergency).

But this is expected to be rare exception to what lies at the heart of the officiating function; namely, that someone needs to be in charge of applying the rules and making decisions affecting what is happening on the field who does not care which team wins.  Everyone else cares — the players certainly, the coaches whose income might depend on the team’s record or who might have a son or daughter on the team, and the spectators who almost always either have a family connection with one or more players or who have paid money to see a favored team play.  The officiating team does not.  Its concern is how the game is played, not who wins, and “how the game is played” is defined by adherence to the Laws of the Game as understood and applied by them in accordance with their training and lack of favoritism.

So, could someone officiate a match involving a team of which they are a coach?  Yes, theoretically, but it would be an implicit violation of the core concept of “Referee neutrality” as to decision-making and outcome.  In fact, this is deemed such a fundamental restriction that it is almost always applied even where there is a degree of separation, as would be the case where the coach/Referee was officiating a game involving a team which that coach/Referee’s team might play some time in the future.

It is often not known or understood that soccer was played for a long time with no Referees at all.  The sport evolved at a time and in a culture where “sportsmanship” was deemed such an important, core, and assumed ingredient in the game that disputes about play were decided by the participants themselves.  Indeed, there were neither coaches nor Referees.  Gradually, this changed with persons being appointed to make decisions about the legality of some event on the field only if the issue could not be decided by the participants and only if the issue were “referred” to these persons (hence the title of that person as “Referee”).  Ultimately, the role of this person developed and solidified into the modern concept of the “Referee” as a neutral, professional, and trained person.  Yet, this development, while implicit in virtually every word in the Laws of the Game, was and remains unwritten.  The closest the sport has come to saying anything on this subject is to be found in the 2016/2017 version of the Laws, early in Law 5 (The Referee): “Decisions will be made to the best of the referee’s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game.”

Abandoning a Match

A youth referee asks:

Can the Ref abandon the match and not tell the coaches? Had a situation where the Ref said that, in his eyes, the match was over after a parent and coach came on the pitch to stop two kids fighting then ended up fighting themselves. The Ref never blew for full time but said to the other coach it’s finished anyway. Now in his report he is saying he abandoned the game but did not tell anyone this. Can he do this?  I am a a Ref myself and don’t know.

Answer

Not wishing to be flippant but the obvious answer is, yes, he can do this … because he did it.  And we’re not sure how the Referee could do anything more to signal that the match has been terminated beyond leaving the field himself.

On a more serious note, the referee is given the authority to terminate a match due to what used to be called “grave disorder” — which means any events on or around the field which would cause the Referee to be concerned about the ongoing safety of the players or the officiating team based on actions by the players, substitutes, team officials, and/or spectators.  By the way, the Law no longer distinguishes between “abandoning” a match or “terminating” a match — the terms are used interchangeably.  There is no particular need to blow the whistle to announce this but, in practice, the whistle has usually already being blown (perhaps numerous times!) in response to the events which eventually resulted in the decision to terminate the game (in this case, the start of the players fighting).

Just based on the information provided, it would seem that termination would not be considered an incorrect response to (a) players fighting, (b) a coach and a parent entering the field illegally (which would be the case if the Referee didn’t explicitly give them permission to enter) and (c) then themselves fighting.  That would definitely be a “hostile environment” not conducive to trying to get the teams back onto the field after removing the fighters and expecting the teams to play peacefully.  It might have been useful to officially notify both teams that the match was being terminated with a simple statement that the decision was required based on a concern for everyone’s safety.  Neither is required.

Anytime the Referee ends a match via termination (or abandonment), full details must be included in the match report.  Further, most leagues, tournaments, referee coordinators, or assignors appreciate a quick telephone call or email message alerting them to the likelihood of further “discussion” about what happened.

Cursing, Cards, and Communication

Caitlin, a youth referee, asks:

If I don’t overhear the cursing, but someone tells me about it, would that be a yellow, red or no card?

Answer

It depends.  First, who told you?  Second, what kind of “cursing” was alleged?

Let’s take them in order.  If a player, team official, or spectator told you, the answer is “no card” because these are not reliable sources of information generally, but particularly not if what is being alleged is misconduct involving a caution or send-off.  The only sources of information on which you can rely regarding behavior that might lead to any official punishment are the members of your officiating team — assistant referees, fourth official, etc.  Furthermore, when you are told (even if the information comes from, say, one of your ARs) is critical because that determines what you can do about it.  If the information comes before or at the next stoppage, you can indeed issue a card based solely on that information (see below about what color) but, if it comes later (say, at the midgame break), the best you can do is to warn the offending player and then respond swiftly should it happen again.

Now, as to card color (and assuming the information came from an official source, i.e., one of your ARs), there is cursing and there is CURSING.  “Cursing” is a rather generic term that would include simple expletives at the minor end of the range and rising from there to truly offensive, insulting, or abusive language at the major end of the range.  The problem, of course, is telling the difference between even the extreme ends of the range.  However, only offensive, insulting, or abusive words, phrases, or gestures warrant a red card (see the not terribly helpful definition on p. 165 of the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game — basically, it defines such language as the sort for which you would give a red card! — but it does add such clarifiers as “rude, hurtful, disrespectful”).  Useful advice on this matter from a USSF publication in 2014 states it this way:

  • 12.D.2 The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content, the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In other words, the referee must watch for language that is provocative, public, and personal. In evaluating language as a send-off offense, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary emotional outburst.

The above quotation ends with: “The referee’s primary focus must be on the effective management of the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game.”

Improper language not rising to the level of a red card can be handled by a caution (unsporting behavior) or a stern warning.