Injury Issue and Absent ARs

Chris, a U13 – U19 player, asks

Two questions.  The first one is, if a coach yells from the sideline and the ref thinks he heard him say injured player, should he stop the play dead, give away our advantage, and then say, oh, I am sorry, I thought you said someone was hurt?   The second question is, for a u15 game, if the ref was the only official on the field, can he refuse any ARs?

Answer

We can only respond to what you have asked above, even though both scenarios are rather vague, but we’ll try, based on what we think are the real issues involved.

First, regarding the issue of an injury, the Laws of the Game lay the responsibility for stopping play solely in the hands of the referee.  It doesn’t matter what anyone might be yelling about an injury even if the message is totally explicit, concrete, and clear.  At most, it might result in the referee deciding to take a quick scan of the field.  People yell all kinds of things from off the field which in most cases the referee simply must ignore and should not ever by itself constitute a reason for the referee to actually stop play.

The referee should be aware of what is going on everywhere on the field (assisted, preferably, by two ARs who definitely can and should get the referee’s attention if there is an injury someplace where the referee is not naturally looking).  Where the referee is alone, hearing something that may or may not be an injury alert coming from a sideline (whether it is the coach or anyone else) should result only in the referee attempting to ascertain for himself what might be going on.

This is then followed by the even more pertinent decision (assuming that the result of this is seeing what might be an injury) as to whether the injury is serious or not.  The Law requires the referee to stop play only if he determines that there is a serious injury (keeping in mind that “serious” is a judgment call which is highly dependent on the age and skill level of the players).  If the injury is not serious, play continues.  “Advantage” is never an issue in the case of a serious injury – no player should want anyone on his team who is seriously injured to be ignored even if his team appears to be only moments away from scoring the game-winning goal … and this same attitude should apply equally to players on the opposing team.  This is one of the reasons why faking or simulating an injury can (and should) be harshly punished.

As for the second question, it all depends on the local rules of competition.  If ARs have been assigned to the game, the referee has no basis for refusing to use them and any attempt to prevent their use would and should be reported to the assignor or local referee association.  However, if no ARs are assigned (or if two ARs are assigned but one or both don’t show up), there is no requirement in the Law that ARs must be used.  In fact, the Law is very specific that anyone brought on to assist the referee in the absence of one or both official ARs (meaning certified and assigned in accordance with local rules) comes with two significant limitations: (a) the referee agrees and (b) their role is limited to signaling only if and when the ball leaves the field.  Such a person is called a “linesman” and they are limited completely to this one responsibility.

So, the issue comes down to the basic question – were one or two ARs officially assigned to the game and were they present?  If so, they must be used – and the Law is clear that the referee must take their input into account in his decisions.  If not, and in the absence of local rules to the contrary, no one has to be used.  It has long been customary in lower level games (youth/recreational) to allow, but not require, the referee to request assistance in the absence of appointed ARs but the most assistance that any unofficial AR can provide is indicating if the ball left the field.  Some local rules provide for what is sometimes referred to as a “step-in assistant referee” which refers to a program which requires each team in the league to have at least one person on the sidelines who is a certified official who can and is willing to “step in” if an AR has been assigned but is absent.  In such programs, although the step-in AR is not limited to the ball leaving the field, it is quite common to not allow the step-in AR to signal fouls.

AR Involvement in Decisions

James, a U-12 and under referee, asks:

During the game an attacker kicked the ball directly at a defender who was in the penalty area. The ball hit her hand. My initial reaction was to continue play because I saw that her hand was close to her body and felt the hand ball was inadvertent. The AR put his flag up and started yelling “hand ball”. I stopped play and went over to him. He had a slightly better vantage point and he said that he was certain that the hand ball was deliberate. I awarded a penalty kick to the attacking team. My question is, if I had decided that the AR was incorrect and I was not going to grant a hand ball, what would have been the appropriate restart?

Answer

First, beware of ARs who shout out things like that.  An experienced AR would have found another way to deal with the issue.

Second, it is always a good idea during your pregame to gauge the level of expertise and experience of your crew and act accordingly.  ARs should “interfere” only if and when it is 100% clear that you had (a) made an error and (b) the AR’s position was clearly better than your position/angle.

If you are positioned properly with a good angle and believe you saw the event, simply wave down the AR (who should then “retreat”) and the event can be discussed during some future stoppage of play, during the midgame break, or after the game.  If you feel that the AR’s position was better and the AR was sufficiently experienced to be relied upon to not signal differently unless this was the case, then you stop play, go to the AR, and privately discuss the matter.  You make your decision taking into account all the facts and circumstances and either restart with the PK or decide otherwise.  In the case of “otherwise,” your only restart option is a dropped ball.

In either case, the AR should be advised to not shout out things that simply call unwanted and unnecessary attention to the moment and create a potential appearance of “discord” within the officiating team – just raise the flag straight up, make eye contact with the referee, waggle the flag briefly, and then signal a recommended PK restart (all of this is standard mechanics – the failure to follow this speaks volumes to us about this AR’s experience or lack of training).  If you disagree, simply wave it down – which the AR should promptly do unless … (see (a) and (b) above).

Recalcitrant Assistant Referees

John, a senior amateur Referee, asks:

Does an assistant referee have the power to ask a spectator to leave?
When the spectator won’t leave, does the assistant referee have the power to dismiss a coach?
When the coach won’t leave, does he have the power to announce the game is over?
If he then leaves, is the game over? What about if both assistant referees leave?

(Yes, this all happened – I was the center, not agreeing with anything he was doing, but with both ARs leaving, I felt I had no choice but to end the game, thus validating everything he did.)

Answer

These are difficult questions but we will try to sort out the options.

First and foremost, under current USSF guidance for referees in this country, neither the referee nor any other official has the power to ask or demand that a spectator leave.  We have no direct control of anyone who is not a player, substitute, etc., or team official.  There is a video prepared a few years back as a companion to the “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” guidance which is specifically aimed at spectators.  In brief, the referee (and only the referee) engages in a version of Ask/Tell with regard to a spectator but only through the coach.  In other words, if a spectator is causing a problem, we are to ask the coach to control any spectator whose behavior is unacceptable.  If the association of this spectator with one team or the other is unclear or disputed, then we engage both coaches.  The coaches must find ways to control the problem either through their own actions or  with the assistance of other spectators or, if necessary, through recourse to external authorities (e.g., a park or school employee responsible for the grounds on which the competition is being held).  At no time do we interact  directly with the offending spectator.  If one or both coaches and/or “their” spectators or the intervention of field marshals or park police do not resolve the problem, then the only remaining option is to suspend the game or terminate it altogether. Full details in the match report.  Note that at no time is an AR authorized to act on their own – apart from bringing the problem to the referee’s attention, an AR has no separate, independent authority to act here,

Of course, if the referee terminates the match (and he or she is the only one who can), then the officiating team should gather at least briefly before dispersing to make sure that the referee has sufficient information from all members of the team to complete the match report.  An AR leaving on his or own initiative is a serious breach of professional ethics – except perhaps in the case of traumatic injury.  Whether an AR or both ARs leave is not directly material as regards the continuation of the game.  After all, the assignment of ARs to a game is not mandatory – many games start and/or finish with only one or no ARs.  If such a departure occurs without the specific permission of the Referee, that is grounds for the Referee to file a complaint regarding this behavior with the assignor and/or the local referee association.

Your reference to “not agreeing with anything he [an AR] was doing” is peculiar because, at all times, the AR is under the authority of the Referee and is there expressly to assist the Referee in all matters, even if the AR disagrees with the decisions of the Referee.  If the AR’s  disagreement with your decisions is sufficient enough and/or serious enough, the AR is free to file a complaint with the assignor and/or local referee association when the game is over or to simply make it known that he/she would not wish to be assigned to work with that Referee again in the future.

Finally, games at all levels have been held for decades without ARs so there should be no need to terminate a game merely if one or both of the ARs have left.  At the same time, Law 6 specifically provides for either or both ARs to be dismissed by the Referee:

The match officials operate under the direction of the referee. In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve them of their duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities.

This “solution” is and should be rare, but it does clearly confirm the Law’s assumption that the Referee carries the ultimate authority … even with regard to the other match officials.

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.

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.

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).

LEAVING THE FIELD OF PLAY (AGAIN)

Question:
Reffing a High School match a few weeks ago I was the CR with my assigning secretary one of my AR’s. Our state has adopted FIFA Laws as our Laws of competition this season. During the game I blew my whistle signaling a direct free kick to a team. The foul occurred near the touchline where this player set up to take the free kick. As he backed up to make his approach to put the ball in play he stepped outside the field of play for maybe a couple of seconds. My AR (assigning secretary) began to viciously wave his flag signaling me over because this player needed a yellow card for leaving the field of play without the permission of the referee.

While I know this is a cautionable offense I don’t believe it violates any of the global thumb rules for assessing a caution. I also think it is more the fault of the referee if he ever gives a card for this offense. The player didn’t cheat, didn’t endanger anyone and didn’t take away from the fun of the game. I also told this AR that this player inherently has my permission when making his approach to approach from outside the field of play given the location where the foul occurred. Approaches take place from outside the field of play all the time i.e. a corner kick. Is my interpretation correct?

In hindsight I maybe should have just given the caution because I was chewed out after the game by my assigning secretary and it has cost me future assignments to officiate. I just want to know if I made the right call pertaining to the match so I can be at peace. Thanks for your help.

Answer (November 13, 2013):
Players are normally expected to remain on the field while the ball is in play, leaving only to retrieve a ball and take a restart, or when ordered off by the referee. If a player accidentally passes over one of the boundary lines of the field of play or if a player in possession of or contesting for the ball passes over the touch line or the goal line without the ball to beat an opponent (or any other obstacle), he or she is not considered to have left the field of play without the permission of the referee. This player does not need the referee’s permission to return to the field. Repeat: No referee permission is required for this temporary departure to play the ball, avoid an obstacle, or take a restart.

Please note the phrase: “take a restart.”

So to sum it up: (1) Your assigning secretary was wrong and should be ashamed of him-/herself. (2) The job of the assistant referee, no matter what his/her other duties, is to ASSIST, not INSIST.

TAKING BACK THE CAUTION AND FOUL

Question:
I was the Center referee for an A division Co-ed match. There was a through ball for the attacking team, the forward run through to dribble into the penalty area. The keeper runs out to stop the ball, and missing it completely, and collided with the attacking player and took him out of play. I was near the top of the 18 yard, and had a clear view of the contact. I signalled a penalty kick, and issued a caution to the keeper. Since, it was his 2nd caution in this match, then I proceeded to show him the red card.

The defending team started screaming and said look at your assistant referee. He is standing firm around the 25 yard line, signalling an offside.

I reversed my call to an indirect free kick for the defending team, and took back the cards.

My reasoning is that I should have looked at my assistant referee first, and blown my whistle for the offside. If I had done that, it would have avoided the contact by the keeper and the forward.

Did I make the right call ?

USSF answer (March 28, 2012):

Your decision to use the information supplied by the AR was correct. Award the indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team. It is possible that the goalkeeper still engaged in certain behavior, whether it was during play against an opponent or during a stoppage resulting from the offside offense, so pleases consider the following:
Misconduct is separate from the foul (unless the foul was for serious foul play or denying a goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick). Accordingly, the second caution which resulted in a red card should not have been withdrawn SOLELY because the referee accepted the advice from the AR and declared that the stoppage was for the offside. The ‘keeper’s act itself might warrant the caution (and red) or a straight red regardless of the change in the decision. If the goalkeeper’s act was purely careless, rather than reckless (caution) or done with excessive force (send-off), then there is no need to caution the ‘keeper.

BREAKING UP A FIGHT

Question:
In a U-19 game today, a fight broke after the game was over. It was at least 8 players from each team. Is it ok for an AR to grab a kid in a head lock and drag him away from the fight?

USSF answer (March 5, 2012):
Under normal circumstances match officials should not touch any player for any reason other than to shake hands before the coin toss or after the game is over. Breaking up fights should normally be left to the teams themselves. In most cases the only justification for an official to “step in” (particularly if that term is meant to include touching or holding a player) is for self-protection … and only to the extent needed for self-protection and only for as long as self-protection is needed.

THE PREGAME CONFERENCE

Question:
what do we talk about in our per game? is it just like the signals for calls.

USSF answer (February 23, 2012):
We are not aware of any formal checklist of pregame instructions, although our sponsor Official Sports and some other vendors do carry them. The referee should review the guidance given in the USSF publication “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials,” pointing out any additional tasks that need to be done. In turn, the ARs should ask questions to clarify what it is the referee expects in given situations.

As leader of the officiating team, the referee must establish during the pregame conference how the team will work and cooperate. The referee (depending on his or her own level of experience) should tailor the pregame to fit the composition of the refereeing crew, including their likely varying levels of knowledge and fitness; the age, competition, and skill levels of the players; and the particular requirements of the competition itself. It is often useful for the referee to develop a checklist for topics to be covered in the pregame conference. The amount of detail would be tailored to the needs (see above) of the referee, the assistant referees (ARs), and the fourth official. First and foremost, the referee must ensure that the ARs (and a fourth official) are familiar with the guidelines and mechanics laid out in the USSF publication “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials.”

For starters, when working with unfamiliar crew members, the very first task (after introductions) is to ask questions which (gently) elicit information about these issues — e.g., How long officiating? Grade level? Most frequent level of assignment? Club/league/association? Entry class instructor (if within first or second year of experience)? This will help the referee tailor the pregame to the needs of the team.

Ideal topics for the checklist would include the duties of the AR, signals of the AR (including NOT signalling when the referee can clearly see the incident), what to do when AR signals are missed by the referee (such as when and how long to maintain the flag); duties of the fourth official (if one is assigned); differences between the rules of the competition and the Laws of the Game, if any; what the ARs should do in situations that are not covered by the Laws of the Game, such as unofficial signals or when the AR may/should enter the field; duties at a penalty kick; a reminder to communicate at all possible moments (such as a quick look exchanged between the referee and the lead AR on all through balls or at stoppages in play. Likely the most important item is a reminder to the ARs and the fourth to immediately alert the referee to any mistakes in procedure, such as having cautioned a player a second time but failed to send that player off.

Finally, the referee should encourage the ARs (and a possible fourth official) to ask questions during the pregame conference, just to ensure that they have understood what has been discussed and what they are to do.