During a GU-14 game, two players from opposing teams collide and fall to the ground. One player gets up and walks away; the other player remains seated on the ground crying, but otherwise exhibiting no other outward signs of injury. As the referee approaches the crying player, a spectator rushes onto the field and runs towards the crying player. After assessing the situation and determining that the player is not injured, merely winded, the referee proceeds to admonish the spectator for rushing onto the field. The spectator hurls expletives at the referee and yells “that is my daughter, you can’t tell me what the f*** to do.” How should the referee handle this situation?

USSF answer March 1 2011):
This is inexcusable behavior at the U14 level, especially for a parent. The entry into the field without permission might be excusable—but only barely—at the U9 level or younger, but beyond that there is absolutely no excuse for such interference by a spectator. You have already stopped the match. If the spectator does not leave the field when you request it, first go to the coach and inform him/her that if the spectator does not leave the field you will abandon the match and let the league sort out the matter. Include full details in the match report. In no case are you required to accept language of this sort at any level or from any person.…


What limits, if any, apply to participation of outside agents in retrieving a ball that has left the field of play and/or expediting the process of returning the ball to play?

Example: In a U-19 boys game the red goalkeeper collects the ball near the top of his own penalty area and kicks it high and long toward the blue goal. After the ball has been kicked, Red players R1, R2 and R3 streak across the halfway line into the blue half, hoping to collect the ball. They run past B1, the lone Blue defender (other than the keeper) in the Blue half. B1 manages to settle the kick from the red keeper, then kicks it sharply toward the touch line where the Blue substitutes, team officials and spectators are standing. B1’s intent is to give his teammates time to return to the defensive end while the Red team retrieves the ball and executes the throw-in. However, an outside agent (substitute, team official or spectator) catches the ball on the fly about 10 feet outside the touch line and chest-passes it briskly to R4 who has just left the field where the ball went into touch. R4 receives the ball and immediately executes a strong throw-in toward R1/2/3 who manage to score. What should the referee do?

Related question: Under what circumstances, if any, can/should an AR arrest a ball that has passed into touch in his immediate vicinity?

USSF answer (February 5, 2011):
Given the particular questions you ask, the answers are:
1. There are no limits unless the “helpers” are not helping expedite the restart. If the “helpers” are delaying the restart, the referee must step in and put an end to it. (Remember no cards may be shown to coaches or spectators unless the rules of the competition allow for that.) The referee must also add any time lost because of the delay.

2. Unless the ball is about to fall into the clutches of greedy alligators or disappear into a wormhole, there is no reason for the AR to touch the ball in any way. Seriously, the AR should act only if needed to protect himself from being struck. It is almost instinctive (particularly if the AR is a former or current player) to want to stop the ball in an effort to be “helpful,” but this is a misplaced act of good will,because in doing so the AR has actually helped the team with the throw-in to restart more quickly that might have otherwise been the case. And if the AR fails to do the same thing for the other team at any time for any reason, they may think the AR is favoring their opponents. Furthermore, stopping the ball draws attention away from the AR’s main, Law-mandated responsibilities.…


On what grounds can a referee stop and abandon a soccer match

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
An interesting question, one that requires a good bit of space to answer completely.

Under the Laws of the Game (or, as they are called in Great Britain, the Laws of Association Football), the referee has the power to stop, suspend or abandon the match, at his discretion for any infringements of the Laws or for outside interference of any kind. A referee (or where applicable, an assistant referee or fourth official) is not held liable for a decision to abandon a match for whatever reason.

We need first to differentiate between “abandon” and “terminate” a match. The difference between terminating a match and abandoning a match is a subtle one, but it is historically correct and supported by traditional practice. (Research into the history of the Laws will reveal this clearly; the IFAB now uses “abandon” almost exclusively, most likely just to confuse us all.) The referee may abandon a match if there is an insufficient number of players to meet the requirements of the Law or the competition, if a team does not appear or leaves before completion of the game, or if the field or any of its equipment do not meet the requirements of the Laws or are otherwise unsafe; i. e., for technical (Law 1) or physical (Law 4) safety. An abandoned match is replayed unless the competition rules provide otherwise. The referee may terminate a match for reasons of non-physical safety (bad weather or darkness), for any serious infringement of the Laws, or because of interference by spectators. Only the competition authority, not the referee, has the authority to declare a winner, a forfeit, or a replay of the match in its entirety. The referee must report fully on the events. “Suspended” means that a match was stopped temporarily for any of various reasons. After that the match is either resumed, abandoned, or terminated and the competition rules take over.

• Law 1 states that if the crossbar becomes displaced or broken, play is stopped until it has been repaired or replaced in position. If it is not possible to repair the crossbar, the match must be abandoned. In addition, if the referee declares that one spot on the field is not playable, then the entire field must be declared unplayable and the game abandoned.

• A careful inspection of the field before the start of the game might lead the referee to abandon the game before it was started. If, once the match has begun, the referee discovers a problem that is not correctable, then the referee’s decision must be to abandon the game and report the matter to the competition authority.

• Under Law 5, the referee is authorized to stop play if, in his opinion, the floodlights are inadequate.

If an object thrown by a spectator hits the referee or one of the assistant referees or a player or team official, the referee may allow the match to continue, suspend play or abandon the match depending on
the severity of the incident. He must, in all cases, report the incident(s) to the appropriate authorities. Using the powers given him by Law 5, the referee may stop, suspend or terminate the match, at his discretion, for any infringements of the Laws or for grave disorder (see below). If he decides to terminate the match, he must provide the appropriate authorities with a match report which includes information on any disciplinary action taken against players, and/or team officials and any other incidents which occurred before, during or after the match. In no event may the referee determine the winner of any match, terminated or not. Nor may the referee decide whether or not a match must be replayed. Both of those decisions are up to the competition authority, i. e., the league, cup, tournament, etc.

“Grave disorder” would be any sort of dustup involving the players and/or spectators and/or team officials which puts the officials in immediate or likely subsequent jeopardy — fights which metastasize beyond just 2 or 3, masses of spectators invading the pitch, throwing dangerous objects (e. g., firecrackers, butane lighters, etc.) onto the field, and so forth.

• The referee has no authority to force a team to play if they do not wish to continue a game nor to terminate the match in such a case. The referee will simply abandon the game and include all pertinent details in the match report.

• In the opinion of the International F.A. Board, a match should not be considered valid if there are fewer than seven players in either of the teams. If a team with only seven players is penalized by the award of a penalty-kick and as a consequence one of their players is sent off, leaving only six in the team, the game must be abandoned without allowing the penalty-kick to be taken unless the national association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

• The referee must not abandon the game if a team loses a kicker after kicks from the mark begin. The kicks must be completed.

• If a player has been seriously injured and cannot leave the field without risking further injury, the referee must stop the game and have the player removed. If, for whatever reason, there is no competent person available to oversee removal of the seriously injured player from the field for treatment, then the match must be abandoned.

• If player fraud is alleged prior to the game and the player will admit that he is not the person on the pass he has presented and the game has already begun, the referee will have to deal with the matter of an outside agent on the field. If the fraud were not discovered until after the game had been restarted, the only solution would be to abandon the match. If there is no goal issue, the fraudulent player is removed and the game is restarted with a dropped ball.

• If a player, from a team with only seven players, leaves the field of play to receive medical attention, the match will stop until this player has received treatment and returns to the field of play. If he is unable to return, the match is abandoned, unless the member association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

In all cases, the referee must submit a full report to the appropriate authorities.

If the referee discovers that a period of play was ended prematurely but a subsequent period of play has started, the match must be abandoned and the full details of the error included in the game report.

The Laws make the point that the coach and other team officials must BEHAVE RESPONSIBLY and thus may not shout, curse, interfere, or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves The coach’s presence, or the presence of any other team official, is generally irrelevant to the game — under the Laws of the Game, but it may have some importance under the rules of youth competitions. If the coach or other team official is removed, known in the Law as “expelled,” that person must leave the field and its environs. If it is a youth game and the coach and all other team officials have been expelled, then the referee should consider abandoning the game. A full report must be filed with the competition authority. The referee has no authority to determine who has won or lost the game, whether by forfeit or any other process; that is the responsibility of the competition authority. The referee must file a report on all events associated with the abandonment.

Once the game begins, only the referee has the right to decide whether the game continues, is suspended temporarily, terminated or abandoned. If a game is abandoned or terminated before it is completed, the determination of the result is up to the competition authority (league, cup, tournament). In most cases, competitions declare that if a full half has been played, the result stands, but that does not apply to all competitions. The referee does not have the authority to declare what the score is or who has won the game. The referee’s only recourse is to include in his game report full details of what caused the match to be abandoned or terminated. The status of an abandoned is determined by the rules of the competition or the competition authority itself. There is no set amount of time, but many rules of competition will call a game complete if a full half has been played.…


In Saturday’s Sunderland-Liverpool game a spectator hurled a large, weighty red ball onto the field during play (I suspect that you are getting a lot of questions about this incident). You’ve recently said that a number of balloons in front of a goal did not necessarily constitute an outside agent to cause a defender to kick a balloon and not the ball going into the net. In the Saturday game the big, red, heavy ball deflected the soccer ball away from the goalkeeper and into the goal, which was accepted as a goal by the referee.

I understand that an annoying bee,a camera’s flash, an explosive sound, a swirl of snow, some balloons, long paper streamers and the like must be accepted as part of the game but in these cases it affects many of the players on both teams. A big red ball with enough mass to deflect a shot on goal from close range seems to be an outside agent affecting just the striker and goalie, so the question is this: How is an outside agent defined that would make it different from a dog running on the field and deflecting the ball into the net?

USSF answer (October 19, 2009):
Your reference to the balloons was dated November 2008, almost a year ago. A big red beach ball rolling directly in front of the goalkeeper is considerably different from some small balloons. The moment the beach ball interfered with and changed the path of the game ball was the moment the beach ball became an outside agent, directly affecting play and the referee decision must be outside interference.

Clearly the referee erred in not stopping play for the interference by the big red beach ball. The correct restart should have been a dropped ball at the place where the two balls collided. If that was within the goal area, then the referee must drop the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was when play was stopped.…


When playing at a site where there are adjacent fields, could a whistle from a neighboring field be considered outside interference, especially if players on the field where it wasn’t blown react to it? If so, what criteria should be applied by the referee to determine whether it is outside interference? For example, a defender lets up on a play because he hears a whistle, thinking it is from his field, resulting in an attack and maybe a scoring chance for the other team.

USSF answer (May 23, 2009):
Follow the excellent guidelines given in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

If a whistle is heard as a result of spectator action or of activity on a nearby field and if a player, thinking that play had been stopped by the referee, then illegally handles the ball, the referee should treat this as outside interference and restart with a dropped ball*. The referee must nonetheless be aware of the possibility that a player has committed unsporting behavior (pretending unawareness that it was not the referee’s whistle) and must be prepared to deal properly with this misconduct.


Several of us were discussing recent games and the subject of outside agents came up. Most of us have seen banners, umbrellas, seagulls, and the occasional dog on the field. Normally these situations take care of themselves, with the exception of the dog who wants to grab the ball and run with it.

One situation we encounter is when a ball comes onto the field from a neighboring field. Usually a player just kicks it back at the first opportunity.

We saw a situation in a game where a ball comes into the penalty area. Play is not very close, so the keeper picks up the ball and kicks it back to the neighboring field. However, as she is doing so, play in her game turns around and her opponents take a shot and score.

Is this a goal or interference from an outside agent? And why?

USSF answer (May 6, 2009):
This is interference by an outside agent. To quote the “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:
An “outside agent” (under any portion of the Laws of the Game) is anything that enters the field without the permission of the referee and plays or misdirects the ball or otherwise interferes with the game. This means that outside agents can be dogs or coaches or spectators. Interference by any outside agent will result in the referee declaring a stoppage of play, restarting with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped*.

If the referee was not observant enough to do what the Advice recommends, then he or she was negligent. If the nearer assistant referee did not provide assistance in this situation, then he or she was also negligent.

And then we come to the issue of terminal stupidity: We cannot help feeling that, in this case, the ‘keeper shares some culpability.  In point of fact, it could be argued that the presence of the ball by itself did not interfere with play; it was the goalkeeper’s error in deciding that she should divert her attention from her main job to do something that wasn’t strictly necessary.  We must repeat the old saying that the Laws of the Game are not intended to compensate for the mistakes of players.…


Roughly rephrasing a recert question: Following a goal but before the restart it is observed that A) a team official of the goal scoring team was on the field but did not interfere with play or B) a team official of the defending team was on the field but not involved in play.

Does the goal stand and/or what is the restart?

USSF answer (February 17, 2009):
Your complete answer will be found in the back of the Law book, under “INTERPRETATION OF THE LAWS OF THE GAME AND GUIDELINES FOR REFEREES,”, Law 3 – The Number of Players. (If you do not have a copy of the Laws with the Interpretations, etc., in it, you can download it from this site.)

Extra persons on the field of play
Outside Agents
Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is deemed to be an outside agent as is a player who has been sent off.


Goals scored with an extra person on the field of play
If, after a goal is scored, the referee realizes, before play restarts, that there was an extra person on the field of play when the goal was scored:
– the referee must disallow the goal if:
— the extra person was an outside agent and he interfered with play
— the extra person was a player, substitute, substituted player or team official associated with the team that scored the goal
– the referee must allow the goal if:
— the extra person was an outside agent who did not interfere with play
— the extra person was a player, substitute, substituted player or team official associated with the team the conceded the goal


MLS Playoff game between NY and Salt Lake. Home team fans throw streamers at opposing players taking corner kicks or at the opposing goal keeper prior to a home team corner kick, yet, play is allowed to continue. Also, the throwing of smoke “bombs” onto the field, and again play is allowed to continue. My question is this.

“When is an ‘outside agent’ allowed to enter the field of play and the referee allowed to ignore it and allow play to continue?” I’m familiar with Advice to Referees Section 1.8 paragraph D. Streams and smoke bombs are both distractions not only to the fans but also to the players and (in my opinion) “interfers with the game”. I guess my position is obvioulsy the exact opposite as that displayed on the field during the game in question. So, which is correct?

USSF answer (November 18, 2008):
Under the Laws, an outside agent is a person, but that can be extended to other animate beings such as dogs. An outside agent is not a streamer or smoke bomb, although these things can occasionally cause problems. Much of this was covered in a Federation position paper of 3 April 2008 on “Objects on the Field”:

From the U.S. Soccer Communications Center:

To: National Referees
National Referee Candidates
National Instructors
National Assessors
State Directors of Referee Administration
State Directors of Referee Instruction
State Directors of Referee Assessment
State Directors of Coaching

From:  Alfred Kleinaitis
Manager of Referee Development and Education

Subject:  Objects on the Field

Date:  April 3, 2008

Soccer matches are exciting events, attended by partisan fans who celebrate the successes and bemoan the reverses of their favorite team. They wave flags, blare trumpets, beat drums, swirl scarves, and, sometimes, they throw things onto the field. Usually, what is thrown onto the field (confetti and streamers) is inconsequential, at most a momentary distraction.

At times, however, what is thrown onto the field constitutes a serious interference in the match, either because of the specific nature of the object (e.g., bottles or lit fireworks) or because of the volume of the material covering the field and making the surface dangerously unstable. In such cases, the referee must suspend play, preferably at a stoppage called for some other reason but otherwise without delay if the issue is the safety of the players, the officials, or team personnel in the technical areas. Before play can be resumed, it is the responsibility of the home club (the organization sponsoring the match) to resolve the problem without undue delay. Under certain circumstances, the referee may consider removing players from the field for their safety during this time.

A more difficult case is presented when what is thrown onto the field is not intrinsically dangerous but carries the threat of interfering with play in some significant way. Referees are, of course, alert to such interference when a ball enters the field and comes close enough to play to be mistaken for the match ball. Another example that might be cited is an EPL match (Sheffield United v. Manchester City) in which, about 10 minutes into the first half, the ball was played into the attacking third of the field at a time when more than a dozen balloons were also in the area (it may be important to note that the balloons were generally similar to the match ball in size and color).

On a shot across the face of the goal, the ball hit a balloon, causing the former to be redirected slightly and the latter to be knocked toward the goal. Further play resulted in other balloons moving and bouncing in front of the goalkeeper. A goal was scored during what may have been a very confusing few seconds.

In these “gray area” situations, the referee must evaluate a number of factors in order to determine if and when play should be suspended until the problem is resolved.

• What is the likelihood that the foreign object(s) might interfere with the safe movement of the players?
• What is the likelihood that the foreign object(s) might confuse players and/or disrupt the flow of play?
• Is the problem with foreign object(s) primarily at one end of the field and therefore more likely to disadvantage one team over another?

Play should not be suspended for inconsequential reasons and the referee must remain vigilant to the possibilities of the match being disrupted by the sudden appearance of unwanted objects on the field. Match officials must be sensitive to things which interfere unduly with the beauty of the sport and make a mockery of skilled play.

We put your question to an authority at the Federation, who responds that professional-level referees are instructed to manage their games with an eye toward preserving the entertainment value of the game without sacrificing player safety. Streamers are not necessarily a big safety hazard, while smoke bombs are. The referee’s key to deciphering the mystery is player reaction. Players do not tend to mind streamers until they are being thrown in excess “at” the player. The authority also points out that material thrown at the goal is treated more seriously than material thrown around the corner flag. This is because of the possibility of interference with the last line of defense near the goal.…


During a recent match a parent wasn’t happy with the CR
lack of a call or a miss call. He happened to be a referee and the
league administrator. He requested that the ARs both be replaced and
wanted to replace the center referee. My question is what is the rule
for someone stopping play and what are the rules for changing out ARs?

USSF answer (November 18, 2008):
No spectator, not even a league administrator, has the right to interfere with the officials on a match.…