Mike, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:
During a recent match, a foul was committed just outside the penalty box. Our boys were positioned too close to the ball and as the ref was directing the boys away from the ball (was talking to them), the opposing kicker shot the ball and scored. The goal was allowed. What’s the ruling on this?
Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)
Rather than a “ruling,” we prefer to think of what we do here is provide advice, explore options, and explain opportunities. If you must have a ruling, it is this: we don’t have enough information. Sounds a bit like a cop-out but that’s the case here. The crucial missing information has to do with what, if anything, the Referee said/did just prior to “was directing the boys away from the ball.”
What the Referee should have done is let the kick occur with no intervention unless specifically asked by the apparent kicker for assistance in enforcing the required distance and, then, upon being so asked, the Referee’s next action should have been to clearly state by word and gesture that the kick was not to be taken except by her whistle. If the Referee had such a request, the rest follows: “directing the boys away from the ball” was entirely appropriate, the “opposing kicker shot the ball” was not (with the resulting goal not counted), and the kick must be retaken but only upon the whistle signal.
If the Referee was not asked to enforce the minimum distance, then there was no restriction to prevent the attacking team from taking the kick as and when they wished (presuming no unfair delay) and the goal would count. The Referee’s “directing the boys away” and “talking to them” was faulty mechanics for which the Referee would properly be criticized if this match were being evaluated by a mentor or an assessor (such interference without a reason is unnecessarily distracting to the defense at minimum). While we frequently say (incorrectly, it turns out) that the opponents against whom a foul has just been called “have no rights,” being distracted by the referee when the kick could be taken at any moment is unfair. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable for the Referee’s conversation to be thought an indication that the kick could not yet be taken. “Surprise!” or “My bad!” is a poor apology. Let us hope that the misguided Referee did not compound the errors by calling the goal back.
Because your scenario does not explicitly mention that the proper procedure was followed, we must assume there was no request to enforce the minimum distance and therefore no need for the attacking team to do anything other than exactly what they did — take a quick kick while the Referee was drawing the attention of their opponents away. The resulting goal, though valid, must be chalked up at least in part to the improper intervention by the Referee. Note that we are assuming the game where this scenario occurred was in fact somewhere in the U13 – U19 age group — slightly different procedures might be followed for younger players.