A question has come up regard the re-start in the following scenario: While play is in the attacking end of the field in the Referee’s quadrant, the trail A/R’s attention is drawn to two opposing players near mid-field who are verbally challenging each other. Fearing that the verbal jousting will escalate into a physical confrontation, the trail A/R draws the attention of the Referee. The Referee, seeing the signal and look of concern on the face of the A/R, stops play.The A/R indicates that both players should be cautioned for Unsporting Behavior, but he is uncertain which player started the trouble.

Since play was stopped only to deal with the misconduct and it is uncertain which player started it and which player retaliated, how should the game be re-started?

USSF answer (March 12, 2007):
The assistant referee, particularly the trail AR, should never interrupt the referee’s concentration on active play unless a major infringement of the Laws has occurred. The AR should note the player’s players’ numbers, their actions, and anything else that will help the referee make a proper decision. The AR should not signal for “non-events” until the next stoppage–unless the incident escalates into something that cannot be stopped. In addition, the AR should speak to the players involved, attempting to defuse the situation so that it does not escalate.

In this particular case, in which the AR has interfered in the game and cannot supply the necessary information, the referee must decide how to restart. While FIFA has recently stated that, in such a situation, a dropped ball may be used to restart play (2006 Q&A 5.14), this should be used only as a last resort when the referee is completely unable to determine whose ball it should be. The dropped ball is the easy way to solve that problem, but referees are expected to MAKE A DECISION and not rely on the easy catch-all of the dropped ball. The referee should choose which team to punish. This is made particularly easy for him or her because the incident occurred “near mid-field” and thus will not create an immediate goalscoring opportunity.…