STOP, SUSPEND, ABANDON OR TERMINATE?

Question:
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.

CONDITION OF THE FIELD (AND APPURTENANCES)
• 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.

INTERFERENCE BY PLAYERS, OTHER PARTICIPANTS, OR SPECTATORS
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 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
• 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.

AMOUNT OF TIME PLAYED
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.

TEAM OFFICIALS
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.

RESULT OF THE MATCH
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.…

PERSONAL SAFETY TRUMPS ANY RESTART

Question:
While the center Ref was setting up for a free kick and trying to control arguing players on the field after a red card was issued, I was the AR and dealing with the entire side lines as a result from the red card. I had tried to get the center Refs attention because the coach was approaching me in a manor that was fairly threatening and due to the overwhelming number of participants I couldn’t help but feel a bit unsafe. As I tried to explain my point of view to the coach he continued to scream over my explanation at the top of his lungs and plowed towards me on several occasions while several of the other assitant coaches literally held him back. During this time I was trying to signal to the Center Ref that it was time for this coach to be ejected. As I continued signaling, the Center was still preparing to set up the free kick from the red card. As the coaches and players were moving away from me on my side line I continued to demand that everyone was to clear my side of the halfline in an attempt to control the situation from getting further out of hand. At this time I stepped on to the pitch, rolled up my flag and held it between my legs with my hand patting my pocket. The Center Ref was still not responding, I started to yell his name and whistle out loud as I was a bit frustrated that he wasn’t hearing me. This all happened during an approximate window of about 70- 75 secs. During this time I realized I was out of luck in getting his attention and found my self well out of position to judge the free kick at the goal line. Even some of the players which were on the field had been distracted by the commotion from the side lines coach. The Center Ref blew his whistle and the free kick was taken, a goal was scored. The Center Ref then responded to what was going on and met me midway on the field. He had asked me what happened and I said that the coach was acting out in a threatening manor towards me and asked if he could take him out of the game, he did, issuing a red card (coach was ejected). Then he asked if I was on the field during the kick, I told him yes, he asked me what I thought about the goal, if it should stand or not. I then gave my opinion but left it up to him to decide.

Since I was on the field near the 40 yard line and not in a position to clarify that the keeper had not been fouled or distracted in any way during the free kick, I didn’t feel it would be fair to the defending players being that the players on the field may have been distracted by their coaches actions on the side lines”. Of course, I did realize I was in a bad position and that I should have waited before stepping on to the field, but under the circumstances at the time of the incident and the way it played out, I was sort of reacting to feeling threatened and needed help in dealing with a very hostile situation. I’ve reffed more then a few soccer matches over the past 6 years up to this game and I have dealt with a good share of yelling, complaining and such but this was not something that any ref should have to deal with. My feeling was to withdraw my self from the game or deal with it in the best way I could at the time.

Over all, the Center Ref made the final call in re-doing the free kick and denying the goal.

USSF answer (October 2, 2009):
First of all, your safety is paramount — certainly more important that any restart — and so you should have immediately moved into the field right up to the referee to make him aware of the threats against a member of the officiating team. Second, no referee should be so focused on what is going on in his immediate area that he is oblivious to near riotous uproars taking place along the sideline centered around one of the members of his officiating team. Third, what was the other AR doing in all this, picking daisies?

What happened with the free kick was, is, and will always be irrelevant to (a) the occurrence of general disorder and/or (b) danger directed at an official.…

SAFETY FIRST, PLEASE!

Question:

On 6/16/06, you wrote the following:

“In those competitions that do not provide for water breaks, the spirit of the game requires the referee to ensure the safety of the players. Preventing injury from heat exhaustion would fall into that aspect of the referee’s duties. The answer may be summed up in two words: common sense.

“In fact, both the referee and the team officials share in the responsibility to protect player safety. The referee could, at a stoppage called for any reason, “suggest” the taking of water by any players interested in doing so. The timing of such a break and its length would be at the discretion of the referee. Obviously, the referee could decide to take this approach on his or her own initiative, with or without prior consultation with the coaches.

“However, either or both coaches could approach the referee prior to the match and suggest the need for extra hydration, in which case the intelligent referee would be well advised to listen and act accordingly.”

– –  In the past few days, a referee has claimed that these instructions have now been superseded by the USSF and that a referee cannot suggest a water break or even allow a break when the ball is out of play – no matter how hot the day or how young the players – unless it is in the tournament rules. Is he correct that things have changed or is the opinion from June of 2006 still valid?

I hope that you can address this quickly with the hottest part of summer approaching. The health or even the lives of some young players might be at risk.

Thanks.

USSF answer (July 13, 2009):
The opinion of the United States Soccer Federation remains the same as it was in 2006:  The safety of the players comes first and referees are expected to see to it that players are protected in every way possible.

Addendum:  It is possible that you may have been distracted by some controversy over an incident in a professional game.  Those are adults, playing other adults, all of them aware of what is going on.  Referees are not to order water breaks at professional games and should apply common sense at other levels.…