Players Wanting to Assist the Referee

Daniel, a HS/College Referee, asks:

I have seen in many matches a player who has been fouled getting up and “demanding” a card for the opponent by signaling the motion of giving the card that referees do. Some players get cautioned and others get away with it. What is the stance of the Laws of the Game with regards to this action and why are referees not consistent when in my eyes it is taking away authority from the referees.


These are two very different questions.  The first (the “stance of the Laws of the Game” regarding this player behavior) is relatively easy.  There is nothing in the Laws about it, at least not specifically. But, we need to ask ourselves, why do players do this?  The answer is simple, they want to influence the decisions of the Referee.  Ironically, this sort of behavior is often (though not necessarily) associated with simulating a foul and/or exaggerating the seriousness of a foul.  The “carding motion” is often intended to “sell” the simulation.  It is not unusual that astute Referees, instead of carding the “perpetrator,” instead show a card to the “victim.”

Even if not intended for this purpose, the player action can be considered a form of dissent (remember, dissent can be delivered via actions as well as words) in that the player is expecting that, without his input, the Referee would not take the action the player wants.  If the Referee feels that simulation/exaggeration has occurred, a caution for unsporting behavior is appropriate whereas a caution for dissent might be given in the absence of simulation/exaggeration.  Despite there being two different forms of misconduct based on two separate events, it would be unwise to give two cautions (one for simulation and the other for dissent).

We quote from a USSF Memorandum (March 23, 2007) titled “Misconduct — Player Gesturing for a Card”:

Although there is no automatic rule that player gestures calling for a card must be cautioned, such actions can be considered cautionable if they are blatantly disruptive, for example, by indicating disagreement with an official’s decision, aggressively aimed at a particular opponent or an official, or being part of a simulation (faking) to gain a favorable decision. The public nature of the action often makes the gesture too obvious to ignore and can spread to other players, who either agree or disagree, thus provoking further conflict.

Now, as to the second question (why Referees seem not to be consistent in applying the above guidelines to this behavior), we can only speculate.  Referees may differ in their ability to recognize the behavior as misconduct.  Some may not wish to “stand out” by showing a card (note in this regard that the USSF memorandum makes the point that there is no “automatic rule” governing the carding gesture).  On the plus side, though, and apart from the possible connection between the carding gesture and the simulation/exaggeration which might precede it, the Referee might decide that, at any given instance of this possible misconduct and under the specific circumstances at this moment by this player in this match, a caution might not be a useful or productive response.