David, a U12 and Under coach, asks
Can a referee threaten a coach with a yellow card because a spectator yelled out they were offsides you need to call dad or they’re playing physical against our team and you’re not calling it you need to call it both ways?
First of all, it is against both training and protocol for a referee to “threaten” a card, regardless of color, to anyone – player, coach, spectator, etc. You either give it or you don’t. At most, the referee could advise someone that his/her behavior was not acceptable, which should be taken by any ordinarily intelligent person as a warning.
Second, there are standard procedures for dealing with the behavior of spectators. If any particular spectator or the spectators in general (and I am speaking here of situations that do not involve large arenas or spectators numbered in the thousands) are having an obvious adverse effect on the game – on players, coaches, bench personal, or the officials themselves – the standard procedure approved by US Soccer years ago is to stop play and advise either or both coaches that they must control their spectators. A reasonable amount of time is given to do so (by by the coach or coaches calming the misbehaving persons and/or by requiring them to leave the area of the field – often referred to as “out of sight, out of sound”), and then reporting back to the referee that the matter has been controlled. If the issue has not been resolved within a reasonable period of time (in the opinion of the referee); or if, having been advised that the coach or coaches are unable to regain acceptable behavior by the misbehaving spectators, the problem cannot be solved; or if, having achieved enough improvement that play might be restarted, the problem recurs, the match is terminated and the match report by the referee must include the steps taken and results achieved (or not).
Often, the competition authority has persons representing the league, tournament, or association at the field and willing to assist the referee in restoring order. The referee and the coaches should use them if that assistance is available.
The basic point in all this is that the officiating team is not responsible for the behavior of spectators nor does the referee have any direct authority over them nor can they interact directly with them at any time. All problems regarding spectators must be handled by the coach/coaches, the site officials, and/or the sponsoring organization present at the field. The only tool the referee has is to stop play, restart play after peace is achieved, or terminate the match if peace cannot be achieved or maintained.
As for being “harassed” by allegedly wrong offside decisions, or too much physicality in play, or by the ever-present “call it both ways” nonsense, none of these usually rise to the level of needing the “nuclear option” of stopping play, much less terminating the game. Referees are routinely advised in training to ignore such stuff. The defining moment justifying a stoppage is if the behavior becomes wide, broad, persistent, and is interfering with the ability of players and/or officials to handle their responsibilities on the field. When that is the case, however, don’t hesitate to push the button and then deal with the fallout later.