I was recently officiating a U12 boys match (as an assistant referee) and I encountered a situation that was very conflicting for me as a referee.

An attacking player was making an advancement on goal when he was cut off by a defender and the ball was played in the opposite direction.

As play moved downfield, the attacker stayed behind (about 6 yards from my position) and he was obviously mad about his performance. I then heard him mutter the “s” word under his breath.

From what I could tell, he uttered the word simply because he was upset with his own performance. He was not directing the word towards any opponent, referee, coach or fan, and as I mentioned it was “under his breath” (yet still audible by myself).

Now I am aware that the FIFA Laws of the Game insist that a player is to be shown the red card and sent off for using abusive language. My question is though, if the abusive word is not directed towards anyone and is simply used out of frustration, is the player still to be sent off?

As you can imagine, red carding a player in a U12 game is a fairly big deal. Although as a referee, I did not think I could let this go. So after hearing the abusive word, I signaled the center official over and explained to him what happened. He proceeded to show the yellow card and caution the player in question.

I am very conflicted with what happened. In a way, I think a yellow card was the more appropriate form of punishment (I support my center referee!), but at the same time, I cant help thinking that this situation was not handled as it should have been under FIFA law.

So basically my question is, should a player be red carded and sent off for using any curse word, at any time, under any circumstances, period? And did the center official make the correct decision in giving a caution in ths game?

Thank you for the help.

USSF answer (July 2, 2010):
This excerpt from the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” may be helpful:

The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content (the specific
words or actions used), the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate
vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In
other words, the referee must watch for language that is Personal, Public, or Provocative. In evaluating
language as misconduct, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the
actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary
emotional outburst.

Referees must take care not to inject purely personal opinions as to the nature of the language when
determining a course of action. The referee’s primary focus must be on the effective management of
the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game. “

Beyond that, one of the first lessons a referee should learn is that he (or she) should hear only what needs to be heard to do one’s job well. In other words, the referee should only “hear” what is vital to good game management. All the rest is simply background noise, to be shut out and not processed.

What possible harm has this player who used the “s” word done? None. He was not cursing another player, a team official, a spectator, the referee, or you,

Could the word be heard by spectators or others? Probably not.

There are too many referees who look for reasons to punish players for totally unimportant and inconsequential events. Let it go.

So your answers are these: No, you should not have brought this matter to the referee’s attention. No, the referee should not have cautioned the player.

Let it go.

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