Natalie, a U12 and Under coach, asks:
Can a referee ignore the fact that a player is asking for the required 10 yards be enforced on a free kick? There was 40 seconds left in the game. Not only did he refuse to count off 10 yards, he then started counting to 4 and when the free kick was not taken after the 4 seconds he gave possession to the other team resulting in a goal ending the game in a tie. Not sure why this happened — please explain. Thank you.
First of all, how do you know “there was 40 seconds left in the game”? You may be looking at your watch but the only watch that counts is on the referee’s wrist. We don’t mean to sound flippant here — your watch might be totally in sync with the referee’s watch — but the Law gives absolute control over the timing to the referee. We grant, of course, that the referee’s timing cannot make the length of a half any shorter, only longer, but it is also possible the two of you didn’t start timing at the same time. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, taking into account any prior “wasted time” due to injuries, delay substitutions, lost balls off the field, etc., there are indeed only 40 seconds remaining in the half by the time this other stuff began to occur.
That said, what followed was totally wrong on just about all counts. First of all, the referee’s prime responsibility at any restart (except kick-offs and penalty kicks and dropped balls) is to allow the team in possession full latitude on when to take the restart. There are limits, of course – first, the referee may have an external reason for holding up the restart (e.g., injury, a card to give, a substitution to oversee, etc.) and second, the referee responsibility to deal with deliberate time-wasting no matter who is doing it, including himself.
If a team is requesting that the minimum distance be enforced, that is their right and there is no basis for refusing to do so. Of course, the referee can move to the minimum distance and declare to the asking team that the opponents were already at least ten yards from the ball (we have seen this happen and once “dinged” an otherwise very good National grade referee on an assessment for himself wasting time for ending up moving opponents back only a step or two!) or, more commonly, we end up moving one or more players back.
Remember, inexperience or stupidity aside, it is to the opposing team’s benefit to get play restarted as quickly as possible if they were on the short end of the score. The team in control of the restart had the right to ask for enforcement … and the referee had the right (based on the facts) to declare that the opponents were in fact at least ten yards away already and to signal that the free kick could be taken. The referee also has the responsibility to move opponents back if any were within ten yards. All this is accepted procedure.
By the way, there is no rule or accepted mechanic that requires the referee to actually “count off” ten yards. Actually, it usually takes only a year or less to know exactly where ten yards away is so all that is necessary is to move to that point and either declare that the opponents were at ten yards or to move them back to where the ten yard distance was. Watch senior, experienced referees. You will never see them “pace” off any distance – they simply walk from where they are to a place which becomes the “ten yard restraining line” because the ten yard restraint is where the referee says it is.
Upon being requested to enforce the minimum distance, the referee in this case could have simply (a) signaled that the restart cannot occur until a whistle is sounded, (b) walked to wherever the minimum distance was, (c) quickly determined that either some opponents needed to be moved back or by that time, everyone was at least ten yards away, and then (d) signaled for the restart. From that point on, within reason, the kicking team takes the kick or, if necessary, the kicker is given a caution for delaying the restart of play. We would normally not take this latter option unless the delay was significant, the reason obvious, and we had already, after a few seconds after the whistle, warned the kicker that he/she was delaying the restart.
There is absolutely no basis in the Laws of the Game to give the restart to the opposing team even if, after all the shenanigans were over and we had cautioned the kicking team for the delay (if there had been a delay). The only recourse for the referee would be (a) the caution and then (b) stating the obvious fact that time had been wasted so this was being added to the “wasted time count” but the only correct decision at this point is that the original team in possession remains in possession. If there is no doubt the team in possession had been wasting time and was continuing to waste time, the solution is to clearly declare that all time from the moment of the whistle for the kick to be taken to the moment of the kick itself was being considered wasted time by the referee, thus extending the time before the whistle sounds to mark the end of the half.