Brian, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:
I’m in Australia and I was at a U15 match where several times the ball was kicked out and was to be returned as a throw in where the ref had not whistled time out but, however, stopped and started time on his watch, thus appearing to extend the length of the match. Is this allowed ?
We rarely deal with questions arising from outside the US because, in some cases at least, countries may have their own interpretation of certain things in the Laws of the Game. Here, however, we feel fairly comfortable offering the observation that, no, what you described is not allowed. However, there are several factors to keep in mind.
First, purely as a matter of mechanics, the referee in a match under the Laws of the Game never “stops and restarts his watch.” Referees worldwide are trained the same way – timing of a match is continuous throughout the entire period of play (e.g., first half, second half, and tie-breaking periods). On the side, though, referees must also measure what is referred to as “added time” (also, frequently but confusingly, termed “referee,” “extra,” or “injury” time). Exactly how this is handled is up to the individual referee – their preferences, their early training, etc. Some referees simply keep a mental running tally of time lost during a period of play so that, when the time on their watch closes in on the specified time for that period (e.g., 45 minutes is the standard for matches above the youth level), they already know how much (if any) time must be added on. Referees also differ in the precise manner in which they measure the time. All referees should use a watch that has a timing function but there are two alternatives here – some watches “count up,” some “count down,” and some have both capabilities. After gaining experience each way, we personally settled down and used a “count up” timer function thereafter. In any event, that’s a personal preference thing. Many referees may be seen with two watches, one on each wrist, with one of them always kept running continuously and the other stopped and restarted but only for excessive delays.
Second, just because play is stopped for some reason does not translate necessarily into that time needing to be taken into account by the referee and added to the length of the period. Both the Law and its well-settled traditions are clear that time is added to a period only if the stoppage produces an excessive and unnecessary delay. Stoppages for injuries are a good example of time lost that should be added to the period. Stoppages for the ball simply leaving the field are not, except under rare circumstances such as the ball becoming lost and difficult to find. Even a lost ball stoppage is rare because every game should be played with one or more “extra” balls that can be immediately used to restart play while someone else hunts for the lost ball. The Laws of the Game provide that the referee is the sole judge of how much extra time is to be added to the period of play. In short, even where the Law provides for the possibility that an event (such as an injury situation) may require that extra time be added, it is still the referee who determines exactly how much time that will be.
What this boils down to is that no experienced referee should be starting and stopping their watch in the first place – among other issues, that practice often leads to the referee losing all control of time when (not if) the referee forgets to restart his watch. Virtually the only time the referee should actually stop their watch during play is when the game is officially suspended (e.g., bad weather with the prospect of being able to restart). Furthermore, the mental measuring of “lost time” should include only excessive delays, not just simple delays that are brief and considered a normal part of the game (throw-ins, for example should almost never be seen as involving “lost time” as meant by the Laws of the Game). Even a stoppage for a foul (without an injury) during which a card is given and/or one or more substitutions are allowed would not usually involve “lost time.”
Finally, while we cannot speak for Aussies, in the US, the official guidance on “lost time” is that it is always measured in full minutes rounded downward. For example, a mental estimate of 2 minutes and 45 seconds would be announced as 2 minutes of extra time. The concept of “extra time” always includes the possibility that there might be a “time lost” event which occurs during the playing of this extra time. US Soccer also strongly recommends that the amount of any extra time being allowed is announced shortly before the expiration of the official time of the period of play so that players, coaches, and spectators will know why the game is continuing even though it might appear to be over. The existence of a stadium clock is irrelevant, only the referee’s watch counts.