I just accessed the U.S. Soccer web-site to be sure I had your up-to-date contact information and to browse the questions and answers before I sent my question, to make sure it wasn’t already answered. Lo and behold, the April 14 posting “Role of the Goalkeeper” opens up the topic that I want to address, albeit a different aspect of it.
I observed a game where the goalkeeper got injured. The near assistant referee and the center referee clearly saw what had happened and had no doubt that the goalkeeper would not be able to participate in play for a little while at least. They let play continue and the attacking team score. Then the center referee called the coach out to attend to the goalkeeper.
My question is this (and it may be that I misunderstand the intent of the law): The law states that one player on each team is a goalkeeper. If the goalkeeper has been incapacitated so that he/she cannot play, in effect the team does not have a goalkeeper, that is they do not have a functioning goalkeeper. What should the referee do if that happens – stop play? If you give an answer that is not just a straight “yes” or “no”, please give some guidance: Does it make a difference as to the age of the players or the level of play, or the circumstances of the game. I’m looking to clear up my own murky thinking in this area and to share your answer with colleagues, too. I know there is a risk of cynical goalkeepers feigning injuries to get play stopped and I have a bit of a soft heart, so I could get suckered into stopping play inappropriately. While you can deal with the goalkeeper’s simulating an injury, the effect on the game itself may not be remedied. Similarly, if a goal is scored and allowed to stand while the goalkeeper cannot play, the effect on the game is also profound.
USSF answer (April 23, 2009):
Let us start with several premises:
(a) All players are perfect angels until they prove otherwise.
(b) While the team is required to have a goalkeeper, there is no requirement that that goalkeeper be on the field nor able to participate in play.
(c) The referee is directed by Law 5 to stop play only if a player is seriously injured. If, in the opinion of the referee, the player (goalkeeper or field player) is not seriously injured, there is no need to stop play and have the player treated. (We could point to an October 2004 incident in an English Premier League match between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers in which the referee allowed the goalkeeper to lie on the ground unattended for well over a minute; the goalkeeper, who had fallen without any contact from either opponent or teammate, finally got up. Luckily for him and his team no goal was scored.)
(d) The Law also allows the goalkeeper (or any other player) to leave the field during the course of play and if, after the restart (typically a throw-in), the goalkeeper has not returned and a goal is scored, life is hard.
Given that the goalkeeper is often the last line of defense against a goal, referees should interpret this to mean that they should stop play more quickly in the case of a goalkeeper injury when the players are young, unskilled, and inexperienced. Furthermore, if, as you said in your question, the referee “had no doubt” that the injury precluded the goalkeeper from participating in play, this certainly sounds like it should have been considered a serious injury at just about any level of competition.