Handling versus Spectator Interference

Kannan, an adult pro referee, asks:

A player handles the throw-in from his teammate and at the same time a spectator also blows the whistle from the stadium. How will play be restarted?


It really depends on your judgment and the critical question is whether the spectator whistled measurably prior to or after the ball handling.  By the way, we should add that, under the Laws of the Game,  you should always “know” which event happened first – “simultaneous”  is not in your vocabulary when it comes to such matters.

If the whistle occurred clearly prior to the handling, then the restart is a dropped ball (outside agent interference) where the ball was when the interference occurred (i.e., the whistle) and the handling is ignored.  If that location is in either penalty area, the drop is defended by the goalkeeper in that penalty area.  If not in either penalty area, the drop is for a player of whichever team last touched the ball prior to the interference.

If the handling occurred clearly prior to the spectator whistle, then the handling is an offense resulting in a direct free kick where the handling occurred.

If it is not immediately clear which event occurred first, then you must make a quick judgment as to which event caused or played a part in the other (e.g., did the spectator whistle to call attention to the foul on the field or was the handling a player misjudgment that the whistle came from the referee and the player was simply getting the ball?).  All data, no matter how secondary to the event itself, must be considered.  For example, what was the player’s demeanor immediately afterward?  How did the player act? If the sequence of events is still not clear, then you must nevertheless make some judgment, announce it clearly, and manage the correct restart accordingly.

All other things equal, it seems to us that a player catching and holding the ball directly from a teammate’s throw-in would not make much sense unless the player was convinced that the whistle was a spectator interference because, if not, what benefit is achieved for the player’s team?  None, and indeed the team will be punished for it.  Further, the overwhelming number of players who would seek to handle the ball during play (goalkeeper excepted, of course) are more likely to attempt to hide the action rather than display it publicly.

Nevertheless, based on the events in the game so far, which of the above decisions best supports the game?  The one thing you absolutely cannot do is order the players to just keep playing!  And you should have a quiet word with the player during the stoppage to make the point that, while you understand the player grabbed the ball for apparently good reasons, try not to do it ever again – the next referee might not understand.

Regardless of the above issues, you should advise both coaches that the offending spectator be removed from the field by whichever coach has responsibility for the spectator (or by both of them if the spectator is not apparently associated with either team) and that the game is suspended until this is done to the referee’s satisfaction.