How Do You Solve A Serious Mistake?

Mamukoya, a senior amateur referee, asks:

In a match, No. 6 was shown a yellow card for a reckless foul and, in the second half, the same No. 6 again is shown a yellow card. Unfortunately the referee failed to show the red card and No. 6 continued in the match. The other officials also failed to bring this to the notice of the referee. In the progression of the match, No. 6 scored. When the referee was about to record the scorer, he realized his mistake, no red card for No. 6 for his second yellow card. How should the match be resumed? What are the actions of the referee?


The easy answer is “Don’t let that happen!” but that’s not very helpful.  The trouble is that, when something wrong does happen, the Law doesn’t specify a solution because (a) it shouldn’t have happened in the first place or (b) it happens so rarely that the lords of the Laws of the Game see no reason to mess up the Laws with wordage that deals with once-in-a-hundred-years events.  If you read the opening section of, say, the current edition of the Laws of the Game (2019-2020 – the 2020-2021 edition won’t be out until June but we are reasonably certain it will say the same thing), it specifically says that the Laws don’t and can’t cover everything and so referees are expected to do the best they can and shape those actions in accordance of what the referee feels is best for the spirit of the game.

That said, this event has occurred from time to time, even at the highest level of the sport (it happened, for example, involving referee Graham Poll in a 2006 World Cup game between Croatia and Australia!).  This is still not frequent enough to see a written answer incorporated in the Laws but we believe there has been a general consensus as to the actions of the referee in the few publicly-reported examples of such an occurrence.  They basically confirmed that the referee had made a mistake (duh!) and the other members of the officiating team (ARs, 4th official, etc.) were also at fault (also duh!), and the longer it took them to realize their mistake, the worse the error would be (another duh!).  The officiating team individually and collectively should advise the referee as soon as possible of the error and the referee should stop play in order to handle the correction – in short, don’t wait for a stoppage to take care of it, just whistle a stoppage immediately.

Then what?  Show the 2nd-caution player a red card, remove that player from the game, and restart with a dropped ball.  Whatever that player had done between when he should have been removed from the field and when he actually was removed from the field stands.  Any goal scored before the player is finally sent off stands so long as there has been a restart.  The competition authority could do something about it after the game is over, they get the match report, and have finished skinning everyone on the officiating team).

In your scenario, play was already stopped (for a goal) when the error was discovered but, as far as solving the problem goes, the cause of the stoppage doesn’t matter (foul, substitution, midgame break, weather, etc.): the restart for the stoppage remains what it would have been but only after the player is shown the red card and sent from the field (this includes a stoppage because the opposing team scored a goal).  If, however, that stoppage was caused by a goal scored by the team whose player had not been sent off and, during that stoppage the lack of a send-off is realized and confirmed, the goal does not count (regardless of who scored it).  In this case only, the restart changes to a direct free kick taken from the position of the player who should have been but wasn’t removed from the field (Note: this restart has not yet been tested because the Law (3.9) changed in 2017-2018 and we are not aware of any error of the sort we are discussing here occurring at a high enough level since then to have caught the attention of high level soccer authorities).

The best solution remains “Don’t let it happen in the first place!”