Chris, a U13 – U19 player, asks
Two questions. The first one is, if a coach yells from the sideline and the ref thinks he heard him say injured player, should he stop the play dead, give away our advantage, and then say, oh, I am sorry, I thought you said someone was hurt? The second question is, for a u15 game, if the ref was the only official on the field, can he refuse any ARs?
We can only respond to what you have asked above, even though both scenarios are rather vague, but we’ll try, based on what we think are the real issues involved.
First, regarding the issue of an injury, the Laws of the Game lay the responsibility for stopping play solely in the hands of the referee. It doesn’t matter what anyone might be yelling about an injury even if the message is totally explicit, concrete, and clear. At most, it might result in the referee deciding to take a quick scan of the field. People yell all kinds of things from off the field which in most cases the referee simply must ignore and should not ever by itself constitute a reason for the referee to actually stop play.
The referee should be aware of what is going on everywhere on the field (assisted, preferably, by two ARs who definitely can and should get the referee’s attention if there is an injury someplace where the referee is not naturally looking). Where the referee is alone, hearing something that may or may not be an injury alert coming from a sideline (whether it is the coach or anyone else) should result only in the referee attempting to ascertain for himself what might be going on.
This is then followed by the even more pertinent decision (assuming that the result of this is seeing what might be an injury) as to whether the injury is serious or not. The Law requires the referee to stop play only if he determines that there is a serious injury (keeping in mind that “serious” is a judgment call which is highly dependent on the age and skill level of the players). If the injury is not serious, play continues. “Advantage” is never an issue in the case of a serious injury – no player should want anyone on his team who is seriously injured to be ignored even if his team appears to be only moments away from scoring the game-winning goal … and this same attitude should apply equally to players on the opposing team. This is one of the reasons why faking or simulating an injury can (and should) be harshly punished.
As for the second question, it all depends on the local rules of competition. If ARs have been assigned to the game, the referee has no basis for refusing to use them and any attempt to prevent their use would and should be reported to the assignor or local referee association. However, if no ARs are assigned (or if two ARs are assigned but one or both don’t show up), there is no requirement in the Law that ARs must be used. In fact, the Law is very specific that anyone brought on to assist the referee in the absence of one or both official ARs (meaning certified and assigned in accordance with local rules) comes with two significant limitations: (a) the referee agrees and (b) their role is limited to signaling only if and when the ball leaves the field. Such a person is called a “linesman” and they are limited completely to this one responsibility.
So, the issue comes down to the basic question – were one or two ARs officially assigned to the game and were they present? If so, they must be used – and the Law is clear that the referee must take their input into account in his decisions. If not, and in the absence of local rules to the contrary, no one has to be used. It has long been customary in lower level games (youth/recreational) to allow, but not require, the referee to request assistance in the absence of appointed ARs but the most assistance that any unofficial AR can provide is indicating if the ball left the field. Some local rules provide for what is sometimes referred to as a “step-in assistant referee” which refers to a program which requires each team in the league to have at least one person on the sidelines who is a certified official who can and is willing to “step in” if an AR has been assigned but is absent. In such programs, although the step-in AR is not limited to the ball leaving the field, it is quite common to not allow the step-in AR to signal fouls.