In a competitive division match, a player who was playing poorly was asked to come the sideline by the coach. I noted this as I turned to follow play and gave a quick glance over my shoulder as I continued down field. When I turned back again, I noticed the player sitting on the bench. A minute or so passed before the next stoppage and the player remained on the bench. Before allowing play to resume, I approached the coach and player on the bench and explained that the player failed to obtain my permission before leaving the field of play and I displayed the yellow card. The coach did not agree with the decision.

After the match, I consulted the Advice to refresh myself on the subject since it wasn’t something I was used to seeing. The Advice seemed to ‘advise’ that this may be a trifiling incident and that I should have considered a simple warning. After consulting several other referees, they all seem to think that my situation did not fit the situations described in the Advice and that I was correct to display the card.

I’m not sure the situation is really well covered. The player did not simply forget to obtain my permission. The coach was going off the premise, so I believe, that she did not need to ask my permission.

What say you?

Answer (October 24, 2007):
We are not sure why you feel that the situation of the player leaving the field without permission is not well covered. The Advice is quite clear about the ramifications of the several variations on this offense:

Players who leave the field without the referee’s permission most often do so for unsporting reasons – for example, to create an unfair offside situation (see Advice 11.10). They may also leave the field to indicate dissent or to “manage” the referee’s next decision.If a player does leave the field for some other reason without the referee’s permission to do so, and this results in gaining a tactical advantage for his or her team, the player has committed misconduct and must be cautioned and shown the yellow card.

Where it is apparent to the referee that the player leaving the field without permission has not done so to express dissent or to gain an unfair advantage (e. g., exited to change shoes or replace a torn jersey) and has merely forgotten to obtain permission (or thought he or she had obtained it), the referee should consider this a trifling breach of the Laws. A word/warning to the player should be sufficient in such circumstances, even if that player then re-enters the field without obtaining the referee’s permission.

A case could be made that the true violator of the Laws here is the coach. She behaved irresponsibly by calling the player from the field without your permission and leaving the player there. That would be grounds for her expulsion from the field and its immediate environs. However, we suspect that the coach is as ignorant of the Law as the player and the referee should consider giving the coach the same sort of slack as we recommend for the player — under these circumstances. The core issue here is the difference between a correct decision and the best decision. Cautioning the player and expelling the coach would be “a” correct decision, but “the” correct decision might be something else. The referee’s decision must be based on the level of play and the experience of the players and the coaches.

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