An adult referee asks:
When can a referee show cards before the game as the new laws talk about when the game starts and during field inspection?
This is actually one of the more interesting Law changes announced in 2016. Previously, referees were allowed to show yellow and red cards for misconduct before the match (from the time they entered the area of the field) and after the match (from the end of the match , including any tie-breaking procedures, to when the officiating team left the area of the field. More to the point, a yellow card issued before the match “counted” if a second yellow card were issued during the match — the second yellow would earn a red card just as if the first caution had occurred during the game. A red card before the match, which resulted in the usual dismissal from the field, did not also result in the team having to play “short.”
With the 2016/2017 Laws, however, the International Board changed things in two ways. First, no cards (red or yellow) could be displayed, regardless of the conduct, before the opening whistle of the match and therefore a “second yellow” send-off could only be based on cautions issued during the match (not before or after). If any misconduct occurred before the match which would otherwise warrant a send-off (e.g., spitting or violent conduct), the player involved would still be sent off and (as before) the team could still field the same number of players. In either case, all misconduct before or after a match, including otherwise cautionable offenses, must be documented in the match report.
Something else changed as well. The International Board decided to mark the beginning of the “before the game” time by the appearance of the officiating team for the purpose of conducting the inspection of the field. While this sounds acceptable, the Board was thinking of international and national matches and other very high level matches where much of what happens is governed by tight schedules and highly ceremonial activities (such as formal field inspections). In these kinds of matches, the officiating team is usually sequestered in stadium rooms until their first official appearance and so their formal entry onto the field to begin their publicly visible responsibilities under Laws 1, 2, and 4 is easily recognizable.
For most of us, though, things are much looser, less regimented, and often complicated by assignment schedules which include multiple matches where the same officials, as a team, may be “at the field” for long periods of time throughout the day. This makes it difficult to determine the precise moment when the authority to send off a player before the game actually starts. Our advice to you is that it starts when you decide it starts (and, likewise when the match is over, when you want your authority to send off a player will end). It would be a good idea not to abuse this flexibility by, for example, marking the start of your before-the-game authority by when you drive into the parking lot or the end of your authority as late as the middle of the next game!
The bottom line in all this is that you are no longer authorized to show any cards before the first whistle or after the end of official play (including overtime and other tie-breaking procedures mandated by the rules of competition). You can send off any player, substitute, or substituted player before or after the game (within the limits described above). All misconduct before or after a match (cautionable or red cardable) must be included in the game report.