If you have some time to clarify the proper procedure for a situation I encountered and am getting conflicting information on, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m a 07 referee working on my 06 badge and was faced with a new situation in my upgrade assessment last weekend that I haven’t been able to get a concise answer on.

A player was frustrated with his own team, looking for a sub for a while, and when he finally was able to sub he removed his jersey about 20 yards on the field as he was coming off. The SAR handling the subs for that team (teams on both sides in this league/match) asked him to put his shirt back on and the player’s reply was, “no I can’t do that.” and he walked away still with his shirt off.

The AR (who is a state referee and an assessor) called me over, told me that the player needed a caution and on the advice of my AR I cautioned the player. At the time I knew that something had been said by the player, so I thought the caution was for dissent. There was no objection or argument from players or teammates and everyone accepted the card. The State assessor on the game told me after that he thought all my cards in the game were warranted, including that one.

Upon discussing my assessment with a mentor and area Director of Instruction, he asked me where in the laws/atr/interp/memos is this written that removing the jersey is a cautionable offense other than when its done in celebration of a goal.

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that, and I don’t know if it is even written.

My SDA and the AR who is a State Ref and an assessor both said that they were pretty sure they remembered it somewhere, but couldn’t tell me where. The SDA said that I can always write that up as Unsporting Behavior or Dissent for refusing to follow the referee’s instructions to put the jersey back on.

My questions are, is there verbiage on this type of situation anywhere? What is the correct way to handle this situation? Was the caution even warranted, even though I’ve been told it was? If warranted, what should it be booked as?

Any clarification you can give me is greatly appreciated.

USSF answer (October 20, 2010):
Despite diligent effort, we can find nothing in the Laws of the Game or in documents issued by FIFA (or the International Football Association Board) that covers such an act.

1. So, what is out there?
a. As far back as the IFAB (published by FIFA for the IFAB) Questions and Answers 2000 and FIFA have been firm about dealing with players who remove their shirts in excessive demonstration of their jubilation (celebration) of a goal or to taunt or provoke their opponents. Such players are to be cautioned immediately for unsporting behavior. That continues today.

b. As of 2002 players who remove their shirts to display slogans or advertising are to be dealt with through disciplinary measures in accordance with the procedures of the particular competition under which they occur. In addition, when time wasting occurred referees would continue to take actions in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Our guidance to referees is that they must take action against goal celebrations which incite, are provocative, or take an excessive amount of time. Referees must report to the competition authority incidents involving players who uncover slogans or advertising on clothing worn under their uniform but may not take action against players for this reason alone. The Federation also stated on July 23, 2003, that “Simply removing the jersey in a momentary emotional reaction to scoring a goal should not be treated as misconduct unless doing so excessively delays the restart of play or is performed in such a manner that, in the opinion of the referee, it taunts, provokes, or incites opponents. And, of course, any material on the undershirt that is insulting, abusive, or offensive must be punished by a send-off/red card.

c. Nothing in the Laws, but some cultures — even here in the United States — do not like to see an excessive amount of skin showing. These are typically religious objections.

2. Where does this leave us?
a. If the player is protesting about something when stripping off the shirt, then the referee may have grounds for a caution for unsporting behavior.

b. If the referee sees the strip begin, asks the player to put the shirt back on, and the player refuses, then the player is dissenting and can be cautioned for that.

c. If the player is simply hot, tired, and ready to pack it in, the act is probably not worth worrying about it. One rule of good game management is that the referee should not do anything that will make any situation worse. Why get someone who is acting in all innocence cranky or upset?

We hope this is helpful to you and to your mentors.