Is it appropriate to take game and situational factors, especially the age of players, when considering sending-off offenses? The ATR “philosophy of cautions” is clear that the referee must consider qualitative factors when determining whether or not to give a caution. Does the same concept apply to send-offs? To be more specific, having determined that a sending-off foul occurred, must the referee send off the player regardless of the player’s age?

As an example, I would be hard-pressed to send off a U12 player for DGH. The law seems intended to prevent older and more skilled players from trading a sure goal for a PK, by adding the consequence of playing a man down. A U12 player is unlikely to understand this, and more importantly is far more likely to handle the ball in an “oh crap” moment than with malicious premeditation. If possible, I’d appreciate a general response as well as an answer to the specific example.

USSF answer (August 5, 2008):
Yes, the Federation suggests that the referee weigh the facts in every case of misconduct, so as to ensure that both the Letter and the Spirit of the Laws are satisfied. But if the referee chooses to excuse a player aged 9-14 for committing an infringement that should be punished by an immediate sending-off simply because he or she is so young, how will such players learn right from wrong and how to play soccer properly, not to mention to exist in society? There is, of course, the question as to whether an accidental (“Oh crap”) handling should be considered at all — and the answer must be a resounding “NO!”

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