Hello, I have a question related to the priority of the duties of the referee. I have searched US Soccer and the position papers and noticed there is a position paper related to the duties of the Assistant Referee, but nothing as to the referee’s priority. Now I understand that this forum may deal with generally higher level questions, but when you (as a lone referee) are assigned to a match (more typically a low competitive youth match, but not unheard of to reach mid-level youth matches) what is the priority of responsibilities to the teams/players and the game. From my understanding if you are to use “Club Linesmen” then they are limited to only calling the ball in-and-out of touch. This would put the burden of responsibility for “Enforcing the Laws of the Game” solely onto the referee. In a perfect world we, as a referee culture, would like to have 3 USSF Certified Referees on every match and be in 100% perfect position 100% of the time and make 100% perfect calls. However, as a referee of nearly ten years I know that is not always possible, especially when there is only one referee to cover an entire match. One such example would be, when a lone referee has to position themselves close to the penalty area during a corner kick and the ball is cleared up field quickly to an attacker who may, or may not, be in an offside position.

Now since the primary function of the referee is to ensure the safety of the players (through the Safety – Equality – Enjoyment Philosophy) I would believe that direct free kick fouls and misconduct would be the most important duty of the referee, then followed by offside (Law 11 violations) then followed by ball in-and-out of play (Law 9). I understand that offside violations can be game critical decisions, but ultimately no one can be physically harmed by an missed offside violation; whereas, a foul can have lasting physical problems for a player for years to come (ie knee injury).

Thank you for your time.

USSF answer (September 17, 2010):
SAFETY first, but the FAIRNESS and ENJOYMENT of the players are ensured by calling what NEEDS to be called. At any given moment, virtually anything might impinge on fairness or enjoyment, so the referee must be prepared to call ANYTHING. However, a referee can only call what he (or she) sees and the fact that, as a lone official on the field, it is more difficult to see things depending on what is going on doesn’t change this principle. That said, we must add that, after a long enough time doing this game, one begins to “see” things that mere mortals in the exact same position on the field might not. Finally, let us close with the reminder that, according to Law 5, all decisions of the referee regarding matters related to play are final. Period. No argument allowed.