Recalcitrant Assistant Referees

John, a senior amateur Referee, asks:

Does an assistant referee have the power to ask a spectator to leave?
When the spectator won’t leave, does the assistant referee have the power to dismiss a coach?
When the coach won’t leave, does he have the power to announce the game is over?
If he then leaves, is the game over? What about if both assistant referees leave?

(Yes, this all happened – I was the center, not agreeing with anything he was doing, but with both ARs leaving, I felt I had no choice but to end the game, thus validating everything he did.)


These are difficult questions but we will try to sort out the options.

First and foremost, under current USSF guidance for referees in this country, neither the referee nor any other official has the power to ask or demand that a spectator leave.  We have no direct control of anyone who is not a player, substitute, etc., or team official.  There is a video prepared a few years back as a companion to the “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” guidance which is specifically aimed at spectators.  In brief, the referee (and only the referee) engages in a version of Ask/Tell with regard to a spectator but only through the coach.  In other words, if a spectator is causing a problem, we are to ask the coach to control any spectator whose behavior is unacceptable.  If the association of this spectator with one team or the other is unclear or disputed, then we engage both coaches.  The coaches must find ways to control the problem either through their own actions or  with the assistance of other spectators or, if necessary, through recourse to external authorities (e.g., a park or school employee responsible for the grounds on which the competition is being held).  At no time do we interact  directly with the offending spectator.  If one or both coaches and/or “their” spectators or the intervention of field marshals or park police do not resolve the problem, then the only remaining option is to suspend the game or terminate it altogether. Full details in the match report.  Note that at no time is an AR authorized to act on their own – apart from bringing the problem to the referee’s attention, an AR has no separate, independent authority to act here,

Of course, if the referee terminates the match (and he or she is the only one who can), then the officiating team should gather at least briefly before dispersing to make sure that the referee has sufficient information from all members of the team to complete the match report.  An AR leaving on his or own initiative is a serious breach of professional ethics – except perhaps in the case of traumatic injury.  Whether an AR or both ARs leave is not directly material as regards the continuation of the game.  After all, the assignment of ARs to a game is not mandatory – many games start and/or finish with only one or no ARs.  If such a departure occurs without the specific permission of the Referee, that is grounds for the Referee to file a complaint regarding this behavior with the assignor and/or the local referee association.

Your reference to “not agreeing with anything he [an AR] was doing” is peculiar because, at all times, the AR is under the authority of the Referee and is there expressly to assist the Referee in all matters, even if the AR disagrees with the decisions of the Referee.  If the AR’s  disagreement with your decisions is sufficient enough and/or serious enough, the AR is free to file a complaint with the assignor and/or local referee association when the game is over or to simply make it known that he/she would not wish to be assigned to work with that Referee again in the future.

Finally, games at all levels have been held for decades without ARs so there should be no need to terminate a game merely if one or both of the ARs have left.  At the same time, Law 6 specifically provides for either or both ARs to be dismissed by the Referee:

The match officials operate under the direction of the referee. In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve them of their duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities.

This “solution” is and should be rare, but it does clearly confirm the Law’s assumption that the Referee carries the ultimate authority … even with regard to the other match officials.