I have heard a story or two of referees who have mistakenly cautioned a player, and before the play is restarted, realized their mistake. It is clear to everyone that the mistake may be corrected as long as the play has not been restarted properly, but I have heard of a few different mechanics for doing so. What is the mechanic for communicating to the players and spectators that the player who initially received the caution or was sent-off is not the correct player and that he or she is not being punished? I have been told to show the card again in front of the player, then bring it down in a vertical wavy line (instead of straight down), then give the card to the correct player; I have also seen the card issued again, then then the referee point to the player and move his arms as an umpire in baseball would signal, “Safe.” A third way I have witnessed is the referee displays the card to the player again, and uses his/her free hand to lower the hand holding the card. I may n ot be good at searching, but I cannot find the proper mechanic for correcting this mistake.
USSF answer (July 23, 2008):
There is no standard method for announcing that the referee has rescinded a card before the restart. The methods you describe would seem to be too demonstrative and confusing for the player, the teams and their officials, and the spectators. We might suggest simply notifying the player concerned that the caution or send-off has been rescinded. Then the referee should deal with the proper player and inform both team captains what has happened. To remove all confusion, the referee might also inform team management. The referee should ensure that the assistant referees — and the fourth official, if appointed — are also aware of the change.
Most of all, we recommend taking the time to get the facts straight in the first place, so that such mistakes do not occur.