Marc, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:
In a U14 game, a team is in possession of the ball, and the referee stops play due to a serious injury. After the injury is taken care of, the referee goes to restart play with a contested drop ball. I mentioned that, in these situations, it’s customary for the opposing team to give the ball back to the team that had possession, and the referee indicated it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask the opposing team to do this.
1. Can you please advise if it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask or suggest this? I believe there’s a clause that indicates the referee shouldn’t specifically address players for anything not covered in the Laws of the Game, but I believe upholding the spirit of the game would warrant asking/suggesting giving the ball back.
2. Can you please advise what the recommended approach is for the ref when players may not be aware of this custom/tradition? If the ref is barred from asking/suggesting playing the ball back to the other team, an uncontested drop ball comes to mind, but seeing as the ref can’t limit the number of players participating in the drop ball, it doesn’t sound like this could be enforced.
Question 1 – It would be inconsistent with the Laws of the Game for the referee or any official to make such a suggestion, much less to enforce anything of this sort. Indeed, other than exhortations not to commit an offense, it would be unprofessional for any official to offer any advice to any team, player, or team official pertaining to the manner in which they should conduct their play. To make this point even more pointed, referees have long had an aphorism – if you don’t want the coach to tell you how to do your job, avoid telling the coach how to do their job. This clearly applies to players as well. There is no provision of the Law, however, which specifically prohibits it because, as with many other issues related to the Laws of the Game, the International Board did not feel it necessary to deal with something which would so obviously be a violation of professional ethics.
Question 2 – No, we cannot offer any such advice because doing so would aid and abet what we have already noted would be a violation of professional ethics. If a team wanted to do so, there is no violation of the Law, just as there would be no violation of the Law if a team decided not to do so. The same, by the way, applies to the so-called “preferential drop” when, say, an injury stoppage occurs with the goalkeeper in possession of the ball, thus causing a dropped ball restart contestable by both teams at a location which puts the goalkeeper’s team at a perceived disadvantage.
The “flavor” of the issue you have raised is strikingly similar to something that became a matter of concern for the International Board about 10 or 11 years ago. It was commonly thought that a team had an obligation to restart play (which was usually a throw-in) by releasing the ball to the opposing team if that opposing team had kicked the ball off the field because one of its players appeared to have been injured (almost always this was done by kicking the ball across a touchline). The team usually threw the ball in the direction of the opposing team’s goalkeeper and none of the thrower’s teammates were expected to contest for the ball. Sparked by a spate of incidents (including one in an English Premier League match) where this so-called “tradition” was or was not honored, the International Board declared in a Circular issued in 2009 that stopping or not stopping play for a possible injury (minor or serious) falls solely to the referee, not to a team, and this sparked an item in US Soccer’s annual Law change memorandum the same year as follows:
Reminder to referees
Referees are reminded that Law 5 states that the referee must stop the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured.
USSF Advice to Referees: This statement is intended to reinforce a guideline issued earlier by both the International Board and USSF that the practice of a team kicking the ball off the field to stop play when there is an apparent injury on the field detracts from the responsibility of the referee under Law 5 to assess the injury and to stop play only if, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is serious. Referees are therefore advised to be seen quickly and publicly considering the status of any player seeming to be injured and clearly deciding whether or not the situation merits a stoppage of play. The referee must control this decision as much as possible.
The topic and the brief statement above in red was issued by the International Board and the text following it in bold italics is the official explanation/meaning/impact from US Soccer. A further reminder on this issue was considered sufficiently important that similar language was included in a later circular and memorandum a year or two later.