During a match a while ago, a very unique situation occurred – one that I have never seen nor heard of before. I was observing a close under 14 girls mid-level match on a wet day while I waited for my ride after my last match of the day and I did talk to the Referee after the match to pin down some of the details.

So, here we go. A defender was dribbling at speed into her own penalty area playing for time to pass the ball to the outside to a team mate who was running into position to accept the pass. The dribbling defender had an attacker just off the back of her left shoulder. The defender touched the ball forward and then ran up on it. As the defender’s right foot moved forward to kick the ball, the attacker lunged forward with her own leg between those of the defender, missing the ball, and causing the defenders kicking leg to impact with the attacker’s ankle, at which point the defender tripped, and fell awkwardly with the attacker falling next to her.

The Referee blew the whistle, and awarded a direct free kick to the defender (for tripping) and pulled the yellow card from his pocket to award a caution for Unsporting Behavior.

Let’s leave questions as to the correctness of the decision up to now, because what occurred next was the strange part. The Referee had the card in his hand held straight down by his side, presumably to show to the attacker once she regained her feet. However, the attacker was more seriously injured than she had upon first glance, and she apparently had dislocated her knee when the defender’s legs scissored her own as the defender fell. Now to add to the strangeness of the situation, I know that the Referee, a friend of mine, is a certified Emergency Medical Technician in the State of Colorado. As such, when he observes a serious injury to someone, he is required by State law to render assistance to the best of his ability. To this end, he quickly stuck the card back into his pocket, called both coaches onto the field (the defender was shaken up on the play as well), yelled for the lead AR to enter the field to keep and eye on the players, identified himself to the running coaches as an EMT and knelt to begin examining the attacker. He quickly determined that an ACL tear was likely and had a parent call for an ambulance.

He remained with the attacker until the ambulance arrived and he could hand off custody of the case to the arriving paramedics. After the ambulance left, but before play was restarted, he informed the attacker’s coach that his player had been cautioned for UB, before restarting play with the direct free kick for the defender’s team.

Under these very narrow facts and circumstances, were the Referee’s actions correct? While his personally tending the player is not in line with USSF policy, State law regarding medical professionals clearly overrides USSF policy. Secondly, when the Referee officially removed his EMT hat and put back on his Referee hat, the girl was in the ambulance already. In both of our opinions, he would have looked foolish showing the yellow card to the back of a moving vehicle. He would have looked equally foolish, not to mention cruel and uncaring, if he had shown the card to the player while she was curled up on the ground in tears. He had already pulled the card out, and the foul, in his opinion, most certainly warranted a caution. Could he simply take no action at all? Or, as he actually did in this case, could he consider pulling the card out to be “showing” it and verbally inform the coach of the caution? We both agreed after the match that things would have been simplified if he had left the card in his pocket and used the “slow” carding method (book then show), in which case he would have seen the extent of the player’s injury before the card was ever out. However, he was still determined to caution the player, as in his (and my) opinion the self-injury did not wipe out the reckless tackle and injury to the defender. Had he gone the slow path, when would the correct time to show the card be? While the player was on the stretcher? Finally, a hypothetical situation – if a referee was not an EMT in this same situation, and therefore left the player to the attention of the local athletic trainers, when (if at all) should he or she show the card? In this case, there is not the eminently justifiable reason of needing to tend to the player’s injury, but there also does not appear to be an opportune moment to show the card. We both agreed that in a higher-level match we would just show the card in the general direction of the player while they were on the stretcher, but at this age, we both felt that such an action would necessarily outrage the protective instincts of the watching parents, and cause the referee an even worse headache in the long-term.

Hope you can help sort this one out with me.

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
The referee’s grasp of procedure appears to be quite good. As to exercising his skills as an EMT, if it has to be done, it has to be done, particularly if by not doing so he would have placed himself in legal jeopardy. Clearly a quick request for someone in the crowd with similar skills would have been good, but, . . ..

The referee will normally wait until the player has been treated or has risen before showing the card, but each situation is up to the decision of the referee. There is no definite schedule of events here. In a worst case situation, the referee could do as he did, informing the coach of the caution, or less usual but still acceptable, show the card to the captain (but be certain to explain the action).

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