Suppose a team begins engaging in persistent and organized misconduct. At every stoppage in play the team delays the restart by either picking up or kicking away the ball. Obviously, players engaging in delay should be cautioned, but this team is sophisticated enough to ensure that only players who have not yet been cautioned cause the delay. It is further complicated because it is a youth match with free substitution (and a deep bench) so that the pattern can continue for quite some time before players begin being sent-off for a second caution.

One local (and highly respected) referee suggests that upon recognizing the pattern of persistent/team misconduct, the referee can immediately issue two cautions to the next player who delays a restart (and send him off) — the first caution for the delay and the second for persistent infringement — thus thwarting the organized misconduct. I disagree, and I base my disagreement on the idea that you can ever punish the same player twice for the same offense. Respected Referee, however, counters that the second caution is not really given to the player, but rather “to the team” for their persistent infringement. I cannot find any support at all for cautions being issued “to the team.”

Any advice?

Answer (September 13, 2007):
There is no such thing as a “team caution” under the Laws of the Game. It is certainly possible to caution any player who participates in misconduct. Howwever, it is not clear that if there is a pattern of infringement, such as the pattern of delay you suggest, the referee could also apply the principle of persistent infringement as outlined in the Laws of the Game under Additional Instructions and Guidelines for Referees:
Persistent infringement
Referees should be alert at all times to players who persistently infringe the Laws. In particular, they must be aware that even if a player commits a number of different offenses, he must still be cautioned for persistently infringing the Laws.

There is no specific number of infringements which constitutes “persistence” or the presence of a pattern — this is entirely a matter of judgement and must be reached in the context of effective game management.

In the situation you and “Respected Referee” have discussed, it is not clear that the referee can apply the principle of persistent infringement.

However, as a pattern appears, the referee could certainly take the opportunity at one of the stoppages for misconduct and speak to the team captain or coach or both, stating that if this pattern continues, the referee will expel the coach for irresponsible behavior. If the pattern continues beyond that stage, the referee can then terminate the game. In all cases, the referee must include full details in the match report.

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