I’d like some guidance on what fouls or infractions should be considered trifling.

For example, in your July 9, 2009 question on the AR signal for a PK, you said how the AR was to determine and signal “if the goalkeeper has moved illegally AND IT MADE A DIFFERENCE.” (your ALL-CAPS). Does “MADE A DIFFERENCE” mean, for example, that if the keeper leaves the line early, but the shot misses the goal (no keeper save), that leaving early made no difference in helping a save, so no foul? Or did it mean that if a goal was scored anyway, leaving early “MADE no DIFFERENCE”, so no need to signal?

It seems that the first option makes sense as being trifling leaving early had no impact upon play since the shot missed the goal.

But the LOTG and ATR seem clear that it does not matter if the shot is saved or misses when calling this.

Similarly with trifling – players that enter the penalty area on a PK slightly before the kick seem to have “no significant impact upon play” [ATR 5.5] in almost all cases. Yet much of Law 14 addresses this infraction. If the ball enters the goal on a PK, how could an attacker’s pre-kick entry into the penalty area not be considered trifling?

There seems to be consensus that things like 6-second rule violations, and keeper handling slightly outside the area when punting are trifling offenses. Right? But why are foul throw-ins not almost always trifling?

Thanks for providing “the answer” to so many important questions.

USSF answer (November 11, 2009):
1. Goalkeeper leaving the line early:
The original meaning was that the goalkeeper’s leaving the line early may be disregarded if the ball enters the goal. If the kick missed, then it COULD have made a difference and the kicking team gets another “shot” at it. The final decision here is made by the referee on the game, not those of us who are watching (and adding up the “mistakes” by the referee).

2. Trifling infringements
For those who have not yet downloaded this year’s edition of the Advice to Referees, here is the text referred to in the question, Advice 5.5:

“The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law. Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.”

This former International F.A. Board Decision (previously included in Law 5 as Decision 8) was removed from the Law only because it was felt to be an unnecessary reminder of the referee’s fundamental duty to penalize only those violations that matter. The spirit, if not the words, of this Decision remains at the heart of the Law. It is applicable to all possible violations of any of the Laws of the Game.

A trifling infraction is one which, though still an offense, has no significant impact upon play. A doubtful offense is one which neither the referee nor the other officials can attest to. Under no circumstances should the advantage clause be invoked for such “offenses.” The referee’s decision as to whether a player’s action is trifling or not is affected considerably by the skill level of the players. However, the referee should remember to consider trifling offenses in determining persistent infringement of the Laws. Further, the referee may wish to talk to or warn a player regarding infringements which, though considered trifling, may nonetheless lead to frustration and retaliation if they continue.

With regard to entering the penalty area early, we can say that if it had no effect on play, then it need not be punished, as this would disrupt the flow of the game unnecessarily.

However, if, in the opinion of the referee, a kicking team player’s early entry into the penalty area had some effect on the play, it would not be trifling and would have to be punished in accordance with the Law.

Infringement of the six-second rule is sometimes misinterpreted. The count starts when the goalkeeper is preparing to release the ball, not when he or she actually gains possession. Why? Because very often the goalkeeper has to disentangle him-/herself from other players or move around fallen players, and it would be unfair to begin the count in such a case.

The goalkeeper’s handling of the ball “outside” the penalty area by crossing the line when punting the ball is clearly trifling, particularly if it occurs only once in a game and is only VERY slightly beyond the line. The referee should first have a word with the goalkeeper, warning him or her to watch the line in the future or risk consequences. No referee should rush into danger of losing control by punishing any trifling matters.

Foul throw-ins are generally trifling. What should be our primary concern is having the throw-in taken from the proper place, within one yard/meter of the point where the ball left the field. A throw-in is simply a way of putting the ball back into play quickly and efficiently.

Finally, please remember that such matters should be covered in the pregame conference between the referee and the other assigned officials.

Leave a Reply