I have followed your “Ask the Ref” for about 5 years now and have learned and enjoyed reading your responses to the questions posed. Please consider this scenario from the past weekend.   

In the waning minutes of a competitive level GU11 match, with the White team leading 1-0, Blue is awarded a Goal Kick. The Blue defender clearly places the ball in the corner of the goal area and scans the field looking for an unmarked teammate. After 5-10 seconds the Blue defender picks up the ball and sprints across the goal area and places the ball in the other corner of the goal area to take the goal kick.  I as the referee stop play and warn the Blue defender that she is not permited to move the ball once it has been placed for the goal kick. ATR 16.5 states that “the defending team wastes time if the ball is clearly placed within the goal area in preparation for the restart and then is moved unnecessarily to another location”. I interpret ATR 16.5 to then inidcate that a team should be warned against this practice and that the referee may caution for a repeat offense.   

My question involves the concept of wasting time in this case. The Blue defender was not intending to waste time. In fact my stopping play to issue the warning wasted more time than the defender sprinting across the goal area.    Blue was trying to get the goal kick upfield quickly. Should the Spirit of the Game preclude warning the Blue player in this instance?  The ATR calls this an “offense”. Can or should this “offense” be ignored? Blue was moving the ball for tactical reasons, not to waste time. Thus would the offense be trivial, as this portion of the law is designed to preclude time wasting? Would the answer be any different if the Blue team was ahead instead of trailing by one goal?    

USSF answer (May 6, 2008):
In point of fact, the time-wasting tactic of shifting the ball from one side of the goal area to the other after it has been placed is misconduct in and of itself and should be punished with a caution for unsporting behavior. However, all such matters fall under the rubric of “the opinion of the referee.”

Tactical reasons are not a reason to allow a player to flout the Laws of the Game. Tactical actions are a major cause of cautions for unsporting behavior. So, despite the existence of The Seven Magic Words, “If, in the opinion of the referee, . . .,” which might suggest that the referee could do as you did and warn first before cautioning, the referee in this case should punish the infringement. That would be true, no matter what the score.

We have some concern with the reference in your scenario to the fact that you stopped play to issue the warning, and then your second thought that you might havecaused more of a delay by doing this than the player did by moving the ball. Our answer, yes, you did. But what does “stop play” mean in this context? Play is already stopped (with a goal kick being the prescribed restart)! We favor giving a warning if this is the first time this happened, but the warning can certainly be given “on the fly” — there is no reason to “stop play” (which we would take to mean that you stopped the players from setting up for the goal kick while you lectured them on their offense). A much easier way to handle it would be call out to the fullback to put the ball back where it was and then say, “Don’t move it once you have put it down.” There should be no trouble after that.

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