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Ask a Referee Update: Jan. 4, 2011


In high school, if a player scores a goal and then celebrates by a dance or something to bring attention. Should the player be shown a red or is it possible to show a straight soft red?

Answer (December 27, 2010):
We do not do high school rules here; however, going to straight red of any sort-the real world does not have "soft" cards-seems a bit harsh.

According to NFHS rules (12-8.2.a), a player is given what is often referred to in HS play as a "soft red" (i. e., red+yellow together, sent off but can be replaced) for "any delayed, excessive or prolonged act(s) by which a player(s) attempts to focus attention upon himself/herself and/or prohibits a timely restart of the game." Arguably, "a dance or something to bring attention" could be considered covered by this language. We say "arguably" with some reason, as nowhere else in the world is there any such thing as a "soft" card of any color. And a so-called "straight red" in such a situation would not be supported by the NFHS rules.


I could use some clarification on the FIFA definition of jewellery.

It is my interpretation of law 4 that "jewellery" has no firm definition, but, as a referee, I would defer primarily to the safety of the player's equipment to determine the wearing of accessories. This is obviously not worth arguing about, but several of my players were reprimanded today for starting the game with string bracelets around their wrists.

It would be a big stretch to see these as potentially harmful to a player or opponent, but the referee today was adamant that such string bracelets are universally understood to be "jewellery."

I ask this primarily as a referee, not a coach, because I want to know how FIFA would prefer this rule be interpreted.

Any help is greatly appreciated,

Answer (December 15, 2010):
There is no "FIFA" definition of anything in the Laws. The definitions are all made by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the people who make the Laws, of which FIFA is a member. And they do not define jewelry for the simple reason that jewelry is jewelry, a decorative (usually) piece of adornment worn to enhance one's beauty or to plug some product or cause. All jewelry is prohibited by the IFAB in Law 4, no matter what its appearance may be. Jewelry in any form is dangerous, which is why the IFAB has prohibited it; players' hair or fingers may be caught and severely injured.

Jewelry includes (but is not limited to) "team spirit" strings; beads of any sort (worn in hair or on strings or leather, etc.); any adornment (including watches) worn on the wrist; rings with crowns or projections; adornment worn along the upper or lower arm; earrings of any sort (including "starter" earrings)l tongue studs; any visible body piercing; rubber, leather, plastic or other "bands" worn in reference to some sort of cause,

The only jewelry that is permitted in the United States is (a) medicalert jewelry for the purpose of aiding emergency medical personnel in treating injured players and (b) certain religious items that are not dangerous, are required by the religion to be worn, and not likely to provide the player with an unfair advantage (and even for the religious items, the player must have permission from the competition to wear it).

In short: No jewelry is allowed.


A local school district recently installed artificial turf fields and they are used on weekends by the youth league. There are signs at the fields that say that metal cleats may not be worn on these fields.

Since well maintained metal cleats are not a danger to the players and are therefore permitted under the LOTG, several referees have asked if they are required to enforce the ban or if it is up to the home club to take care of it.

If a player shows up with safe metal cleats can the referee prevent him from playing?

Thanks for your help.

Answer (December 13, 2010):
This is one situation in which the referee has no choice about enforcement: If the field owner says no metal cleats, then the referee must enforce this requirement, which carries the same weight and authority as a rule of the competition. Otherwise the league might lose the use of these fields, and whose fault would that be if not the referee's?


My referee association recently requested referees for three scrimmage games this coming Sunday for U15/16B games. The assignor stated, "Duals requested for each game ...." I replied that I didn't think we were allowed to officiate USSF games using a dual system. The reply I received was, "Scrimmages are allowed". So my question is, can we use a dual system for "scrimmages"? Thanks for your assistance on this.

Answer (December 6, 2010):
As scrimmages, games between these teams could not be sanctioned by the Federation, even though all the teams and players are (theoretically) affiliated with US Youth Soccer. Because the games are not sanctioned, the referee may not be covered by USSF liability insurance, and that is a point that should be considered by every referee who is asked to officiate a non-affiliated game.

This is a matter to be decided by your state referee committee and perhaps even higher authority.


Offside "after" a goal is scored? I know, strange title. Here is the scenario. Player A takes a shot on goal while Player B is in an offside position. The ball is on frame and appears to enter the goal and completely cross the goal-line when Player B heads the ball the rest of the way into the back of the net.

Goalkeeper nor any defenders reacted in any way to Player B so it appears that he did not affect the play. Since a goal was already scored when player B played the ball, is offside called?

In this case, Player A and B have names: Christiano Ronaldo and Nani.
You can see a clip of the play here:

Answer (November 20, 2010):
We cannot debate the results of a referee's decision-making process at this level. That is a matter to be resolved between the referee and his/her match inspector.

No matter how it may look to us or the players, a goal is not scored until the referee says it is scored. There was a similar occurrence earlier this year at the World Cup, when the ball kicked by Frank Lampard of England clearly bounced well inside the goal and was then swept out by the German goalkeeper. We all know it was a goal, but if the referee disagrees, life is hard.

With those conditions stipulated, we can say with a high degree of assurance that, if the contact with the ball is not made until after the ball has entirely crossed the goal line into the net and if there is no issue of interfering with an opponent prior to the ball entering the net, there cannot be an offside violation. In short, there is no offside violation after a goal is scored.


I am concerned about teaching referees correctly, in accordance with the USSF's current thinking, about Law 12 "Handles the ball Deliberately". We have taught in the past that "gaining an advantage" from a ball that has hit the hand or arm makes no difference if the referee judged it wasn't deliberate. And in fact the 2010 ATR (12.9) states that "The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement.... NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words "touch," "play," and "make contact with" mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate."

The Directives that came out in 2009 list as #3 Did the Player Benefit? I have taken this to refer for the first two points (1) "Making yourself Bigger" and (2) "Is the Arm or hand in an unnatural position", and if the referee's opinion was that it was not deliberate it did not matter if the player gained and advantage or benefit from the ball hitting his hand.

At a State Cup game the SYRA and I got into a discussion after a coach was told that advantage had no part in determining a handling call, he stated that now because of the 2009 Directive The player gaining a benefit should be whistled for handling. He has been in conferences and meetings that I have not so I wanted to be sure of the correct instructions (interpretations) that need to be taught to the referees.

Answer (November 19, 2010):
Despite superficial appearances to the contrary, we see no actual conflict between what is stated in the directive and what is said in the Advice to Referees. The third criterion in the Directive of February 2, 2009, Handling the Ball, is actually clear. However, the mention in that directive of "advantage" has absolutely nothing to do with the advantage we are familiar with from Law 5.

Criterion 3:
"3. Did the player "benefit"?
"In considering all the "signs" described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player's (usually a defender) action. Did the defender's action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an "unnatural position?" The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player's action to determine whether an offence has been committed."

The directive is speaking of a tactical advantage for the handling player, not the advantage invoked by the referee. It is similar in that way to the "gaining an advantage" referred to in Law 11 (Offside). In this sense, the directive addresses the "benefit" a defending player might achieve in the sense of foiling an opponent's attack.

The criterion at issue here is a way of coming to terms with the word "deliberate" as applied to the handling foul. All other things being equal, we are far less likely to consider an act to be deliberate if we cannot divine any reason for it happening. If the hand makes contact with the ball and there does not appear to be any purpose served by the contact, it is more likely accidental than deliberate -- even if it drops kindly. The absence of a purpose, of course, doesn't mean there wasn't one -- only that we cannot discern it. Where there is a discernible reason, and the contact achieves that reason, then we should be far more likely to suspect its innocence.

The directive does not suggest that benefit of a player's action should be the sole point to decide if a ball was handled deliberately or not. The directive states that the referee needs to decide first if a handling-the-ball situation involved (1) a player "making himself bigger" or (2) if the player's arm was in an unnatural position. The third criterion (3) involves the result of the action. The first sentence of criterion 3 is key: "In considering all the 'signs' described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player's (usually a defender) action." Possible "benefits" for defender or attacker are suggested. However, these benefits are to examined only in the context of the first two criteria. In other words, if the defender "made himself bigger" and was able to play the ball, the observed benefit of foiling the attack provides confidence that the handling of the ball was deliberate. If the referee is still unsure after considering these 3 criteria, then additional factors (reaction time, distance to ball) can be applied.

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff and National Assessor ret., assisted by National Instructor Trainer Dan Heldman, for their assistance in providing this service. Direction is provided by Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, with further assistance from Ryan Mooney, Manager of Referee Education Resources; David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); Jeff Kollmeyer, National Instructor, indoor and Futsal; and Ulrich Strom, retired National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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