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February 2008 Archive (I of II)


I was watching a taped World Cup match (2006, Ghana vs. Italy). An Italian player broke at the halfline for goal, but was called for offsides. Apparently, neither the attacking nor the defending player heard the whistle, as they continued toward goal. About 22 yards from goal, the defender committed a cleats-exposed tackle from behind on the Italian player. This cannot be a foul, denial of a goal scoring opportunity, nor serious foul play, since the ball was not in play due to the offsides. The referee for that match did not card the defender for that particular incident. At the level of play I normally work (local travel matches with teenagers) and had it been during the run of play, I would have considered the defender's action to be both serious foul play and denial of a goal scoring opportunity. And yes, in that sort of a breakaway situation, I hope I would be blowing my whistle very loudly to stop play to prevent the problem in the first place. My first question is that if I judge the actions of the defender to have been with excessive force and endangering the safety of the opponent, even though it occurred after play was stopped, would it be reasonable to send the offending player off for violent conduct? My second question is what is your opinion about the match control aspects, in general, of sending off for violent conduct in such a situation?

Answer (February 12, 2008):
When the referee decides to call the offside, play has stopped. Anything that occurs after the game is stopped can be punished only as misconduct. The decision to punish for any misconduct must be in the opinion of the referee who is on that game, not an observer.

In lieu of a direct answer, let's turn your question around: What would be the consequences for match control if the referee did NOT send off a player who clearly committed violent conduct?



In a recent Premier League game Manchester City hosted a match and distributed balloons to fans. The balls were behind the City goal most of the time but quite a few blew onto the field in front of the goal when, you guessed it, the ball was sent across the goal mouth on the ground. A defender was positioned to kick the ball away but instead kicked a balloon. An attacker struck the correct round object and scored the goal that won the game. The referee allowed the goal to stand but it is thought that the rule about "outside agency" should be applied instead.

What is correct?

In another recent professional game the ball was kicked high to a player who was dashing along the touchline looking at the descending ball. He had to step over the line to receive the ball but fell as he ran into the unseen AR who was also running tight along the touchline off the field. The player would likely have been able to play the ball as no opponent was anywhere near. The AR could see the play and I expected him to drift wide of the play, which he didn't do. Possession went straight to the opponents. There was no call; no dropped ball restart.

What is correct?

The use of arms to protect the defenders who are formed into a "wall" in front of a goal has been accepted to protect the face, groin area and heart. I expect the arm/hand should be touching the body, or almost so. However it's a common enough sight on replays to see defender's arms deliberately reaching out to prevent the ball from striking them. I've even seen the ball repelled by an elbow. Consider an arm extended about 14 inches in front of a contorted face (I'm measuring this right now with a ruler) seems to be a deliberate act of directing the ball away to an unthreatening area of the field than would occur if the arm was held protectively close to the body.

What is correct?

Answer (February 12, 2008):
1. Balloonacy
Under Law 5 the referee has the powers to protect the safety of the players and to stop, suspend or terminate the game for outside interference of any kind. The only reasons for the referee to stop the play for balloons or other foreign objects being thrown onto the field would be if he or she considered that (a) the state of the ground was hazardous for the participants, (b) the balloons were causing the game to become farcical, or (c) he or she considered them to be outside interference.

If it is at all possible, the referee should act preventively to have foreign objects removed from the field before any incidents occur to mar the game. In these circumstances the game would be suspended until the playing surface had been cleared of the foreign objects. If play was stopped for this, the restart would be a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped. If the referee had the time to act preventively to have the items removed, play would be suspended at an appropriate stoppage in the game and restarted according the reason for the stoppage -- throw-in corner kick, etc. However, if there is a great number of foreign objects in one playing area, such as in the penalty area, and this could interfere with both sides enjoying an equal opportunity for a good game, the referee should stop play immediately.

This problem is a difficult one for referees to manage at any level of play, but particularly at the professional level, as the longer the game is suspended to deal with this type of incident, the greater the risk of the spectators continuing to disrupt the game. In most countries the referee would not hold up the game for such incidents unless the foreign objects were completely covering a large area of the playing surface.

2. Player knocking over the AR (or vice versa)
The assistant referee is considered to be part of the field. If he or she is hit during the course of play by the ball or by a player, there is no infringement, nor is there any need to stop play; the only reason to stop play would be if the ball has left the field. (Let us note that the AR should be well off the field in all cases.)

3. Raising the arm from the body to play the ball
Players are indeed allowed to put their arms across their bodies to protect themselves. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the player so doing is actually moving the arms or hands to control the ball, that constitutes deliberate handling and must be punished accordingly.



ATR 5.8 says that once a player who has left the field because of blood or an equipment problem has fixed the problem the player may return "even if play is continuing." Guide to Procedures, in the section on the Fourth Official and equipment problems also talks about notifying the referee the player is ready to return, "whether during play or at a stoppage." I also found a 4/23/2001 position paper, Players Temporarily Off the Field Involvement of Fourth Official, that says for bleeding, blood on the uniform, or illegal equipment, the referee should grant permission to return "as soon as possible without waiting for a stoppage of play."


How are the instructions in these sources regarding equipment problems squared with Law 4 which clearly states that for any infringement of this law, "the player is only allowed to re-enter the field of play when the ball is out of play"?

Answer (February 4, 2008):
Short answer: In a game situation, most referees should do it the way the situation is covered in the USSF literature.

Longer answer for this situation during a game: The Federation has officially recognized that a player ordered off to correct an equipment problem can return to the field during play if he (or she) receives the referee's permission and if the equipment problem has been corrected (and verified by the assistant referee or fourth official), assuming this authority has been delegated by the referee. If the referee has not delegated the authority, then only the referee can inspect and the player must wait for a stoppage to return to the field.

Longer answer for a test: Since the literature defines policy for referees in this country and since any test a referee in this country might take would be solely guided by such advice, saying the player could return during play (if the specified conditions are met) would be entirely correct.

Only our FIFA referees taking a FIFA-sponsored test would have to remember that our guidance on this differs from the strict requirements of Law 3. This divergence has been in place from the very first moment that FIFA recognized the ability to return to the field during play for all other situations where the player has received permission to leave or been ordered off under Law 5 -- we believe that the principle underlying FIFA allowing a player to return during play under all these other scenarios should apply equally to being off the field to correct equipment.



I'm perplexed by a situation I saw a few days ago on an overseas game, and would like guidance on dealing with this situation here in the US.

Here is a clip of the situation:

As you can see, the Boca Juniors forward seems to hold on to the crossbar briefly-impossible to tell whether it's to keep himself from hitting it, or as an attempt to hold himself upright. I vaguely remember this as an IFK and a caution for unsporting behavior.

Your thoughts?

Answer (February 4, 2008):
We will let others judge which of the alternatives the Boca Juniors forward is pursuing. But we will give them something to work with. A call by the referee for punishment would have required total confidence and absolute iron will by the referee, who would appear not to have had much assistance from the assistant, who was behind play.

If, in the opinion of the referee, the player used the crossbar to make it easier for him to play the ball, he has committed unsporting behavior and must be cautioned and shown the yellow card. The restart would be an indirect free kick to the opposing team from the place where the infringement occurred (keeping in mind the requirements of Law 8).

If, in the opinion of the referee, the player was hanging from the goalpost simply to avoid injury to himself or to other players, there was no infringement of the Law.


U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff/National Assessor), assisted by Dan Heldman (National Instructor Staff), for their assistance in providing this service. Direction is provided by Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, with further assistance from Julie Ilacqua, Managing Director of Referee Programs (administrative matters); David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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