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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 16

The Referee Week in Review is designed to address the issues facing referees at all levels by using video highlights from professional games as well as the U.S. National Teams. Written by U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development Paul Tamberino and U.S. Soccer Manager of Assessment and Training Brian Hall, the Referee Week in Review will highlight specific areas of focus and current U.S. Soccer initiatives designed to improve performance and aid in the development of officials across the country.

Week In Review
Week 16 – ending July 5, 2009

As the MLS season reaches its midpoint and the WPS season nears its final third, games continue to provide challenges for officials for the entire 90 minutes. As a consequence, emotion within games is on the rise. Match officials must be prepared to differentiate between a controlled “emotional outburst” and strong forms of misconduct like dissent or abusive and insulting language/gestures. At the same time, referees must be proactive and take a preventative approach to addressing the misconduct issue early with common sense action.

This week, we have an example of an official who was faced with two different forms of aggressive action on the part of players during the same incident. As we will see, unfortunately, the referee did not deal with the related incidents in a thorough manner or follow the U.S. Soccer directives which outline the requirements for dealing with dissent and physical contact with an official. Quick thinking, preventative action and application of the directives is required to ensure a consistent approach to managing player frustration.


Handling the Ball: Law 12
Clear and obvious examples of handling the ball must be correctly identified by match officials. This is especially true since U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directive on “Handling the Ball” was released in February of this year (approximately six months ago). Additionally, the concepts behind the directive have been addressed multiple times over the previous 15 “Week In Reviews.” Just as recently as last week, the concepts were covered and explained (click on this link to access “Week In Review 15”). Understanding and implementing certain new directives can take time. This is especially true of situations that involve gray areas (unclear areas or require some judgment on the part of the referee). But, top level officials are expected to rapidly implement the concepts into their game management.

Video Clip 1: Boston at Sky Blue – WPS
Using the criteria of “making yourself bigger” which is contained in the 2009 Directive entitled, “Handling the Ball,” the referee can confidently make the decision that the player on the blue team has “made herself bigger” as well as put her arms/hands in an “unnatural position.” Thus, this is a clear handling offense that must be recognized by the referee who is well positioned and who sees the offense since he incorrectly signals to continue play.

The fact that the player’s arms are above her shoulders is evidence that the player has put them in an “unnatural position.” Players do not play the game with their arms/hands in the position that they are in this video clip. In addition, the player “makes herself bigger” by denying the touch or pass of the opponent from progressing. The concept of “making yourself bigger” is not confined only to a player with their arms extended from the side of their body. “Making yourself bigger” applies to all the space around a player including the sides, in front and overhead. In this example, the player “makes herself bigger” by extending her reach above her head and takes the passing lane as well as space away from the opponent.

Watch the referee in the clip. He seems to mimic the advantage signal when no advantage exists. The referee may be using the signal to indicate that “no foul has occurred.” This is not an authorized signal. The referee also uses the advantage signal to show “no foul.” The advantage signal must only be used in instances where the referee has applied the advantage clause.

The F.I.F.A. supplement to the Laws of the Game, “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees,” has a section on referee signals. In this section, it states:

Body language is a tool that the referee uses to:

  • Help him control the match.
  • Show authority and self-control.

Body language is not:

  • An explanation of a decision.”

Basically, referees should refrain from using body language and unauthorized signals to explain a call or no call, a foul or no foul. By not blowing the whistle, the referee indicates to the players, coaches and spectators that an infraction has not occurred. In this case, a “no signal” is a “signal,” a signal that nothing has been observed by the referee. Signals like pointing to the ball should not be used by match officials.

Dissent and Contact With an Official (Violent Conduct): Law 12
On August 9, 2006, U.S. Soccer issued a position paper called “Contact with Game Officials” which provided guidelines regarding physical contact by players against match officials. Further reiteration and support of this position paper was made in the 2009 Directive on “Dissent”. Unwarranted and aggressive contact with a match official must be treated as a serious matter and referees must take immediate stringent action when such contact occurs.

Here is the excerpt from the 2009 “Dissent” directive relative to contact with an official:

Physical Contact with an Official
Any player who makes deliberate physical contact with an official in order to dispute a decision, must be sent off for violent conduct. The referee should not tolerate physical contact by a player (including a substitute, substituted player, or any other person under the authority of the referee) which:

  • Involves force or aggression (ex: grabbing, pushing, slapping, bumping or stepping on feet)
  • The official has sought to avoid by moving away and by making a gesture which clearly indicates any further approach is unwelcome (continued pursuit by a player, if performed in a threatening manner, is included here even if physical contact does not result)
  • Is initiated from an unexpected direction and unaccompanied by any warning
  • Is delivered in a context which clearly includes disapproval, lack of friendliness, or anger
  • Restrains or prevents an official from withdrawing from the contact (e.g., by blocking retreat or holding)

Dissent at all levels continues to be an issue that needs attention by match officials. First and foremost, officials must take a proactive role and deal with dissent early in the game and send strong messages before the dissent steamrolls out of control and degrades the authority of the referee team and ruins the enjoyment of the game by spectators. Early action does not necessarily mean issuing immediate cautions. It does mean addressing (versus ignoring) situations of players and coaches who either verbally or visually protest the referee’s decision. Referees can utilize their personality and presence to influence the actions of those that choose to dissent decisions. By imparting personality and positively addressing early occurrences of dissent, referees can “draw the line in the sand” and send a message that anything beyond reasonable emotional outburst will be dealt with as misconduct.

Once an official has determined that presence and early messages are not acting as a deterrent, the referee must escalate the approach in terms of firmness. This may mean cautioning perpetrators for dissent. Remember, referees are not required to initially warn players prior to cautioning for dissent if the player’s actions are not manageable or if they immediately and blatantly bring the referee’s authority into question.

Video Clip 2: Chicago at Colorado (79:05)
This clip involves two forms of misconduct demonstrated by the players: dissent and physical contact with a match official. Both forms of misconduct threaten (in various degrees) the authority of the referee and must be dealt with according to the directives and position papers referenced above.

1. Dissent
The referee calls a foul that No. 9 on the red team does not like. The player protests the referee’s decision both verbally and visually. Due to the extreme and aggressive nature of the dissention, the referee must caution No. 9, even if that player had previously been cautioned. In a clear case of verbal and/or visual dissent like that illustrated in this clip, the fact that a player has been previously cautioned must not influence the referee’s decision to issue a second caution for dissent which must then be immediately followed by the issuance of a red card for “receiving a second caution in the same match.”

The following are telling signs of the aggressive nature of the dissent and must be recognized by officials as actions that require a caution:

  • Waving hands to show disgust.
  • Stepping into the body space of the referee.
  • The loud and combative voice of the player.
  • Pointing of the finger (multiple times) at the referee.

The actions in this clip meet all the criteria for dissent and, hence, the player must be cautioned. If the player has previously been cautioned in the match, the player must also be sent off for receiving the second caution in the same match. Referees must also be cognizant of remaining under control and not exhibiting frustration with dissenting players. The referee in this clip, shows his frustration instead of remaining calm and collected. In all cases, referee’s must be aware of not entering the player’s personal space or zone when sending appropriate messages.

2. Physical Contact with a Match Official
Players cannot make deliberate and aggressive physical contact with an official as is done in this clip by No. 8 on the red team. No. 8 must be red carded for violent conduct. Using the guidelines provided in the 2009 “Dissent” directive and the 2006 position paper, the following actions on the part of No. 8 should be considered deliberate and aggressive:

  • Use of the arm/elbow to prevent the movement of the referee.
  • The extension of the right arm/hand making contact with the referee’s chest thereby hindering his movement. This is done after the referee takes preventative measures by attempting to change his direction and move away from player No. 8.
  • Subsequent quick contact with the referee’s right arm as he passes No. 8.

The following are reasonable measures/recommendations for avoiding the confrontation on the part of the referee:

  • Once the referee has decided that No. 9 is to be cautioned for dissent (this should occur seconds before his teammate enters the situation at 79:12 as No. 9 goes face-to-face with him and as he starts pointing with his finger), the referee should take one step back and then hold his ground to create space between him and No. 9 thereby diffusing some of the aggressiveness.
  • After additional space has been created, the referee should quickly issue the yellow card. The hope is that this quick and controlled issuance of the yellow card would prevent the eventual physical contact by No. 8.
  • If this process does not prevent the physical contact, then the referee must send No. 8 off for violent conduct.

Looking Forward – Week 17
This upcoming week, U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy Finals Week will take place at U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. From July 10 – 17, the eight top teams in each of the Under-15/16 and Under-17/18 groups will face off to determine a national champion. The final matches for each age group will be broadcast on ESPN Classic on Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 18 at 10 p.m. ET.

Not only will the top teams be participating but eight of the nation’s most talented referees and four assistant referees have been selected to manage the road to the final. Participating officials have successfully managed Development Academy matches in their local area and many have participated in multiple Development Academy Showcases since December 2008.

These twelve match officials will receive daily training and feedback from U.S. Soccer staff (Paul Tamberino, Alfred Kleinaitis and Herb Silva). Several of last year’s Finals Week refereeing graduates are now participating as officials at the professional level (MLS, WPS, USL1).

The nation’s top players, top clubs and top officials all add to the competitiveness of Finals Week and match officials will be tested. At the same time, with U.S. Soccer Referee staff on-hand, officials will also benefit from eight days of in-depth analysis/feedback and technical training all focused on helping them understand the demands and the qualities needed to develop and excel at the professional level. These lessons will also be applied locally so they impact all levels of the game.