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Cal South E-News | May 2011 REFEREE EDUCATION

May 21, 2011

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Rules 101 content provided by U.S. Soccer

Laws of the Game: Ask the Referee

In response to various questions, the following are responses from the National Referee Program Office:


Scenario: A three man crew is assigned to the match. The center official notifies the two assistant referees by phone that he will be late to the match 15 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time. The assistant referees notify both coaches, who both want the game to start on time. Therefore, AR1 is now the center official, with AR2 on the line and no club AR for the other line. After 20 minutes, the center official shows up and takes a flag and becomes the other AR. During a stoppage of play at about 25 minutes, the assigned center trades places with acting center.

Is this approved procedure or should the acting center official remained the center official for the match?

Whoa! Let's back off here and look at the real problem. Coaches have no say as to who referees their game, at least not in the game played under the Laws of the Game and under the aegis of the U. S. Soccer Federation. Nor can they insist on starting the game immediately if an official is late in arriving, particularly if that official has notified his/her fellow officials and given an arrival time. The game can wait those 15 minutes.

However, if there is some rule of the competition that requires games to start NOW and not a minute later than NOW, the officials may then work precisely as in your scenario.

As to the question itself, the answer is no, this is not an approved procedure in higher-level competitive soccer. Once a referee has begun a game in higher-level play, he or she cannot be "substituted out" for another. However, the procedure might well work in lower-level play.


During a Girls U14 game, two players from opposing teams collide and fall to the ground. One player gets up and walks away; the other player remains seated on the ground crying, but otherwise exhibiting no other outward signs of injury. As the referee approaches the crying player, a spectator rushes onto the field and runs towards the crying player. After assessing the situation and determining that the player is not injured, merely winded, the referee proceeds to admonish the spectator for rushing onto the field. The spectator, who it turns out is the father of the girl on the ground, hurls expletives at the referee in an extreme fit of anger. How should the referee handle this situation?

This is inexcusable behavior at the U14 level, especially for a parent. The entry into the field without permission might be excusable - but only barely - at the U9 level or younger, but beyond that there is absolutely no excuse for such interference by a spectator. You have already stopped the match. If the spectator does not leave the field when you request it, first go to the coach and inform him/her that if the spectator does not leave the field, you will abandon the match and let the league sort out the matter. Include full details in the match report. In no case are you required to accept language of this sort at any level or from any person.


What limits, if any, apply to participation of outside agents in retrieving a ball that has left the field of play and/or expediting the process of returning the ball to play?

Example: In a U19 boys game, the red goalkeeper collects the ball near the top of his own penalty area and kicks it high and long toward the blue goal. After the ball has been kicked, Red players R1, R2 and R3 streak across the halfway line into the blue half, hoping to collect the ball. They run past B1, the lone Blue defender (other than the keeper) in the Blue half. B1 manages to settle the kick from the red keeper, then kicks it sharply toward the touch line where the Blue substitutes, team officials and spectators are standing. B1's intent is to give his teammates time to return to the defensive end while the Red team retrieves the ball and executes the throw-in. However, an outside agent (substitute, team official or spectator) catches the ball on the fly about 10 feet outside the touch line and chest-passes it briskly to R4 who has just left the field where the ball went into touch. R4 receives the ball and immediately executes a strong throw-in toward R1/2/3 who manage to score. What should the referee do?

Related question: Under what circumstances, if any, can/should an assistant referee arrest a ball that has passed into touch in his immediate vicinity?

Given the particular questions you ask, the answers are:

  1. There are no limits unless the "helpers" are not helping expedite the restart. If the "helpers" are delaying the restart, the referee must step in and put an end to it. (Remember no cards may be shown to coaches or spectators unless the rules of the competition allow for that.) The referee must also add any time lost because of the delay.
  2. Unless the ball is about to fall into the clutches of greedy alligators or disappear into a wormhole, there is no reason for the assistant referee to touch the ball in any way. Seriously, the AR should act only if needed to protect himself from being struck. It is almost instinctive (particularly if the AR is a former or current player) to want to stop the ball in an effort to be "helpful," but this is a misplaced act of good will, because in doing so the AR has actually helped the team with the throw-in to restart more quickly that might have otherwise been the case. And if the AR fails to do the same thing for the other team at any time for any reason, they may think the AR is favoring their opponents. Furthermore, stopping the ball draws attention away from the AR's main, Law-mandated responsibilities.

For more, please visit USSoccer.com