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Cal South E-News | August 2011 REFEREE EDUCATION

August 22, 2011

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Laws of the Game: Ask the Referee

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


I am not fluent in Spanish, but I understand enough to distinguish between disagreement and a flurry of obscenity. Generally speaking, I punish obscenities in both languages equally.

Recently I was an assistant referee for a game where all the players spoke English, but some spoke Spanish too. After one foul call by the chief referee, a player let fly with a very "colorful" insult back at the CR. The CR (who speaks fluent Spanish, too) looked at him and gave him a verbal warning. In English, for everyone to hear.

After the game, I asked the CR if he would have responded the same way if the player had said the equivalent in English. He said no, it would have been straight red. His reasoning was that by choosing to use a language that fewer people understood, the player was doing the equivalent of mumbling under his breath. In other words, he didn't make it public.

I have to applaud the CR for his man management in this case. The game proceeded without further incident. But I'm wondering if this principle is one that can be used in general. Does switching to a second language give the players more liberty?

Under the Law, a player is sent off for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures. That incorporates the whole of human communication. "Liberty" must be defined within the context of the particular interaction. The Laws of the Game do not care which language a player, team official, referee or AR speaks. What is important under the Laws is what that person actually says or means or understands. None of that is necessarily language-dependent. Given that basis, our answer follows.

Yes, the player should probably have been sent off for an infringement of the Law, but the referee chose not to do it. It would seem that his manner of dealing with the use of the colorful language was correct for this particular incident. It might not have worked for all of us and it might not work for that referee with another player or in another game, but it worked here. However, it did work and that is one of the elements of good refereeing: to find a solution that works for everyone and ensures that the Spirit of the Game prevails.

Remember, whatever the language, a red card for abusive, insulting, or offensive language cannot really be justified if, in the opinion of the referee, no one was abused, insulted, or offended by it.



During check-in, I discover two players not listed on the team roster. I inform the coach that the two players cannot play. The coach goes nuts. I explain the league's policy regarding this matter. The coach gets hotter. I walk away. This coach fields a team and the two ineligible players are on the field. What do I do?

1. Start the game and after the ball moves forward, blow my whistle and red card the two ineligible players?
2. Have another discussion with the "hot" coach. If doesn't comply, call the game.
3. Get the other coach involved. Discuss the situation. Start the game and report the incident in my game report.

As long as the names of the substitutes are given to the referee prior to the start of the Game, the Laws of the Game are satisfied. However, in this case you are dealing with the rules of a competition (league, cup, tournament, etc.) . By accepting an assignment in this competition, you have agreed to enforce the rules of the competition. This is an unquestionable fact.

The solution to your problem is either clear and simple or very complicated:

(1) If there is a fixed roster for the season, then the two "players" not on the official team roster may not play under any circumstances. It makes no difference whether the coach chooses to play or not to play the game; those "players" cannot play. Whatever the outcome of the discussion, submit full details in the match report.
(2) If the roster changes from game to game, then it's more complicated. In this case, if the two players have valid player passes for this team, then you should let them play. If they do not have valid player passes for this particular team, then follow the guidance in (1). In all cases, include full details in the match report.



Recently, I witnessed a U12 goal scored by working the ball in from a corner kick along the end line. Two attackers worked together to advance the ball to goal right along the endline. One of the attackers was standing on the endline (if not out of bounds) and received a 10 foot pass from the other attacker about 10 feet from the end line. That attacker received the ball and then passed it in front of the net for a third player to finish for a goal.

To me it seemed clear that the receiving player on the endline must have been offside since the defending team did not have players on the goal line or in the net, but did have a defender marking the near post. Three licensed and paid coaches later said a single defender on the goalpost, let alone 2 defenders, automatically makes the whole field onside. They also suggested that it does not matter if the goalkeeper is moved forward and that it only matters where the last non-keeper defender happens to be. I can not find any information to verify what they have said. Please help....

Coach, we strongly hope you misunderstood these "licensed and paid" coaches, because if what you remember them saying is accurate, we are all in a lot of trouble, and referees working games involving these coaches and any of their players will be in for major problems when they attempt to enforce the Laws of the Game correctly.

For starters, no player can be called offside directly from a corner kick. As we read it, in your situation the critical action occurred after the corner kick had already been taken, when an attacker who was 10 feet upfield from the goal line sent a pass to a teammate who was "standing on the endline if not out of bounds." At the moment this pass occurred: "the defending team did not have players on the goal line or in the net, but did have defender marking the near post." Unfortunately, this accounts for only one defender. If that was indeed the only defender between the attacker and the goal line, then clearly the attacker was in an offside position and made contact with the ball when he "received a 10 foot pass," then there was an offside infringement.

However, your situation omits the goalkeeper. Where was the goalkeeper in all of this? Certainly, if the goalkeeper was well upfield from this "defender marking the near post," then the offside call would have been correct. If you and the "licensed and paid" coaches are simply ignoring the goalkeeper and the 'keeper was in fact on the goal line, then the attacker was NOT in an offside position and could not be called offside.

Warning to all coaches, players, and referees: Very few coaches, no matter how many certificates they may have earned, are as well aware of the Laws of the Game as they believe themselves to be. (Unfortunately, we must admit that this sometimes applies to referees as well.)


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