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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 30949

Law 4 - The Players Equipment 10/24/2016

Steven of Seattle, WA USA asks...

Very strange situation happened this weekend that I will probably never have again. I was the center referee in a game and did not perform the pre-game player equipment check. The previous game I was on was running late, so one of my ARs (a state referee emeritus) who arrived conducted the equipment check

About halfway through the first half, I noticed that one player had what I thought was some kind of plastic brace on her knee. I didn't stop the game but studied it when she would pass by and noticed that it was in fact an artificial leg from the knee down with soccer socks, shin guard, cleats, etc. It was one of the more modern ones and while I couldn't see the construction of it, it had some hinge where the ankle would be, so it must have been some form of carbon fiber or metal or something like that. The girl moved like it was a normal leg with a normal running pattern, speed, etc.

During the game, the leg even actually came off once. The girl had planted one leg and it must have stuck in the turf and then she fell and the leg was just sitting there on the field, we stopped the match, leg got re-secured, okay.

I wanted to get some input about this situation. I didn't want to be the referee that disallowed a girl with an artificial leg to play because of the plastic on the knee and not being sure what the material was that the leg was made of if it would be a risk to other players, especially how it could actually come off during gameplay. This was also a relatively high level youth game, 15-16 year old highest division players, so it wasn't just a recreational 'kids having fun' game

What do you think the process should be for this if anyone happens to see this in the future?

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Steven,
wow the leg was detached planted in the ground? That seems funny bizarre but it is sort of cool to be able to tell someone, THIS actually happened in my match! LOL. First off I find it wonderful and amazing that prosthesis have come so far that a child can participate with her friends in a game and not suffer either pity or be singled out . Please pass on a thumbs up to her from all of us here, if you get her again in a match. Tell her, You go girl we are happy for you! The fact it resembles a real limb is kind of cool. It's not against the rules to play with a prosthetic. We are certainly not looking to create situations that ban disabled or handicap kids from playing soccer. As a matter of legal liability from an association it could be useful to receive a medical opinion given there are crutches as well as the prosthetics themselves can not be flicked around to cause injury should the handicap player lose their cool but if the safety of the lass herself and the players around her did not appear to be in danger I see no reason to not let her play. I seriously feel this must be addressed at the local level at the start of the season so as not to cause referees to ponder is this actually safe? It does seem rather strange the pregame check did not bring it to light. The league or association could have some bylaws that discuss such situations in terms of safety and what is required padding construction materials etc.. but in terms of privacy and the rights of a child to participate in sports I could only imagine a player performs a tackle resulting in an accidentally detached leg of the opponent could be a wee bit disconcerting. Still perhaps that is a safety aspect of the leg to not be a solid ramming or impact device if it was swung to say kick a ball but impacted the player? I do know there is a amazing young man playing with one leg and padded crutches. Not sure if he gets knocked down a lot or how he challenges for the ball or how handling or fouls are dealt with should the crutches be involved but I suspect referees, just like the players who suffered a set back have adapted to not let things stop them from doing what they love. We will figure it out given it seems the kids already have!

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Steven
it is up to individual referees to determine if any player equipment is dangerous or not. As it is an outlier situation little if any consideration would be given to the matter. Personally I see little issue here and that was borne out by the game itself. The artificial limb is clearly of no danger to the player and it does not IMO pose any danger to an opponent with perhaps the exception that hard contact on or by the prosthesis could perhaps hurt more. That though could be illegal contact either way so it should not happen and it is the action that is the risk not the limb.
Once the referee has made his decision that the equipment poses no risk that is the matter dealt with and supported in Law. If a referee decided that it posed a risk then that decision would be respected also. Some ROC require that braces are covered by protective material and that could apply here also. Perhaps to prevent any *complaints* from opponents the relevant league could make a decision in principle as to what is allowed. NFHS advice states that artificial limbs, which in the judgment of the state high school association are no more dangerous to players than the corresponding human limb and do not place an opponent at a disadvantage, may be permitted. Upper limb prostheses and above-knee leg prostheses are discouraged. Hinges shall be lateral and covered by suitable material. All permissible artificial limbs must be padded with a closed-cell, slow-recovery foam padding no less than ½-inch thick.
Interestingly the Amputee game must be played on forearm crutches with no prosthetics allowed on the playing field. But the ball may not be controlled or advanced with the crutch – that would be considered handling.
So for me it is great to read of a young person participating fully in our game with her friends and peers. I am sure her family must be very proud of her.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Steven,

The Laws of the Game state that 'A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous.'

It is entirely up to you as the referee in charge of the game to decide what is and isn't dangerous but as my colleagues have stated, it doesn't sound as if this player's artificial limb posed a danger and it is indeed wonderful to know that prosthetics technology has progressed to the point where this is possible.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone

If this was a high school game, a minimum 1/2 inch slow recovery padding on the leg is required (NFHS Rule 4-2-5). An informal pre-game check of equipment is suggested but not required in high school play. But, this situation provides an excellent example why pre-games checks by the referee are important. Thank you for telling us about this unique situation. I just returned from Seattle where the days were rainy and cool. I hope that you have a very successful fall season with many sunny days.

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