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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 33456

Mechanics 6/18/2019

RE: Competitive College

Kailyn of Winnipeg, Canada asks...

If there is fight between two players on the soccer field, who is responsible for breaking up the fight? Is it the ref or the players? Also can the ref card you for pointing out a fight occurring on the field?

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Kailyn,

The referee is NOT actually responsible for breaking up the fight. The referee observes their actions, deals with the stoppage, restart, cards etc... later detailing them in his misconduct report. The referee would initially whistle play over , show cards to the player(s) being sent off and then if they refused to go, abandon or terminate the match if the altercation was to continue or escalate placing them or others in danger. Security at the field, the team & players themselves would sort it out in short order. Although a few referee may try to intercede it is not a recommended practice.

Not sure why a referee would show a card to a player pointing out a fact of play? It maybe he thought you were dissenting or trying to get an opponent sent off by your interference not realizing you were helping?
Only the referee in that match could answer, as I have none!

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Kailyn
Referees are advised not to get involved in fights involving players. To do so runs the risk of getting involved in the violent conduct which is never a wise position to be in for any official. Also when trying to stop two players fighting the referee then has a limited view of other players and what can be going on behind her back.
Having said that some referees through their training such as police officers, security etc have the presence to intervene. Some can be large in stature which gives them a presence in and around players. Case in point was Referee Howard Webb who was a police officer with the usual training. In the past I have seen him intervene with players that separated them in a way that was not overly physical but rather stepping in between players to separate them.
This is my associations advice to referees
** If it is not possible to prevent the escalation of a confrontation between players immediately, the referee should observe what happens in detail and he should avoid being physically involved in separating fighting players. Physical contact by a referee or assistant referee when intervening between players should normally be avoided. Strong use of the whistle might be helpful, but shouting at players should also be avoided.**
As to a caution for a player that brings a fight to the referees attention that would generally not happen. My experience is that it might usually be a shout 'Ref Ref' to get the referees attention to turn around to observe the fight. A card could issue if there were words used in an unpleasant manner like * Ref what are you going to do about that fight* * Ref your losing control* * Ref can you not see that fight going on* Or the player has something to say to the referee afterwards about the way the situation was managed.
As a general principle referees are not in the business of issuing cards to players who are helpful in bringing matter to the referees attention in a respectful way. If a player only drew my attention to a fight behind my back I would certainly not be cautioning for that. In fact I might not even notice the player as my immediate attention would be drawn to the fight.
If a card was issued I suspect it was something more such as comments afterwards, getting involved with players verbally, having something to say to the referee, running from a distance to get involved in the situation.
Again the advice from my association on mass confrontation.
** Referees should not only punish the initial offender(s) where the offence warranted it (recklessness, brutality), but also players involved in further confrontation. The main aggressor(s) should be punished appropriately and it is recommended that at least one player from each team must be given a yellow card. Referees should be particularly alert to players approaching or joining such an incident from some distance who should be identied and given a yellow card. Yellow cards are not considered sufcient punishment where fighting (excessive physical contact etc) is involved.**

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Kailyn,
As my colleagues have alluded to, the standard advice is that referee should not get involved in breaking up a mass confrontation. The reasons are as they have stated. However I'm not sure the advice is quite so clear-cut if there are only two players involved and no signs of others joining the fray.

The advice from ref McHugh's association does actually start by saying, ''If it is not possible to prevent the escalation of a confrontation between players immediately ...'' - so I think that leaves open the idea that if you can nip things in the bud, especially while there are only two players involved, that could be an avenue of approach. Even with only two players though, it's still probably not too wise to get physically in between them, due to the risks that entails and the main tactics would be getting relatively close (but not too close) and strong use of the whistle. Certainly, once it escalates and becomes a mass confrontation, the referee should stay clear.

It's interesting that ref McHugh mentions Howard Webb. He did indeed have both an imposing physical presence and training as a police officer and used to intervene physically between players but I did see an article that he wrote in the FA's refereeing magazine about handling fights between players. In it, he counseled against getting physically involved when players were fighting. He was more or less saying, ''Yes, I know I did this, but you shouldn't.''

As for getting a card for alerting a referee that players are fighting I agree with my colleagues that that shouldn't happen under normal circumstances but that it might depend on the manner of words and/or physical demeanour of the person doing the 'alerting.'

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