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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 33714

Mechanics 10/16/2019

RE: n/a Other

Peter Monks of San Francisco, CA USA asks...

The following scenario was posed to me this past weekend, and I'm still mulling it over. The experienced referee who posed it to me said that this had indeed happened to them; albeit just once in their decades of refereeing.

You are an AR and during the pre-match conference the CR tells you not to make any signals whatsoever for the entire duration of the match; that they will be making all calls. Assume, for the sake of simplicity, that there's no hidden backstory here - no prior history between the CR & AR, the two teams, or between the team(s) and the match officials.

What do you do?

My (incomplete!) thoughts:

Law 5, Section 2 'Decisions will be made to the best of the referee's ability according to the Laws of the Game and the spirit of the game and will be based on the opinion of the referee, who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game.'

My initial thought: does this request 'fit within the framework of the Laws of the Game'? For example do the Laws state or imply that a CR can nullify other match official roles?

Law 5, Section 3: '[the referee] controls the match in cooperation with the other match officials'

My initial thought: is it really 'cooperation' if the other officials' roles are nullified by the CR?

Law 6, 1st paragraph: '[other match officials] will assist the referee in controlling the match in accordance with the Laws of the Game but the final decision will always be taken by the referee.'

My initial thought: if a CR doesn't agree with an AR's signal, they *always* have the ability to overrule it, as per Law 6. So why would a CR not use that explicit authority, rather than creating a weird dynamic within the officiating crew by requesting that the ARs not signal anything, prior to the commencement of the match?

From a purely practical / self-respect perspective I would avoid working with a CR who did this on a regular basis. Solid team work (of any form, not just in refereeing) is fundamentally dependent on trust, and this strikes me as a request that betrays a profound lack of trust on the part of the CR.

Finally, this scenario struck me as some weird corner case that someone made up just to try to trip up grassroots referees such as myself, but the fact that the experienced referee who posed it to me said that it had in fact happened to him made me take it seriously, and now I'm spinning on it. ðŸ‰

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Peter,
In decades of refereeing and many years frequenting refereeing discussion forums where all kinds of unusual scenarios are discussed, I have never heard of this happening and so for me personally, it sounds like an apocryphal story.

As to the technical aspect of it, I don't think any of the parts of law 5 can be said to directly apply here and the parts of the wording that give the referee broad discretionary powers, do not allow them to completely ignore other parts of the law that are unequivocal, such as the provisions of law 6. These clearly state that:

''Assistant Referees [...] indicate when:

the whole of the ball leaves the field of play and which team is entitled to a corner kick, goal kick or throw-in

a player in an offside position may be penalised

a substitution is requested

at penalty kicks, the goalkeeper moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked and if the ball crosses the line''

So for me, a referee that tells their assistants not to make any signals, is acting in contravention of the Laws of the Game and I feel that any such behaviour should be brought to the attention of the relevant refereeing authorities in the area.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone


Unfortunately, I have heard of this happening too often. As you are aware, the center referee is not in position to be able to see all that occurs in a game and the ARs are needed to assist. Also, the ARs correctly consider that they are not needed. In my opinion, this also results in a game where many calls are missed or called incorrectly.

It is for this reason that I have, for many years, promoted the three whistle or double-dual system of officiating where there are three referees on the field and all have the same authority. Several states use the three whistle system, One of the states is Pennsylvania where I learned it and liked it many years ago. The coverage and the angles to make the correct call are obviously improved with three officials on the field and working with each other.

Another reason why I like the three whistle system is because I officiate basketball with three referees and the transition to three referees in soccer is easy. Three whistles just require working as a team which is also essential in soccer.

The mechanics of the Three Whistle system can be found in the NFHS Rules Book.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Peter,
hmmm well I guess as the unnecessary AR I go home, assuming the league is trying to save money on officials and is going with a single official? lol I have done many games as a single official but truthfully this seems to be something out of context.? Like perhaps a referee of experience with two really inexperienced ARS or perhaps an AR that had a very difficult mach just before and the CR was looking to ease their burden knowing these teams are ugly sticks and hard on officials? Perhaps the CR just had a horrific experience with the last AR and had decided to ensure no interruptions?

That said its a goofy request and no decent CR would make such a silly remark. I doubt I would accept such a blanket comment without some sort of clarification? No AR should remain silent on this either . I suggest asking the CR! 'Just to clarify?', I do not flag for any fouls or offer support for your calls, but, am I also NOT supposed to indicate offside, throw ins, or ball in or out? How do I/we communicate if I see a VC or incident in behind play? I am here to assist you not just watch? Please explain my duties if I am unable to use the flag to communicate?

There are overbearing referees that reject AR input just as there are ARS who try to referee from the touchlines . Both are bad for the game!

That said I agree with my colleague Ref McHugh if the CR is that obtuse or pompous without some valid reason, chances are we do not work together again because that is ignorant behavior at any level. We work as a team, a CR might codify certain things based on experience or circumstances, skill levels but a blanket just stand there and do nothing is simply NOT acceptable!

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Peter
Weird and makes no sense to me. I can live with some limited restrictions such as a referee saying to leave all the penalty decision to him yet sure what is the point of having an AR is he is told not to make any signals?
Sure what about throw in direction, corner kicks, offside which would all be calls that the AR is better placed to make, well most of the time.
As to how I would handle it my sense would be probably to not make a scene and go with the game and like Referee Dawson ask for clarification on the comment as to what exactly that means. If the explanation was not acceptable I would request not to work with the CR ever again. A referee would soon run out of assistants based on this approach.
Anyway thankfully I never had experience of it and I don't know any others who have had. We all have had overrules by referees who did not agree with a flag perhaps sometimes justified other times not. We also have had ARs who try to referee the game from the sideline and that can be difficult particularly if the decision is not agreed on.
I believe if we stick to the magic book instructions and advice to ARs and act as a team it will not pose any problems.
Final thought is that I don’t think it was an effort to trip up a referee. It might be a way of promoting a discussion on teamwork or a crude way of dealing with very inexperienced ARs who may pose problems for the game Or maybe to show that this referee has been around for a very long time, experiencing everything including weird situations! It could have started out as a referee asking AR not to call fouls in their vicinity which gets recounted with the passage of time as no calls whatsoever.
Older referees love to recount stories and tall tales. It could simply be a *fish tale*, the fish was that big it would have sank the boat if I landed it!
No need to spin on it.

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