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Question Number: 34580

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 4/28/2022

RE: Adult

Leilit of Ankara, Turkey asks...

Hello all of you,
There is a penalty. The forward puts the ball on the spot and standing about 2 meters behind it.
The keeper is on the goal line ready for the shoot.
Then the forward, probably in order to take the keeper a bit out of focus, complains about something to the referee. Nothing serious.
But it upset the keeper, who spits towards the forward. There are more than 11 meters between the keeper and the forward so there is no chance the spit can get to the forward, but the keeper's spit was absolutely towards the opponent forward.
Should the keeper be sent off for spitting towards an opponent, or is a yellow card enough due to the distance between them?

Thank you all for answering!

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Leilit
Thanks for the question

My personal opinion is that the goalkeeper should be sent off for spitting at an opponent. The players are in close enough proximity for it to be considered spitting at an opponent. The spit does not have to make contact with the opponent just that it is spitting AT someone on the team list or a match officials. I believe that a referee would be well entitled to dismiss for this and in the sending off report the referee would describe the incident as it transpired. The League can deal with any further sanction as it sees fit.

Given the times we live in with Covid 19 it is totally unacceptable to be spitting on the field of play creating saliva aerosol and certainly not in a manner where it it intended to be a deliberate insult.

Now will every referee dismiss a player for this action which is done at a distance rather than close up? I believe that the percentage will be high if they see it yet there is a chance that it could be missed or that the referee believes that a caution is suffice. In a recent question I mentioned an incident where a goalkeeper accused an opponent of spitting at him in kick from the penalty mark after a penalty was scored. I nor the lead assistant saw an obvious spit or spitting action and we were both fairly close to the incident. Did the goalkeeper believe that saliva aerosol while shouting was a spit? I personally did not see what I would determine as an intended deliberate spit so I did not send the player off. I cannot recall if I cautioned them both for their squaring up?

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Leilit,
Gamesmanship is often an unfortunate part of competitive sports, essentially an underhanded sneaky way of getting a volatile player to lose their cool and react stupidly.
That said, from the ZIDANE incident we learned that what is said or done, you cannot retaliate in a way the referee CAN NOT ignore! Yet if possible, if you are aware the needling is going on, try to intervene BEFORE, the bombshell reaction is obtained. Players DO have to answer for their conduct if it crosses the line (SPITTING is a DISGUSTING response!) but a lot of line skirting goes on to push it past that level. Should you see the gamesmanship being introduced? SOMETIMES you can catch it & prevent a knee jesk reaction. Cards are there if needed but a firm stance, no nonsense verbal, CUT that crap out NOW!

Spitting directly AT an opponent as opposed to cleaning the throat or a vacant spot out in or off the FOP?
The 12 yd or less distance inside the PA is a bit different than being in the PA at the other end of the FOP 100 yds away.


Was it directed at the player with effort and not just a turn of the head in disgust at the grass off to the side? If I see it as an attempt and the conditions of a wind spray assist are in evidence, in my opinion, it is an auto red card be it a hit or miss!

If I see it as an act of irritation directed at the ground. A verbal dressing down that such an act is inexcusable would be the bare minimum reaction. Regardless if the opponent elicited the spitting response via some sneaky gamesmanship or smack talk we would still consider it an offensive and disrespectful gesture, certainly cautionable, even for a first-time event.

There is no doubt that COVID protocols are ingrained in our psyche for now. Previously the Aids scare, HIV, and Hepatitis carriers even resulted in criminal charges when those diagnosed positive acted out in public in such a fashion so it is not easily ignored as spray spittle carries in the wind. I watched a video on how an easily viruses/germs can be carried out at distances, even an open toilet flush on the inside of a home the infra-ultra-lights showed faecal matter settling 3 yards away on a toothbrush. So a yelling screaming player when facing an opponent could easily spread some spit accidently as a wet spot not an actual spit to be seen where it clearly is what it is! The FEAR factor now embedded into our mindsets will trigger if we have ANY reason to think that spitting action has a purpose even beyond showing contempt!

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Lelit,

I would say that if it's very clear he's spat at the opponent, then a red card is warranted here.

It isn't just the risk of actually hitting the opponent - but spitting at somebody, even if out of range, can be seen as an extremely offensive and disrespectful gesture

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