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Question Number: 16495

League Specific 8/30/2007

RE: College

Gary of decatur, il US asks...

What is considered legal eyewear for USSF contests at the youth level and where can I look up this type of information in the future? I am in Illinois and this level of contest would be under the IYSA, Illinois Youth Soccer Association.

Thanks in advance. Gary

Answer provided by Referee Gil Weber

Gary, prepare for a rant. This is a HUGE issue for me.

I am not in favor of allowing any players to wear regular ("street") glasses. This makes me unpopular at times, especially with parents of younger players. But my responsibility is the safety of the players -- all the players.

Unfortunately what is considered legal (safe) eyewear is left to the discretion of the referee. I say unfortunately because while referees certainly understand the potential danger of casts and knee braces, 9 out of 10 of those same referees don't seem to appreciate the significant potential risk posed by street glasses. And USSF refuses to take an official position against street glasses, believing each referee should make the decision.

I disagree, for I feel that as it applies to eyeglasses most referees simply don't understand the issues and risks. Sorry for that somewhat pompous-sounding statement, but that's a fact.

I have worked the past 29 years in eyecare, and in that time I have become very aware of the serious injuries that can occur to the face or eyes of a player wearing regular ("street") glasses when struck by the ball (or an elbow, or another player's head). I am also aware of the nasty injuries that can occur to other players who clash heads with the player wearing street glasses. (Or to the referee who takes a blast of the ball in the face!)

The problem is that regular ("street") glasses are not made to withstand the impact of a ball (or elbow, or head), and they project away from the wearer's face. The frames can be driven into the bridge of the nose, or into the eye socket or into the eye itself. The lenses can be dislodged or broken, and pieces can cut the face or eyeball. It is a VERY nasty injury.

Despite what anyone may opine to you, street glasses, even those made with impact-resistant lenses, are NOT safe in soccer either for the wearer or for other players (teammates OR opponents).

On the other hand, sports spectacles certainly can be much safer. The frames wrap to the contour of the wearer's face and do not project dangerously from the face, so the chance of injury to other players caused by the sports spectacles in a clash of heads is almost nil. The lenses are fabricated of a material designed to be significantly more impact resistant than lenses for street glasses. So the risk of fracture and subsequent cut is greatly reduced.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. I do NOT like street glasses on soccer players.

I would also be remiss not to warn you against listening to a parent who would tell you they give permission for their kid to play in street glasses, and won't hold you responsible if there is an injury to their child. Maybe that parent can indemnify you (hold you harmless) if their kid is injured, but that parent CANNOT indemnify you in the event one of the other players (teammates or opponents) is injured as a result of a clash of heads with their kid. Woe be unto you if another player suffers a serious facial or ocular injury as a result of getting the corner of that player's street glasses frame jammed into the face.

The only reference to eyewear I know of in a USSF document is a position paper from 2003. You can read it at this URL:

It says, in part:

"FIFA also wishes to strongly endorse the statement on the use of sports spectacles
made by the International F.A. Board on March 10, 2001, and subsequently in FIFA
Circular #750, dated April 10, 2001. New technology has made sports spectacles much
safer, both for the player himself or herself and for other players. This applies
particularly to younger players.

"Referees are expected to take full account of this fact and it would be considered
extremely unusual for a referee to prevent a player taking part in a match because he or
she was wearing modern sports spectacles."

And I agree. Modern sports spectacles should be much safer. For example, Edgar Davids, the famous Dutch player, has worn protective goggles for about 4 years. He has glaucoma, and the goggles afford him a measure of protection without endangering any other players.

End of rant.

You as the referee are responsible. You are supposed to prevent any player from wearing ANYTHING that is dangerous to himself or to ANY other player. Mommy and Daddy won't understand, and won't appreciate the fact that you are denying little Johnny or Jennie their game on Saturday. But that is not your problem. Your concern is safety, and street glasses are not safe under any circumstances in soccer.

Just my rather stern opinion, of course. Others will certainly disagree (until they see an injury firsthand or find themselves in a lawsuit).

Read other questions answered by Referee Gil Weber

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Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

Whew! Referee Weber knows his eye stuff! Be sure to read the position paper from USSF - it will be somewhat helpful. But as my colleague states, it is always the referee who must look out for the safety of the players. Nobody plans on having an accident - that's why it is called an accident, but many of them can be prevented with a little forethought and fortitude. Push sports glasses when checking in players - it's a public service.

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Answer provided by Referee Chuck Fleischer

Well Gary you are now in possession of the opinions of two referees who have opinions that should be taken at the national level where policy is established. I will attempt to offer a third opinion.

At AskTheRef we, since I have been associated with the site, have taken the opinion it is less dangerous for a player to have the ability to see well than compete with out spectacles. Since reading Ref Weber's thoughts I, now anyway, tend to think what we have espousing is not all that well advised. Ref. Weber is not just a knowledgeable referee but he has spent a good portion of his life in a profession that deals with eye sight, and sorts out what happens when the worst lifts its ugly head. [Read getting hit in the face with a football while wearing eyeglasses]

Ref Weber and Ref Maloney both say in the end the referee is the one to decide on the day what is and is not dangerous. We all know opinions vary and because of that one day you play and the next you sit and watch. Football is the least costly of all sports to compete in, shinguards and boots is what you buy, the rest comes from the club. Club dues aside, boots and shinguards are not all that dear. Investing in sport spectacles, while an added expense, is money well spent because when you bugger an eye costs soon go off the top end of the scale and do so at an alarming pace.

So information is available to assist in calculating the risk. Now to what I really want to say and Ref Maloney, unintentionally, has opened that door. An accident! Stuff happens! Sometimes you get the bear sometimes the bear gets you! All things we've heard before. We used to call things that happened to aircraft "accidents". Used to! When investigating "accidents" we always found a chain of events that resulted in the "accident".

Any one of these things removed interrupted the chain of events leading to the "accident" The lack of attention or chance led to an accident. When accident investigators began looking at events, taken in turn, leading to the worst it dawned on them accidents don't happen they are caused by something. They started referring to "accidents" as mishaps, and in nearly all cases calculated risks, taken along the way, led to the mishap. One need only look at the cause of any terrible thing happening and sooner or later the fatal flaw is going to be discovered.

You ask what is the method a referee should use to determine what is legal eye wear? When a risk assessment is done one of the variables in the final determination must include what Ref Weber has written. In this Game the referee is left to make that risk assessment on the field, that day. If he gets it wrong [has no knowledge of the position papers written on the subject] he is inserting something into a chain of events that will or will not have affect on the final outcome of events. There can be only two final outcomes in this chain, the spectacles will be safe or they will not be safe.

Here is where decision makers [the hapless referee] must calculate a personal risk assessment -- to what degree of "safer" do I choose to be? A player who has difficulty seeing is less "safe" than one who can see better. A player wearing street spectacles is less "safe" than one wearing sport spectacles. A player wearing proper sport spectacles is about equally "safe" as one who wears no spectacles but in any case a player competing is less "safe" than one sitting on the bench.

Those are the choices.

At what point do you wish to enter the chain of events that will lead to an irreversible eye injury, should the worst happen? I now know, after reading what Ref Weber has to say, where I will enter that chain.

Please look to the acknowledgements on the second page of the 2007 edition of US Soccer's Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game to establish the credibility of Ref Weber, Ref Maloney and myself. The issue of spectacles and safety has been addressed by Ref Weber since 1998 [the first Advice] and to date [30 Aug 2007] US Soccer leaves this to each referee to decide. It is hoped our discussions with you lead you, and other referees, to making a wiser, better informed decision.


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