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Question Number: 21657

Law 5 - The Referee 7/15/2009

RE: Select Under 15

David of Corona, California USA asks...

I was center ref at a tournament game, when a fight broke out. I quickly ran to the two combatants with whistle blasting and broke it up. Gave the two girls that where throwing punches the appropriate red exit card. However, a senior ref that was one of the coaches called me over. Told me the reds were deserved, but informed me that I should never directly break up a fight. I had never heard that, and figuring I'm there to preserve order and protect the players I felt it was my duty. Is a ref not supposed to actually break up a fight? I could understand if the people fighting had been large 18 year old boys that might have taken me out, but otherwise I felt I did the right thing. What is the correct course of action, assumming I don't have any security at the match?

Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham

The USSF published a very helpful guide to identifying, preventing and dealing with fighting and other forms of 'mass confrontation.'

It can be downloaded from the US Soccer website. A key part is quoted below:

'Once mass confrontation among opponents arises, a member of the referee team must get there immediately to prevent escalation. For each step you are late, it allows one more player to participate.

? Separate and disperse

The first official on the scene should work to carefully separate the immediate players. Once three or more players enter the scene, the referee should step back and observe the situation. The two assistant referees should also take a vantage point to observe the actions of the players while the fourth official maintains his position and monitors the bench area unless he can get to the scene sooner than the bench side AR. If this is the case, the bench side AR assumes the duties of the fourth official. This procedure forms a triangle (the "triangle of control" as diagramed to the right) around the confrontation and maximizes the sight angles from which to monitor the situation and gather information. As the situation settles, officials should attempt to channel opposing players into safe zones away from the hot spot in a positive, non-threatening manner.

? Observe and prevent others from joining in

All four officials should not focus on the same hot spot or become too
involved in gaining control of the situation. As stated above, form a triangle around the situation, observe, and make notes (mental and otherwise). Look for positive ways to prevent other players from joining in as these players often add "fuel to the fire."

Note: I always advise teenager referees to keep back from a fight and use voice and whistle to keep the third person into the mix. . For older (and bigger) referees, the time to separate players is when there is a break in the fighting and the goal is to keep it from resuming. Don't try to separate players while they are still swinging punches. It is too common for a punch to be thrown at anyone who is close to the action.

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Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

I'm not sure what you mean by 'broke it up'. If you meant running in, whistle blowing, and using your presence and voice to cause them to stop, that's all good, and as it should be.

If you meant you waded in, and physically separated them with your hands or arms, that's a bit dicier. It is always risky when you're male and they are female, and carries all kinds of hidden explosives. Any referee, though, who lays hands on youth players is playing with fire.

If all you did was step between them, assuming there was space, while blowing the whistle, to convince them to cease and desist, and they did - that's cool. But I heartily agree with Ref Wickham - do NOT step in while punches are being thrown! I've seen too many referees clocked for this, and it just adds fuel to the conflagration!

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Answer provided by Referee Keith Contarino

While your instincts are good, any adult touching a youth player, especially of the other sex is asking for a world of trouble. Yelling at them and blowing the whistle and stepping between them is fine. If punches are being thrown, stay out of the way or you might get clobbered

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Answer provided by Referee Steve Montanino

You did fine, but you have to be very careful about putting yourself in between two flighting players because you will most certainly be struck. Do not touch youth players either!

Get to a place to observe, use the whistle, yell to them... the most important thing is preventing a 3rd player from joining in and you will want to maintain order with the other 20 players and the benches. If you jump into the fistacuffs you will not be able to prevent other people from involving themselves.

Just stay back a few yards and record what happens. Once order is restored, display the reds, and get on with it.

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