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Question Number: 24710

Law 9 - The Ball in and out of Play 3/21/2011

RE: Rec Under 19

Bob of Sydney, NSW Australia asks...

Can I award a free kick without having first blown my whistle to stop play?
This sounds a bit of a weird one but let me explain.

This was a heated U18's cup game with the score at one all, 10 minutes to go. A defender and attacker collide inside the penalty box and go to ground. The defender exaggerates his fall and spread eagles himself across the ball scooping it closer to his body, writhing in apparent agony. The defending team all shout 'foul' and the attackers shout 'penalty.'My initial intention after the collision was to let play continue but after the clear use of hands I blew my whistle. I gave the defender his free kick which was minor at best. He made a remarkable recovery and took the kick himself.
The attacking team's coach complained afterwards saying that I only blew after the handling of the ball and not for initial contact which occurred 2-3 seconds earlier. I must confess he was probably right. Was this the right decision?

Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

Technically, no. The question you have to answer before blowing the whistle and giving a free kick is whether or not there was an offense. From your description, you did not feel an offense had been committed, so you have few choices.

Either loudly announce 'NOTHING THERE!!' so the teams know to keep playing or blow your whistle to have the defender examined as 'clearly' he is injured. The restart becomes a dropped ball at that point, unless you decide he is not injured but is feigning an injury - an IDFK restart after the issuance of a caution for USB.

The attacking team's coach had a legitimate question since you apparently had not made up your mind about what happened or what you would choose to do BEFORE blowing your whistle. Nonetheless, a referee is entitled to hold a whistle to see what happens next before ending that phase of play if need be, so take the question in the spirit offered and learn.

Awarding the defense the kick tells me you decided that the defender was fouled, but felt he cheated after having made the decision. The answer to the coach in that case is 'I saw an offense but hadn't had time to blow the whistle before the handling occurred. Play stops when I make the decision, not when the whistle blows.' A collision doesn't mean an offense occurred or that play should stop, as you clearly understand.

Whether you made the right decision or not depends on your answer regarding whether an offense actually occurred. Only you know the answer to that.

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Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham

You decided that contact was not a foul by the attacker and then stopped play when immediately after the contact the defender handled the ball.

Can you change you mind about whether the first contact was a foul?

Yes. Since play was not restarted, the referee has the power to change a decision about the first contact from 'no foul' to 'foul.' Indeed, the grabbing of the ball is consistent with players who believe they were the victim of a foul. Defenders do not do that in the penalty box by accident.

Should you change your mind?

The longer between contact and your decision to blow the whistle, the less likely you can maintain credibility. Changing your mind always is controversial. The players usually can tell that you were indecisive, and that incites them to dissent (hoping you might change your mind back again).

In this case, the actual time that elapsed on the field was probably very short. As Ref Maloney notes, a good explanation why it looked odd can help you regain credibility with the coach and players. It also deflects the notion that you were indecisive (even if you were). This event requires you to appear 100 percent confident in explaining what you did. The coach still wants the penalty kick, but probably will respect the decision if you are very calm and confident in it.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Bob
The use of the whistle is only the signal to stop play. The referee makes his decision and then stops play with the use of the whistle. There can be a clear delay between the decision and the signal.
In this case you had to decide what was the correct call. If it was not a foul on the defender then the correct call was deliberate handling. If it was a foul on the defender then the deliberate handling is irrelevant. Even if its a minor foul it is still a foul. Only you can make that call.
Reads to me like the defender made the decision for you.

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