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Question Number: 26868

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 10/2/2012

RE: Middle School Under 13

JML of Canonsburg, PA Washington asks...

2 best players on our team brought down physically by feet swiped during play. Intentional (other team celebrating). One player injured, perhaps for rest of season. Penalty called. Isn't intentional misconduct cause of automatic removal from game? This team couldn't win on their own talent so they played dirty to pull of a 3-2 win. Concerned parents wonder why more not done.

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Always a difficult to answer without seeing the game.
When a player has been fouled the referee has to make a decision as to the manner of the challenge. The three judgement levels for a foul are careless, reckless and uses excessive force. Those three terms are subjective and the referee world has always struggled to bring uniformity to referee judgements. I have seen fouls that I considered excessive force interpreted as reckless by referees and vice versa. I did a final at the end of last season and I did not dismiss a player for an aerial challenge that ended up with arm contact to the head. I believed looking at it that it was an accident and I was 5/6 yards from it yet the trail assistant who was 40 yards away said to me after the game that he thought it looked deliberate and a sending off. The Lead assistant who was 10/12 yards agreed with my assessment.
So what are referees asked to assess.
"Careless" means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution. No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
"Reckless" means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent. A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned
"Using excessive force" means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent. A player who uses excessive force must be sent off.
So from what you mention the referee has to make a call on whether a feet swipe is either reckless or using excessive force. Certainly no team should be allowed celebrate a heavy foul challenge on an opponent and that for many referees would result in serious sanction.
As regards why more was not done that can only be answered by the referee concerned. All referees have been in situations where the losing team feel mightily aggrieved by calls or lack off. I did a semi final recently and as far as I was concerned I had a good game yet some on the losing team were sore about a number of calls that were not made late in the game. A number of neutral observers though told me afterwards that they thought the game was well refereed and a number of the losing side and friends also had occasion to say that the game was well handled with little complaint. Yet I do know that a number of players and the coach were 'unhappy' with some of the calls. I gave what I saw and interpreted.

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Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham

Many fouls are simply fouls even if intentional - - no one holds a jersey by accident; and handling is a foul only if deliberate. If, however, the referee judges that a player used excessive force or violence against another, the player should be sent off and shown the red card. If the conduct is tactical or reckless, the player should be cautioned and shown the yellow card.

But, you may have perceived what I think is a trend in soccer. At higher age levels, players can and do accept a much greater level of contact. Referees are trained to allow more contact, and limit when they interrupt play. It enhances the enjoyment of the match and allows the players to develop. But, some referees fail to adjust properly when doing younger matches. They don't call what must be called at U11 even though it can be ignored at U16. The failure to call the small things can often lead to bigger problems.

The converse also can be an issue for parents who became used to seeing everything called at U8 and U10, and discover that greater contact is allowed at middle and high school levels. The wise referee adjusts to what the players are able and willing to handle.

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Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

The question is not whether the offense is intentional, because it is often difficult to determine 'intent'. The question for the referee is whether or not the player has committed one of the offenses set out in Law 12, which includes items like violent conduct, unsporting behavior (these are misconduct actions) and/or whether or not the player has committed a direct or indirect free kick offense - all of those require the referee to observe what has happened and then to determine if it meets the criteria four a foul and/or a misconduct.

The swiping of the feet sounds like a tripping or kicking foul, and if done with sufficient violence (in the judgment of the referee) could well be a sending off in addition to the DFK or PK award. It could also have been reckless, meaning it is done without sufficient regard for the safety of the opponent, in which case a caution is issued in addition to the DFK or PK award, or a simple careless tackle which is a foul only, or an injury can occur even when no foul or misconduct has occurred. Just because an injury, even a serious one, has occurred does not always mean a foul or sending off/ red card offense has occurred.

The U13-14 age groups and below are often difficult for referees as they may lack the knowledge or the courage to issue a red card to a player - no matter how well deserved, or, as Ref Wickham notes, the referee may be used to more skilled levels of play where more vigorous contact is expected and tolerated by the players.

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