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Question Number: 29564

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 7/28/2015

RE: Rec Adult

Robin of Ottawa, Ont Canada asks...

My friend and I have a disagreement that we are going to let you settle:
Our sons play on the same team. A couple of players on the team have an extreme fondness for the F-word as an adjective. "Great F-ing pass", "Nice F-ing shot"... Of course if they miss the net on a shot the F-word rings out across the field. This word is not used towards an opponent or the referee, but it is yelled out often during a game.
My friend says that since it is not directed towards the referee or opponent there is no foul. I say it is unsporting behaviour and is cautionable. I say it falls under "acts in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game".
Am I right or just being a prude?

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Robin

It is certainly not a foul as fouls have to committed against opponents. It can though be misconduct which is a caution and an IDFK restart.
Prior to 1997 it was written in the Laws that it was a sending off offence if a player used foul or abusive language. With the increased use of foul language in every day life the law was not enforced uniformly and in 1997 the wording was changed to uses offensive, insulting or abusive language. In 2000 gestures was added and that is what we have today.
Now typically if foul language is used towards a player or the referee the referee can decide to caution the player for unsporting behaviour or for dissent. If the referee deems the words to be offensive, insulting or abusive then it is a sending off.
In the example you cite where players use the words as expressions the referee would be well entitled to tell the players that he does not want to hear loud swear words. If a player ignored that instruction the referee could deem that as dissent which is a caution.
Now I know some referees who just do not like swearing and sanction same with a caution for unsporting behaviour. USB covers a myriad of offences and you quote one of them. It is however at the discretion of the referee and it all depends on the attitude of the referee to swearing. One referee will ignore it, another will give a warning with a repeat being a caution and others may caution for USB without warning.

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Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham


The issue is whether the language should be punished by the referee. Law 12 allows a referee to caution (and show a yellow card) to a player for unsporting behavior; it also allows the referee to send off (and show a red card) to a player who uses offensive, abusive or insulting language or gestures. When and whether the referee should card a player is a more challenging decision for the refeee.

The age and skill level of the players matter greatly in how the referee responds to the action - even when it is not directed to a teammate, opponent, or official. Virtualy every youth league wants no such language on their fields. It is likely to be cautioned as unsporting behavior when it is loud enough to be heard by spectators. It is likely to be a send off when the language is directed at another person. (E.g., 'you' , followed by almost any verb followed by the notorious adjective or adverb.) It is rarely ignored.

In an adult recreational league, the referee needs to be mindful of three things: is it adversely affecting the opponents? is it something the league wants to allow? Are there young children present? In my area, the local men's league is not concerned about the word as an adjective and has no tolerance when it is used as an insult to another person. What shouldn't matter, IMO, is whether the referee likes, hates, or is agnostic about the language. My experience, however, is that even the worst offenders will say sorry and adapt when they realize (helped by the referee) that there are young kids watching off the field.

I remember one of my first adult matches- an adult league with lots of immigrants. One of the players shouted, 'pass the f*^*&! ball.' I told him to watch his language. A few minutes later, he shouted 'get #%$ open, man.' At a stoppage in play, I went to the captain, and told him that I didn't want to have to send off #6, but he needed to watch his language. The captain nodded, and then shouted at his teammate 'Shut your @#$@$# mouth!.'

I learned to adapt.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Robin,

Free speech is it not a wonderful euphemism! The right to say publically anything you feel is important without fear of not being permitted to say it! Free has a price! You as referee are the arbitrator of that freedom
Essentially you and your friend are both correct it is not a ...foul... to say a foul word but it is ...possible.... such outbursts can be classified as ...MISCONDUCT... and punishable as USB yellow card or a red card and SEND OFF for OFFINABUS. If ITOOTR you deem certain language, actions or gestures as unacceptable thereby setting the tolerance bar at perhaps a higher prude scale than another referee for what is OFFINABUS, send off and red cardable or USB caution and yellow cardable, players will have to alter their behaviour or risk the consequences. Your Match Your Decision and YOUR REPUTATION!!!

You are asking when is it required we strip that free speech right on the soccer pitch as a matter of moral certainty, integrity or discretion? The LOTG do allow the referee to send off (and show a red card) to a player who ...uses... offensive, abusive or insulting language or gestures. There even maybe written bylaws within the ROC (rules of competition) or league or association that request the conduct and behaviour of players conform to a more structured emotional condition where you are requested to apply a hardline approach to any PUBLIC outburst of what is traditionally thought of as FOUL language. To caution for USB or to caution for 'acts in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game requires the referee to be in agreement that this behaviour REQUIRES intervention. I believe for example in USA NFHS high school soccer rules there is a low tolerance for outbursts of a vulgar nature and they fully EXCPECT the referee to not let such outbursts go unchallenged.

Make NO mistake, the PERSONAL touch where the comments, gestures and attitudes are directed at ...YOU... specifically, these outbursts are weighed in favour of applying the LOTG EXACTLY as it is written in LAW 12 of the send off criteria. So too, when comments of a base nature might be directed at others, particularly the opposition or spectators! We are a bit more lenient if such comments of an angry pep talk railing teammate to play harder might be forgiven and often more amused when directed at themselves as an expression of disappointment. SOLID undeniable abuse is RARELY if EVER to be tolerated however, as my colleagues point out, learning to adapt to the need or necessity to react does play a large part in how we approach such a topic, interdependent on the appropriateness, age, actions undertaken and the direction or guidelines one operates under .

We ...KNOW... when such creative euphemisms are shouted or spoken aloud they are at times ill considered but we also realize emotional outbursts, disappointment and even having a difference of opinion on a call you believe is 100% wrong, outrageous or plain incredible with NO recourse but to accept it! Do we PUNISH a moment of weakness or inconsideration of some incoherent mumblings and the occasional not so incoherent ambiguity of the spoken language as to the effect and need to do so given the reasons and situation in that such utterances are water off a ducks back to some and considered as outrageous by another?

There is grammatical complexity in the such things as the use of the F bomb, it is a verb,, noun, adjective, adverb, etc.. as are other swear or foul sounding words that can be used in almost every informal situation and to express any emotion. What is essential to evaluate is the tone of voice used, the words surrounding it , the situation it is used in and if it is a personal attack against ones character or personage! What is said is far less important than why!

Although I do have sympathy for a player acting less then gentlemanly at times understanding his view of the match rarely matches my own, I do subscribe to a warning system if there is reason to keep a lid on the expletives!
to ask (politely please refrain from such outbursts there are kids about!)
to tell (I am warning you stop such outbursts there could be consequences)
to do (well here is a consequence) caution show yellow card for USB or too graphic and we show red card and send off for OFFINABUS


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Answer provided by Referee Ben Mueller

Language is at the discretion of the referee. It is not a foul but would only be misconduct. Every referee will look at this different and there is no right way to do this. In my game it is a stern talking to after the word cones out but no card.

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