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Question Number: 30294

Law 3 - Number of Players 4/15/2016

RE: Competitive tournament game Under 19

Ty of Columbus, Ohio United States asks...

Team A leads the game and in 2nd half, subs on every possible opportunity. (About 20 times in the 2nd half) in a deliberate (and succesful) attempt to waste time and protect their lead. Is this legal?

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Ty,
there is a procedure for substitutions. It should be set out in the bylaws of the competition. A substitution can only occur with the permission of the referee as long as all guidelines have been followed. In professional matches they add about 30 seconds for each sub. They will also card if the player exiting try to drag his feet. In youth unlimited it is expected all players being subbed hustle off ( I get them to raise a hand in the air as they can step out anywhere on the FOP) and then those subs in waiting hustle in quickly when waved in by the referee (DO NOT LET THEM RUN IN UNTIL THOSE LEAVING ARE GONE!)as they are at the midline READY before the stoppage & the stoppage is one they are permitted to do so. Often there is NO subs on the other teams possession (unless they too sub) or certain free kicks but again this should be carved in stone in the bylaws. You as referee have carding options if they dilly dally but hopefully you can readjust the additional match time you add for time wasting although I know in tournaments they often try to minimize such things. A team has EVERY right to substitute even in the final seconds as long as the procedures are correctly followed. I have seen referees refuse subs in the final minute thinking time was not stoppable but that is not the case. It is important to grasp that TACTICAL decisions are NOT the responsibility of the referee. We can add time and caution if they get cute. In a 1 goal match I saw a referee wave off a legitimate sub on their own throw in, they lost ball possession, the player they wanted to sub cramped up, failed to defend a counter attack and a goal was scored in under 35 seconds, the match was tied and the referee played a significant part in it! I always point to my watch if a coach gets agitated when teams are swapping and obviously thinking they are using up time I assure the opposing coach/team they are not!


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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Ty
Referees are there to enforce the laws and the rules of competition. It is of no concern to a referee if a team uses the rules in a poor spirit provided the laws or rules are not broken. Even at the highest level we see teams use up their last remaining substitutions to try to run down the clock near the end of the game. All referees can do is add on any time lost for such situations and ensure that players leave the FOP smartly.
What it does point to is that the rules of competition need to be written in such a way is that *legal* unprincipled actions becomes more difficult. For instance I know of some ROCs that do not allow rolling substitution in the last 20 minutes to prevent the very situation you describe. If that was a rule the situation you describe is less likely to happen certainly at the most critical time in the game.
The referee could also advise a team that on rolling substitutions he expects the substitute to be ready when requested and for the leaving player to do so in a reasonably quick fashion which is jogging with no walking. He could also ask the substituted player to cross over the boundary line closest to him and call on the substitute from the half way line immediately. That gets the game restarted reasonably promptly.
Obviously the referee cannot prevent a substitution that is properly requested. He could say miss a request on a quick start by the opponents if it has not been requested in a timely fashion. That then has to wait until the next stoppage for it to be completed.

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Answer provided by Referee James Sowa


If the rules of competition allow for it, it is absolutely legal though not necessarily in the spirit of fair play. As long as the team is following the proper substitution procedure (reporting to the half-line prior to the ball going out of play), all you can do as a referee is add additional time on to the end of the game.

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