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Question Number: 31635

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 7/7/2017

RE: rec select Under 19

gary of nashua, nh usa asks...

I know its proper to send off a player for using abusive language at me directly. Would it be proper to send off a player for using improper language not in my general direction but with aggression or loudness? Can someone elaborate on the dimensions of AL and the red card merit? ty

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Gary
Thanks for the question and the answer is yes.
Law 12 states that it is a sending off offence to use offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures. Nothing more than that. That language or gesture does not have to be directed at a match official yet it can be towards anyone which includes an opponent, team mate etc or for that matter just shouted out loud in no particular direction.
It is at the referees discretion to decide if words, context and tone used are offensive or insulting or abusive. It makes no difference if the words used are to a referee, a team mate or a spectator.
Now we know that due to the accepted increase and tolerance of foul language in general society, it was deemed quite a number of years ago in 1997 by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) that foul language alone, was no longer to be automatically punished with a sending off. Referees are now expected to judge when the words actually constituted (or contributed to) an offence or not which can be a caution for USB or a sending off for OFFINABUS. In other words, it may not be the words only that create an offence in this more tolerant society, but both the words used and / or the manner in which they are delivered and meant. If the words alone are deemed offensive, insulting, abusive in their own right and heard by the referee then it is a red card with the referee being the sole judge of that. Certain words that are deemed to be racist, of sexual content etc are an automatic red card with serious further sanction.
I found this word map by former referee Julian Carosi as helpful. Though perhaps not prescriptive it does give a sense of what is a caution, a dismissal or simply having a word.
So if a player shouts out loud to himself something that is deemed by the referee to be offensive, insulting or abusive then he has to be dismissed. He can say *Oh I was speaking to a team mate, myself or whoever* yet that makes no difference. A player simply cannot use offensive language and behave in that manner in the game and expect not to be sanctioned with a red card.
For example a player speaks to the referee and says that *F&%& off Ref that was never a foul*. That might depending on the manner it is said result in a caution or it could be a red card. In the same situation a loud *F&%~& off you W%$#$R* loudly and nastily apparently at no one would be a red card.
When reporting the dismissal the words and context are fully spelt out in the report so that the disciplinary panel know exactly what was said and how it was said.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Gary,
The Laws of the Game do not specify that offensive, insulting or abusive language or gestures (aka OFFINABUS) are only to be penalised if directed at the referee. It merely states that a player should be dismissed for using them. So as Ref McHugh says, it doesn't matter who they were directed at, they can still be grounds for dismissal, based on the referee's decision.

The now-discontinued USSF Advice to Referees was for me, something of a mixed bag but I thought it did have some fairly good advice on judging OFFINABUS, as follows:

''The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content (the specific words or actions used), the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In other words, the referee must watch for language that is Personal, Public, or Provocative. In evaluating language as misconduct, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary emotional outburst.

Referees must take care not to inject purely personal opinions as to the nature of the language when determining a course of action. The referee's primary focus must be on the effective management of the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game.''

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