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Question Number: 31725

Law 5 - The Referee 8/21/2017

RE: Under 18

john of new orleans, la usa asks...

I'm curious as to what your crew thinks about interacting with fans as a referee. As a youth referee obviously we deal a lot with parents on the sideline right a few yards from the field and directly behind one of the ARs.

For me personally, I never interact with parents. Whether that is as a center referee listening to parents complain about my calls, or as an AR having them complain about my calls, or even asking me the score, how much time is left, etc, I never acknowledge or interact with them except for saying 'back off the line' or something similar. Even as an AR, if parents are verbally abusive to me, I do not care, I ignore them and don't let the center referee know.

The only time I take action with parents is if they are using verbal swear words or I see them verbally assaulting an QR who is clearly being affected by it, at which point I will use a modified 'ask tell remove' with coaching staff. First I tell the coach to go over and ask the parents to stop. If they do not stop, I stop the game and make the coach send his parents away from the field, and if he refuses I will send him off (never had to do this).

Some referees I see interact with parents, saying things like 'Do you want to go home?' or 'You can watch from the parking lot' or even sending parents away themselves.

Curious as to what your team thinks about the best way to handle unruly spectators is (whether they be a few yards away, in the stands, etc)

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi John
Referees should rarely if ever engage with spectators and that should be left to the home club to deal with.
That could be modified if the referee knows that the spectator 'belongs' to that club and the coaching staff could be asked to deal with the situation nvolvings its own spectator. However bear in mind that the referee has no powers over spectators nor has the away club any legal powers other than persuasion.
Now the one exception I would take in your approach is that coaching staff should not be held accountable for the actions of spectators. So unless the coach has acted in an irresponsible manner himself then he should not be dismissed. There can be reasons why a coach may not want to get involved with a particular spectator/s and the referee has to respect that. The home club has ultimate responsibility as it is the club's ground and it can ask anyone to leave its ground that it does not want to be there. The coach can and should be told that unless the offending behaviour stops or if a repeat that the person leaves then the game will not restart so it then places the onus on the club officials rather than the referee to sort it out.
I had one of these a few seasons ago where there was unruly behaviour between 3/4 spectators among themselves in the spectating area and I went to the home club officials to ask them to sort it as it was interfering with the game and the young players. They initially refused citing that it was an away supporter that was causing the problem. I told them that it was up to them to sort it out as it was their ground and to engage with the away club to deal with it otherwise I was going home. A combination of officials from both clubs got it sorted and the game resumed. I had no need to get directly involved which is the *best*way to handles these situations

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi John,
it is sad when those who are invested in the welfare of youth be it fans, coaches, parents, family members or officials of a game wind up at odds when they should ALL be on the same side, setting the example for our youth to good conduct & respectful attitudes of fair play & sportsmanship.

I suspect that for most officials remaining apart from interaction with spectators is better than direct interaction with spectators as generally the opportunity for things to go bad is increased exponentially with confrontation. In large theatres where there are stands and considerable separation unless there was physical throwing of objects or outrageous screaming & ranting I find less reason to intervene as I might when there is closer proximity and affect on a local park pitch

I am in agreement with you that approaching the coaches with spectator or supporter issues is the correct way to deal with many unruly or crowd issues as is a direct appeal to security if they are in attendance. It is a big deal to be FORCED to stop a match and wait until things calm down or the problem person agrees to leave or stop before we restart. It is uncomfortable albeit necessary and one can only hope the message sent is received to quell further issues!

Tolerate ZERO abuse to ARs /4th or any direct interaction towards players not only physical but attitudes and call outs that suggest racism. intolerance or foul and abusive language .

I am not a fan of threatening a reasonable coach that I will expel him due to behaviour of an unruly parent or spectator unless his attitude is supportive of the abuse and he refuses to assist me in dealing with the culprit. I WILL hold anyone within the technical area responsible for their behaviour and approach them directly. I certainly do not want the coach to forcibly remove anyone only tell them they are creating a disturbance and need to leave or be quiet depending on the need of the referee !

I do tend to think how we interact is partially based on how strong the association you belong to supports those who are active within their league. Are there codes of conduct signed ? By the parents, coaches players etc.. Are there co operative meetings to discuss and set policy with ALL participants in attendance? Is there security to enforce field behaviour? I recall local RCMP being willing to show up if a call went out to remove ANY disturbance at a youth soccer match if a person failed to abide by the policies stated as field guidelines as reasonable behaviour.

Tournaments are often easier for crowd control as there are a host of authority figures around and regulations and rules laid out make it very clear of consequences for teams should they fail to act accordingly, unlike a local park match where referee maybe all alone on the pitch surrounded by 100 or so uncooperative fans who are unwilling to step in and help with calming an unruly individual or two down.

I personally interact quite well given my character and propensity to teach as I am candid in approaching spectators prior to matches asking if they have questions, I often explain offside angles of view foul recognition what I accept or do not accept as reasonable conduct, making sure they set up far enough away from my ARS so not to impinge their abilities or affect the players safety by setting up too close to the touchlines. No spectators were allowed to set up in behind the goal and we used to have the teams on one side of the pitch located in technical area forbidden to be used by spectators, team personal only, with their corresponding spectators on the opposite side of the field .One thing I used to do was ask the spectators from one team to pick the player from the opposing team who best exemplified true sportsmanship in playing the game . This helped them with their own conduct or so I chose to think anyway.

I have directly approached a parent or two and conversed with the crowd on occasion but then my personality and demeanour is what it is. I do not recommend others do as I do. Instinct and an awareness or a feel for what can or needs to be done to head off a lousy situation with some well timed humour or a pressure relieving comment comes with experience or can get you into trouble there is always an element of risk in anything we choose to do or not do.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi John,
I agree with my colleagues that as a general rule it is better for referees to avoid interacting directly with spectators. Certainly at the highest levels, for example professional leagues and international matches, a referee cannot control the fans. On the other end of the scale, for example in a friendly match between youth teams or in a local recreational league where the referee might even know some of the parents/spectators watching the match, a small amount of interaction could be OK if handled carefully and could even (dare I say) be enjoyable. However those kinds of games are fairly few and far between.

When it comes to action over spectator misbehaviour, it should always be left to the home club to take the necessary steps to control them. The Laws do not give the referee any authority in this area and in my opinion it is not wise to attempt to get involved with unruly fans.

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