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Question Number: 33693

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 10/7/2019

RE: Rec Under 15

Michael Bruckwick of Silver Spring, MD United States asks...

A player - 13 years old - loudly said to a teammate 'George, getting to the f**king ball' about 20 minutes into a match. The player who said it did not have a foul yet, or a yellow card, and had not been spoken to by the referee. Should the player who said it, in a 'normal and usual call by the ref': be spoken to by the ref no matter what, and: no foul? foul? yellow card? red card?

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Michael,
Under the IFAB's Laws of the Game, swearing in and of itself is not an offence. However, using ''offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures'' is. So the calculation for the referee is whether in context, the words or gestures used, are offensive, insulting or abusive - which would require a red card, something slightly less (probably classified as unsporting behaviour) which would lead to a yellow card or indeed, something that only requires a word of warning.

In the context of a school-age game, for me this would call for at minimum, a word of warning to the player to watch their language.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone


If this was in a high school game, this would be considered incidental use of vulgar or profane language (NFHS Rule 12-8-1d).

The player would be cautioned (yellow card) and would have to leave the game.

I hope this helps and your team has a successful season.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Michael
Referee Manjone has given the NFHS answer to this. I would make the point that what the player had done or not done so far in a game makes little difference to a call.
Now the answer differs somewhat in a FIFA game. IFAB realized many years ago that the use of swear words was on the increase and had crept into everyday usage.
As a result punishment for specifically using bad (foul) language was taken out of the Laws of the Game in season 1997/1998 as a red card offence following a complete rewrite of the Laws. The wording of the sending-off offence was changed from 'uses foul or abusive language', to 'uses offensive, insulting or abusive language'.
So a referee is asked to opine whether the words, context, tone etc constitutes offensive, insulting and abusive and that is a judgement call based on the tolerance level of the referee.
A referee if he so wishes can consider it to be unsporting behaviour which is a caution. As poor language has increased so to has the acceptance of it with many refs choosing to not yellow card for it yet may have a word such as to mind ones language.
In addition the only reasonable guideline that a Referee can use, is to adhere to the level of tolerance used in his locality, or in this case a school setting
There is little point in an individual Referee ignoring profanity if expected to deal with it through the strict application of the Rules. On the other hand if profanity is rarely punished then a referee can be somewhat of an outlier if he is the only official dealing with it in a locale.

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