Beware of bad referee advice peddled on the internet!

We designed and developed this website because we found that, even though the internet was full of websites catering to soccer enthusiasts, majority of them did not provide the kind of in depth, comprehensive and accurate information and analysis about the game generally and refereeing in particular that we believed fans of the beautiful game were looking for.

We applaud those who strive to provide informative and helpful information to the refereeing community. We can’t, however, stand idly by when we come across those websites that peddle horribly bad refereeing advice. We think that our – referees’ job – is already difficult enough and does not need to be complicated further or made more challenging by those who spread confusion, bad information, and plainly bad advice.

Consider the following “advice” that we and others received from the

A reader wanted to know whether it is “a yellow card offense when a goalkeeper attempts to kick the ball into play (from his hands) at the edge of the box and I jump up (5 meters outside of the box) to block the kick.”

Referee Gary Voshol responded that “it is an indirect free kick for interfering with the goalkeeper’s release of the ball.” This much Mr. Voshol got right. Under Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct, an indirect free kick must be awarded to the opposing team if a player “prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.” In its interpretation, IFAB added that “it is an offence for a player to prevent a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.”

When we pointed out, however, that once the offense meets the criteria for “unsporting behavior” and caution is required, Mr. Voshol admonished us, stating that “neither the Laws of the Game nor Advice to Referees [on the Laws of the Game] mandate that preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball is unsporting behavior.” Mr. Voshol’s opinion was backed by another purveyor of referee advice, Keith Contarino, who unequivocally stated that we were “simply wrong” as “preventing the keeper from releasing the ball in and of itself is NOT USB [unsporting behavior] anywhere in the world and certainly has never been published as such by FIFA or USSF.” Mr. Contarino also added that “the concept of ‘mandatory cautions’ has been largely done away with [in] the past 7-8 years.” In this same vein, another advisor from the, Joe McHugh, commented that “’mandatory’ or ‘discretionary’ cautions is often discussed among referees and even on the mandatory one referees will always be able to exercise discretion.”

Contrary to the advice of Mr. Voshol and Mr. Contarino, who both described themselves as current USSF referees, the United States Soccer Federation explicitly stated that interfering with or preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball is a cautionable offense.

In fact, in the Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, in the section 12.28.1 UNSPORTING BEHAVIOR, USSF listed specific actions that it considered cautionable as unsporting behavior and, among actions listed as cautionable was a player “interfer[ing] with or prevent[ing] the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands into play.” There is no ambiguity about it. Under USSF’s current interpretations of the Laws of the Game, a referee must caution a player who interferes with or prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball into play as this type of offense, in and of itself, is considered by USSF as unsporting behavior.

In addition to the clear directives to caution these types of offenses against goalkeepers contained in the Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, the United States Soccer Federation also issued a memorandum titled 7 Cautionable + 7 Sending-off Offenses in 2009. In that memorandum, Mr. Paul Tamberino, Director of Referee Development, and Mr. Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, reiterated that “a player is cautioned and shown the yellow card for committing” unsporting behavior when he “interferes with or prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands into play.”

Accordingly, despite Mr. Voshol’s and Mr. Contarino’s convictions and contrary to their counsel, there is no doubt that interfering with and/or preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball into play is a cautionable offense under the United States Soccer Federation’s interpretations of the Laws of the Game. Any advice to contrary is plainly wrong.

Our criticism of the advice provided by Mr. Voshol and Mr. Contarino stems from the fact that they claimed that the United States Soccer Federation did not consider that type conduct as a cautionable offense. As noted above, the Federation explicitly determined that interfering with or preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball into play is unsporting behavior which merits automatic caution. Mr. Voshol and Mr. Contarino, as current USSF referees, should have known better or research the issue before giving their advice on this subject matter.

The advisors compounded their erroneous advice by counseling that so-called “mandatory” cautions are, in fact, discretionary. But that clearly is not the case. To be crystal clear, cautions/yellow cards that the Laws of the Game state referees must issue are compulsory. To put in a different way, they are required and once an offense meets criteria for a mandatory caution, it must be punished with the yellow card.

When FIFA’s Laws of the Game state that “a player must be cautioned for unsporting behavior,” they direct or require that the referee caution the offending player for unsporting behavior. To state the obvious, ”must” means to be obliged or required. It is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as “an imperative need or duty.” In other words, when the Laws of the Game provide that the referee must do something, he/she has no discretion to do otherwise. He/she must do that which is commanded. That is his/her duty!

While it is true that referees retain a lot of discretion to determine whether an offense occurred in the first place or whether any particular infringement met the criteria for one of the seven cautionable offenses, once the referee decides that a particular conduct constituted, for example, unsporting behavior, he/she must punish it with the yellow card because the mode of punishment for unsporting behavior was specified by the Laws of the Game and is therefore outside of the referee’s discretion.

The advice that was offered to us and others on the relating to this particular subject matter was simply wrong. Naturally, this type of advice is disappointing especially since it was given by our fellow referees. We are mindful that even reasonable people will disagree and we welcome a good debate about the Laws of the Game (as evidenced in our Referee Forum). However, we decided to “intervene” here because it is one thing to have differences of opinion about whether certain conduct constitutes an offense (e.g. reckless foul v. careless foul) but it is entirely another matter to incorrectly claim what the Laws of the Game are (e.g. that unsporting behavior need not be punished with caution or that mandatory cautions are optional).

UPDATE FROM THE EDITORS: SoccerRefereeUSA reached out to and spoke with Mr. Alfred Kleinaitis, currently Referee Education Resources Advisor with the United States Soccer Federation, one of the co-authors of the USSF memo referenced above, who confirmed that mandatory caution is required for all conduct defined as “unsporting behavior.”

Categories: Laws of the Game

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