Something remarkable happened after Mr. Adam Garner, the far-side Assistant Referee in the Toronto v. DC United match, indicated that a foul was committed. And no, we are not talking about the excellent decision by the Referee Ted Unkel who waived off Mr. Garner’s foul signal and allowed play to continue, which ultimately resulted in a goal. No, we are not talking about that here although Mr. Unkel’s decision does deserve praise. Instead, we are talking about Professional Referee Organization heaping praise on the Assistant Referee Garner for supposedly “correctly” signaling for a free-kick and “encourag[ing] ARs to take responsibility when foul challenges occur within their area” without any regard to – nay, in clear contradiction of – the express provisions of the FIFA Laws of the Game, directives issued by IFAB and advise provided by the United States Soccer Federation.
As shown in the video below, in the 67th minute of the game, Mr. Garner signaled that a foul was committed by a DC United defender. The video, and the picture above, also show that Referee Unkel, having an unobstructed view of the entire incident, applied advantage and thus allowed play to continue. Ultimately, Toronto’s Mark Bloom caught up to the loose ball and sent it into the box to an unmarked Bright Dike who volleyed it for a goal. According to PRO, Mr. Garner’s decision to signal for a free-kick should be praised, and indeed encouraged, because he is taking “responsibility” for fouls occurring within his area and is providing the referee with an option to either award a free-kick or play advantage.” The praise and the encouragement, however, are not only unwarranted but also contradict the FIFA Laws of the Game. They also controvert the USSF’s advice to referees.
According to Law 6 of the Laws of the Game, subject to the decision of the referee, assistant referees duties include, among others, to indicate “when misconduct or any other incident occurs out of the view of the referee.” (Emphasis added.) In addition, IFAB’s interpretations of the Laws of the Game state that, “before signaling for an offence, the assistant referee must determine that:
- the offence was out of the view of the referee or the referee’s view was obstructed
- the referee would not have applied the advantage if he had seen the offence”
In line with the FIFA Laws of the Game and IFAB’s interpretations, the USSF Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, section 6.3 titled “No Signal for Fouls Observed by the Referee,” also emphasized that “Assistant referees should not signal at all for fouls or misconduct that clearly occur in the sight of the referee, that are doubtful or trifling, or for which the referee would likely have applied advantage.”
As the Laws of the Game and the above-referenced interpretations clearly provide, determining whether a foul was committed is an initial step that an assistant referee must perform. After deciding that a foul has been committed, the Assistant Referee must then determine whether the foul occurred out of the referee’s view. If the foul occurred in the referee’s sight, the Assistant Referee must keep his flag down. If the referee’s view was obstructed, however, then he/she must determine whether the referee would apply advantage. And only after deciding that the referee would not apply advantage, the Assistant Referee is authorized to signal for a foul.
Our analysis of the incident shows that, assuming that Mr. Garner correctly determined that the foul was committed, he failed to take into account all other required factors before raising his flag. First, he failed to notice that the referee had an unobstructed view of the entire incident. Secondly, even if Mr. Garner believed that the referee’s view was somehow obstructed (and it wasn’t), he should have then considered whether the referee would likely have applied advantage (which the referee did). By signaling for the foul that occurred in the referee’s view and disregarding the very likelihood that the referee would play advantage, Mr. Garner improperly usurped the referee’s authority. Thus, it is rather odd, to put it mildly, that PRO chose this situation as an example of good teamwork between the officiating crew.
In praising Mr. Garner and advising referees to follow his example, PRO carelessly misapplies the Laws of the Game and shows unnecessary confusion about the proper interpretation and application of the Laws of the Game. PRO emphasized that by signaling for the foul, Mr. Garner took “responsibility” and provided “options” to the referee. To begin with, however, PRO confuses taking responsibility with usurping the referee’s authority. After all, as described above, Mr. Garner was not authorized to signal for the foul under the circumstances. Thus, praising someone for taking “responsibility” for something that he is not authorized to do makes little, if any, sense.
In addition, assistant referees do not provide “options” to the referee but rather their proper function is to “ASSIST” the referee. Make no mistake: providing options or choices, which can lead to conflicting signals, is no assistance at all. In fact, as those who have been doing this for a very long time can attest, conflicting signals between the refereeing crew lead only to trouble. Thus, instead of providing “options” or choices to the referees, assistant referees should focus on making the right calls when authorized to do so.
It is truly remarkable that PRO, an organization responsible for administering professional referee programs in the United States and Canada, can be so fundamentally wrong about the application of the Laws of the Game.