As it often happens with the Cup fixtures, the Swansea City v. Chelsea game was hugely entertaining and did not lack suspense and drama. Late in the game in this semi-final cup match, the ball went out of play over Swansea’s goal line for a goal kick. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was the closest to the ball and, his team being down 2-0 on the aggregate and out of the Capital One Cup at that point, rushed to the ball with the intent to put it back into play as quickly as possible. The ball, however, had rolled into the possession of one of Swansea’s ball boys who appeared very reluctant (or too slow to Hazard’s liking) to release the ball. Not being in the mood to waste any of the remaining precious time, Hazard toppled the boy over who fell on top of the ball but continued to hold on to it. In an attempt to get the ball from the ball boy’s possession, clearly frustrated Hazard pushed and pulled the boy in order to roll him over and off the ball but – having failed to do so – Hazard lifted his leg and appeared to kick the boy in the ribs. At this point, even though the ball rolled from underneath the boy’s body, the boy was now clutching his side in agony and pointing angrily at Hazard. As if nothing happened, Hazard picked the ball up and set it up for Swansea’s goal kick. By this time, however, Swansea’s players were swarming around Hazard and tending to the “wounded” ball boy. While the video footage was not completely conclusive, Hazard appeared to concede that he kicked the boy and stated in his brief statement after the game that “he was attempting to kick the ball and think he got the ball and a little bit of the boy too.”
During this incident it appeared that FIFA referee Chris Foy did not witness the incident as he was positioning himself for Swansea’s goal kick. As the entire incident occurred on his side of the field, FIFA assistant referee, Simon Bennett, saw everything (and – we are assuming – communicated his observations via radio to Mr. Foy). As the roar from Swansea’s fans grew louder and the players were congregating around the goal line, pushing and shoving each other, Mr. Foy calmly restored the order by getting the facts from Chelsea’s captain Frank Lampard as well as the soon-to-be-found-guilty Hazard.
In issuing the red card and dismissing Hazard, Mr. Foy followed unambiguous directions of the Laws of the Game. In particular, Law 12 states that “a player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits … violent conduct.” The IFAB’s Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees further explain that a player “is also guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against a team-mate, spectator, match ofﬁcial or any other person.” What’s more, “violent conduct may occur either on the ﬁeld of play or outside its boundaries, whether the ball is in play or not.” Mr. Foy handled the entire incident in a professional manner and, given the unambiguous guidance from IFAB, was left with only one choice and properly awarded the red card.
There truly can be no room for controversy over the referee’s decision following the incident. However, some things should not go unnoticed. For one, the one job that the ball boy was there to do – to get the ball to players as soon as possible in order to minimize time-wasting – he failed at it miserably. Was he deliberately delaying the restart and intentionally provoking Hazard? Well, considering his actions and that he twitted before the game that he would be “needed for time wasting”, it was evident that he intentionally provoked Hazard. Some observers certainly thought so and condemned both Hazard’s and the ball-boy’s actions. For example, it was reported that Michael Owen, England’s former international striker, wrote on Twitter that “I’m not saying Hazard isn’t in the wrong but I hate to see a person who instigates a situation then cry foul for next to nothing. My oh my. What am I reading? People mentioning assault? He shouldn’t kick the ball out of his hands but has this world gone mad? Both the kid and Hazard were in the wrong. Not having Hazard tried to hurt him though. He just tried to toe poke it out of his grip.”
Secondly, the assistant referee did not intervene when the scuffle over the ball ensued. Indeed, even though the entire episode unfolded right before his eyes, he did absolutely nothing and stayed on his spot by the corner flag during the entire conflagration. Shouldn’t the assistant referee intervene? Would his intervention prevent the escalation? Let us know what you think and share your thoughts on our Referee Forum as well.