Law Question: Empathy when dealing with off the ball incidents


Do you referee to the law or use empathy?

This actually happened.

During the first 10 minutes of a local derby at level 8 league standard, you are alerted to an incident behind you. As you turn you clearly see the green captain throw a punch at the blue captain, hitting him in the face.

You blow the whistle and the fracas goes no further. The green captain turns around and has fat lip and a bleeding nose (he didn’t start the game that way) and in your opinion, he has clearly also been punched in the face.

You basically have three options.
1) Send the Green Captain off only, as that’s what you saw.
2) Send Both off
3) Use empathy towards green captain and claim you saw neither punch and read the riot act to captains about future conduct.

How do you act?

Society response:

From Law 9:

Law 9.12 A player must not physically … abuse anyone. Physical abuse includes ….. punching.

Law 9.21 A player must not retaliate.

We can only referee what we actually see (or is brought to our attention by appointed Assistant Referees) and we must take action when we observe foul play.

Pretending not to have seen an incident undermines credibility and can actually have a negative effect on discipline during the remainder of the match.

Making an assumption that a player has been punched (and therefore retaliated) would be pretending to have seen something that we haven’t. That player may even have been injured by a different means or actually started the fracas and been thumped for something that he did before himself throwing the punch that was witnessed.

Whilst empathy is an excellent attribute for a referee (e.g. awareness of players’ abilities and experience, weather conditions etc.) referees must not empathise with foul play.

Captains have a responsibility for the discipline of their players and should set an example to their teammates.

So in conclusion:

The Green Captain should be sent off, using the DESC principles from the ERRA (old Level 2 referee course). This should be done quietly but firmly, “one to one” out of the hearing of other players. Before departure he should be asked to nominate the replacement captain to represent his side.

The Blue Captain should also be spoken to, again quietly and firmly on a “one to one” basis and it is suggested that he be made aware that he is responsible for the discipline of both himself and his team and that the referee will be focusing on him in particular for the remainder of the match.

Finally the Green replacement Captain should be reminded that it is now his responsibility for the discipline of his team and advised that retaliation is unacceptable behaviour and had already cost the original Captain dearly. What might be a difficult task with only 14 players will be even harder with less (this is not a threat, merely an observation or statement).

Note all relevant data (name, number, score, time etc.) before resuming the match and
immediately after the match supplement those notes if necessary whilst the situation is fresh in one’s mind. Do not discuss the incident in the clubhouse.

Suggesting retaliation as a possible cause for the incident resulting in the player being sent off is not the referee’s responsibility. The referee has already dealt with the incident he/she witnessed during the match. Any post match sanctions are the responsibility of the Disciplinary Committee.

Response written January 4th, 2019.

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