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Question Number: 34556

Law 18 - Common Sense 4/13/2022

RE: Rec Adult

Zachary Scherschligt of Minnetonka, MN United States asks...

I have a question about quick v. ceremonial free kicks. We had a situation where the whistle was blown for a handball and a free kick was awarded, a player from the defending team stood near the ball while two other defenders formed a wall about five yards from the ball, and the referee, without any discussion with the attacking team or any signals, paced off 10 yards and moved the wall back to that line. At that point, the attacking team attempted to shoot, without any restart signal from the referee, and claimed that they never asked for the defenders to be moved back and were entitled to take the kick whenever they wanted. The defending team countered that once the referee started pacing off the 10 yard distance and moved the wall back, the attacking team lost the right to take a quick free kick, even if the attacking team never asked for the wall to be moved back. Obviously, better refereeing would have avoided this, but who was correct?

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Zachary
Its fairly simple for me .

Once the referee intervened in the restart by starting to pace off 10 yards in front of the ball that action has made the restart ceremonial. The defending team has the right not to be interfered with at a restart such as a referee being in the way and pacing. That distracts the defending team and as a result the kick has becomes ceremonial.

It makes no difference whether the kicking team has asked for it or not once the referee intervenes. What should have happened was that the referee should have stood back for a moment or so to gauge what the kicking team was going to do and if they wanted to take a quick free kick or not. If there is no cue to restart from the kicking team then it becomes ceremonial with the referee stepping in to take control of the kick in a clear attacking position. He should inform the kicking team that the kick is on the whistle. There is a very short window there of a couple of seconds as no referee is going to allow the kicking team to delay for a period to make it look like its ceremonial and then take the kick. To prevent any problems once the quick free kick window has closed the referee needs to take complete control including informing everyone its on the whistle.

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Zachary,

I agree with my colleague - once the referee has intervened in the restart, it becomes ceremonial even if the attacking team hasn't asked for 10 yards.

Often referees will ask attackers if they want 10 yards or not (or sometimes the attack just starts saying it) - if not, they'll move away and allow it quickly if so, they'll tell them to wait for the whistle.

But quite often the referee will read the situation to understand when the attack are expecting it and just start controlling it anyway.

However, once the referee has intervened - whether it's by walking the defence back, or telling the attack to wait due to, say, a substitution, it becomes ceremonial and should be restarted with the whistle (the laws actually require a whistle restart after a substitution, or when the attack has asked for 10 yards).

Now, if the referee was just standing back and telling your team to back up, some referees would disagree over whether that makes it ceremonial or not - but if he's walking back with you, that's very clearly a ceremonial restart.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Zachary,
Well, there is NO DOUBT, in our opinion, the referee was foolish in his actions if he decided to intervene of his own volition and then chose to allow the restart to go ahead, without a whistled restart! By doing far too much to secure the 10 yds then perhaps simply barking out, Ten yards now!" the referee created an unnecessary mess through improper mechanics, thereby instigating possible cautionable USB by the upset players including red for foul & abusive language or gestures .

For the referee to claim the restart was proper once the wall was at 10 yards and that alone was sufficient for allowing a no signal restart the chances are that referee gets no more matches until some recertification and clarity is achieved!

It is taught to NOT do anything to interfere in a match UNLESS there is a need to do so!

Ceremonial restarts are inferred within the LOTG just not directly stating the concept of non-involvement where a caution/card might be thought necessary only when the referee has not started the disciplinary sanction procedure, should we ever allow play to continue. Setting up a wall indicates that this ceremonial process is being implemented

A referee has a far better chance of consistency & staying out of needless trouble if they follow the prescribed protocol & the principles associated with taught practical procedures to avoid digging holes and jumping in after! The guidelines contain practical advice for match officials which supplements the information in the Laws of the Game section. Reference is made in Law 5 to referees operating within the framework of the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’.

In our opinion, we would all agree the referee has violated the spirit of the game by unsuitable conduct even if he has not technically misapplied any law.

Referees are expected to use common sense and to apply the ‘spirit of the game’ when applying the Laws of the Game, especially when making decisions relating to whether a match continues in a neutral safe environment. This is especially true for the lower levels of football where it may not always be possible for the Law to be strictly applied.

The referee may play advantage but not create an advantage & nor should they take away an advantage!

The question is COULD this be a misapplication of the LOTG and a protest upheld?

Referee signals
the whistle is needed to start, stop and restart play, in fact, it is asked that we use it in certain situations! One of these situations is when a free-kick requires the appropriate distance, not the greatest wording but essentially it refers to when a referee by intervention after a stoppage has made the kick ceremonial in nature taking away the opportunity for the attacking team to continue! By intervening and setting up a wall the referee has by action alone created a false impression that this will be a ceremonial restart

The whistle is NOT needed to restart play from most free kicks, including goal kicks, corner kicks, and throw-ins. If the referee wants the players to wait for the whistle before restarting play (e.g. when ensuring that defending players are 9.15m (10 yds) from the ball at a free kick) the referee must clearly inform the attacking player(s) to wait for the whistle. The referee did not do so yet by body language (setting the wall) he has kind of said so

The referee may play advantage but not create an advantage & nor should they take away an advantage!

The team with the free-kick has EVERY right to go quickly and the defenders have NO right to delay them!! UNLESS the referee was ASKED (which he was not ) or felt compelled to intervene be it for a card, caution, or to sort out an issue like a substitution. The referee need not interfere if the non-offending team takes a quick free-kick or has a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

The referee never said they could NOT go!
As in holding up & pointing to the whistle, getting eye contact with the attacker standing over the ball while verbally stating it WOULD be a ceremonial signal to restart? Sure, the referee most definitely will be on the hot seat answering questions trying to justify his abysmal actions in the post-game.

The deal is at the Grassroot level a referee could suffer the pangs of disharmony but it would be debatable if the team could finagle a replay if the game did not go their way! If a goal resulted and say cards or sends off followed perhaps a disciplinary committee or review board might wish to do so but technically, the referee has not misapplied the laws. In cases where an Indirect free-kick was to directly enter the goal with no arm signal that is a misapplication of the LOTG. This incident by setting up a wall and not committing to a whistled restart is just very bad mechanics & could lead to very bad things in the rest of a match!!


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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Zachary,
I don't actually think we can say that one team or other is wholly and definitively correct here - they both make some good points.

For instance, if the referee has not provided any indication whatsoever that the team taking the free kick has to wait for the whistle, then they can be excused for thinking that they don't have to wait for the whistle.

On the other hand, if the referee has taken clear and obvious steps to enforce the required distance on the defenders, then they are entitled to believe that this has become a "ceremonial" free kick, which both by custom and by IFAB-recommended guidelines should not proceed until the whistle has been blown.

I think what we can agree on, is that this is poor procedure by the referee. As my colleagues have alluded to, there are recommendations in a section of the Laws document called,"Guidelines for Match Officials," that say:

"The whistle is needed to:
restart play for:

free kicks when the appropriate distance is required"

However I might point out that accordng to an email I received from the IFAB on this exact topic a little while back, these guidelines are not grounds for protesting the result of a match, because they are "recommendations and not requirements."

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Answer provided by Referee MrRef

Hi Zachary,
while it is true the referee may have inadvertently distracted the defenders by doing more than make them aware it was their DUTY to withdraw 10 yards, in actuality no law was broken, other than law 18 common sense.

There is no question the referee's mechanics were flawed and as such, this being his match, his decision, and his reputation is going to suffer. Players' perhaps expected a certain outcome, they were unfortunately misled but when a match is halted by a whistle and the LOTG permit a restart without a whistle it behoves all players to think about worst-case scenarios & remain vigilant that, as Sherlock Holmes might say, the GAME IS AFOOT, in that the match was never over, only interrupted!

The inclusion of the guidelines stating a "whistle is needed" was to remind the NEUTRAL referees not to create uncertainty by their actions & not give the impression of impropriety. Respect and faith are measurable and match control can be compromised by rash actions, not in keeping with expectations!

from our pitch to your pitch in the spirit of fair play

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