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Laws of the Game

2020/21

3. Disciplinary action

The referee has the authority to take disciplinary action from entering the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends (including kicks from the penalty mark).

If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player or team official commits a sending-off offence, the referee has the authority to prevent the player or team official taking part in the match (see Law 3.6); the referee will report any other misconduct.

A player or team official who commits a cautionable or sending-off offence, either on or off the field of play is disciplined according to the offence.

The yellow card communicates a caution and the red card communicates a sending-off.

Only a player, substitute, substituted player or team official may be shown the red or yellow card.

PLAYERS, SUBSTITUTES AND SUBSTITUTED PLAYERS

Delaying the restart of play to show a card

Once the referee has decided to caution or send off a player, play must not be restarted until the sanction has been administered, unless the non-offending team takes a quick free kick, has a clear goal-scoring opportunity and the referee has not started the disciplinary sanction procedure. The sanction is administered at the next stoppage; if the offence was denying the opposing team an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, the player is cautioned; if the offence interfered with or stopped a promising attack, the player is not cautioned.

Advantage

If the referee plays the advantage for an offence for which a caution/sending-off would have been issued had play been stopped, this caution/sending-off must be issued when the ball is next out of play. However, if the offence was denying the opposing team an obvious goal-scoring opportunity the player is cautioned for unsporting behaviour; if the offence was interfering with or stopping a promising attack, the player is not cautioned.

Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play, violent conduct or a second cautionable offence unless there is a clear opportunity to score a goal. The referee must send off the player when the ball is next out of play, but if the player plays the ball or challenges/interferes with an opponent, the referee will stop play, send off the player and restart with an indirect free kick, unless the player committed a more serious offence.

If a defender fouls attacker outside the penalty area and continues fouling inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick.

Cautionable offences

A player is cautioned if guilty of:

  • delaying the restart of play

  • dissent by word or action

  • entering, re-entering or deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

  • failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a dropped ball, corner kick, free kick or throw-in

  • persistent offences (no specific number or pattern of offences constitutes 'persistent')

  • unsporting behaviour

  • entering the referee review area (RRA)

  • excessively using the ‘review’ (TV screen) signal

A substitute or substituted player is cautioned if guilty of:

  • delaying the restart of play

  • dissent by word or action

  • entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission

  • unsporting behaviour

  • entering the referee review area (RRA)

  • excessively using the ‘review’ (TV screen) signal

Where two separate cautionable offences are committed (even in close proximity), they should result in two cautions, for example if a player enters the field of play without the required permission and commits a reckless tackle or stops a promising attack with a foul/handball, etc.

Cautions for unsporting behaviour

There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour including if a player:

  • attempts to deceive the referee, e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)

  • changes places with the goalkeeper during play or without the referee’s permission (see Law 3)

  • commits in a reckless manner a direct free kick offence

  • handles the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack

  • commits any other offence which interferes with or stops a promising attack, except where the referee awards a penalty kick for an offence which was an attempt to play the ball

  • denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by an offence which was an attempt to play the ball and the referee awards a penalty kick

  • handles the ball in an attempt to score a goal (whether or not the attempt is successful) or in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a goal

  • makes unauthorised marks on the field of play

  • plays the ball when leaving the field of play after being given permission to leave

  • shows a lack of respect for the game

  • uses a deliberate trick to pass the ball (including from a free kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands

  • verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart

Celebration of a goal

Players can celebrate when a goal is scored, but the celebration must not be excessive; choreographed celebrations are not encouraged and must not cause excessive time-wasting.

Leaving the field of play to celebrate a goal is not a cautionable offence but players should return as soon as possible.

A player must be cautioned, even if the goal is disallowed, for:

  • climbing onto a perimeter fence and/or approaching the spectators in a manner which causes safety and/or security issues

  • gesturing or acting in a provocative, derisory or inflammatory way

  • covering the head or face with a mask or other similar item

  • removing the shirt or covering the head with the shirt

Delaying the restart of play

Referees must caution players who delay the restart of play by:

  • appearing to take a throw-in but suddenly leaving it to a team-mate to take

  • delaying leaving the field of play when being substituted

  • excessively delaying a restart

  • kicking or carrying the ball away, or provoking a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play

  • taking a free kick from the wrong position to force a retake

Sending-off offences

A player, substitute or substituted player who commits any of the following offences is sent off:

  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offence (except a goalkeeper within their penalty area)

  • denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick (unless as outlined below)

  • serious foul play

  • biting or spitting at someone

  • violent conduct

  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures

  • receiving a second caution in the same match

  • entering the video operation room (VOR)

A player, substitute or substituted player who has been sent off must leave the vicinity of the field of play and the technical area.

Denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity

Where a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offence, the player is sent off wherever the offence occurs.

Where a player commits an offence against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offender is cautioned if the offence was an attempt to play the ball; in all other circumstances (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball etc.) the offending player must be sent off.

A player, sent-off player, substitute or substituted player who enters the field of play without the required referee’s permission and interferes with play or an opponent and denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is guilty of a sending-off offence.

The following must be considered:

  • distance between the offence and the goal

  • general direction of the play

  • likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball

  • location and number of defenders

Serious foul play

A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play.

Violent conduct

Violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a team-mate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made.

In addition, a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.

TEAM OFFICIALS

Where an offence is committed and the offender cannot be identified, the senior team coach present in the technical area will receive the sanction.

Warning

The following offences should usually result in a warning; repeated or blatant offences should result in a caution or sending-off:

  • entering the field of play in a respectful/non-confrontational manner

  • failing to cooperate with a match official e.g. ignoring an instruction/request from an assistant referee or the fourth official

  • minor/low-level disagreement (by word or action) with a decision

  • occasionally leaving the confines of the technical area without committing another offence

Caution

Caution offences include (but are not limited to):

  • clearly/persistently not respecting the confines of their team’s technical area

  • delaying the restart of play by their team

  • deliberately entering the technical area of the opposing team (non-confrontational)

  • dissent by word or action including:

    • throwing/kicking drinks bottles or other objects

    • gestures which show a clear lack of respect for the match official(s) e.g. sarcastic clapping

  • entering the referee review area (RRA)

  • excessively/persistently gesturing for a red or yellow card

  • excessively showing the TV signal for a VAR ‘review’

  • gesturing or acting in a provocative or inflammatory manner

  • persistent unacceptable behaviour (including repeated warning offences)

  • showing a lack of respect for the game

Sending-off

Sending-off offences include (but are not limited to):

  • delaying the restart of play by the opposing team e.g. holding onto the ball, kicking the ball away, obstructing the movement of a player

  • deliberately leaving the technical area to:

    • show dissent towards, or remonstrate with, a match official

    • act in a provocative or inflammatory manner

  • entering the opposing technical area in an aggressive or confrontational manner

  • deliberately throwing/kicking an object onto the field of play

  • entering the field of play to:

    • confront a match official (including at half-time and full-time)

    • interfere with play, an opposing player or a match official

  • entering the video operation room (VOR)

  • physical or aggressive behaviour (including spitting or biting) towards an opposing player, substitute, team official, match official, spectator or any other person (e.g. ball boy/girl, security or competition official etc.)

  • receiving a second caution in the same match

  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures

  • using unauthorised electronic or communication equipment and/or behaving in an inappropriate manner as the result of using electronic or communication equipment

  • violent conduct

Offences where an object (or the ball) is thrown

In all cases, the referee takes the appropriate disciplinary action:

  • reckless – caution the offender for unsporting behaviour

  • using excessive force – send off the offender for violent conduct