The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
This insight from local soccer referee Ray Moffatte deals with how referees try to decipher the ‘intent’ of a player’s actions. This is one area of the sport of soccer that can be confusing to new observers. How can one foul be a yellow card, while another of the same general offense be called without a card? Soccer officials interpret the intent of a player’s play as they make snap judgements during a match. See more in our Ref Focus category.
Ray Moffatte on “intent” in calling soccer plays
by Ray Moffatte Jr.
Can a referee judge the intent of a player who has just violated one of the laws of soccer? This is a debate that rivals that of Law 11(Offside). When blowing the whistle for handling the ball the question of intent comes to the forefront. When calling a simple foul the question of intent pops up as well. We often hear, “I got the ball first” or “I didn’t mean it”. When cards (Yellow or Red) are issued, a referee’s judgment of a player’s intent becomes the topic of discussion.
Let me say this; only a small percentage of time does a player commit an infraction with intent to do so. I believe that when those rare occasions happen they are obvious for all to see. I believe that all players play hard; bringing energy to the field that is asked of them by their coaches, teammates and fans. While soccer is supposed to a non-contact sport we all know that is not the case. I call it the “American Way”. Here in the USA we are taught (I know I was) to play as hard as we can for as long as we can from the first whistle to the last whistle of a game. With that mentality players will bump into each other from time to time.
As far has Handling the ball goes; it is one of the 10 Directives that have appeared within the last couple of years to give all referees a consistent way of deciding when to make the call. We all are familiar with “did the ball play the hand or did the hand play the ball theory.” The key thing to look for now when watching a game is “did the player make themself bigger when the ball and hand-made contact.” When the arms are in a natural position a player should not be punished when they make contact with the ball. If a player’s arms are in an unnatural position (above one’s head or spread far away from their body) they can be punished. While this is not intent; the fact that a player doesn’t make the effort to keep his/her body under control is what a referee is looking for.
Where does intent come into play? When it comes to handling the ball, it is when a player reaches out to play the ball with their hands (stopping an attacking play or preventing a ball from going into the goal). Another way is jumping and or turning towards the ball while making contact with the ball. While jumping is a normal part of the game for a player, doing so while playing the ball with one’s arms is not.
When it comes to fouls we try to give players the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think players enter a game with the thought of doing damage to their opponents. I do believe that they will do what’s necessary within reason to have success as a player and for their team. As a referee it is our job to prevent them from crossing that magical line. When viewing fouls we have three categories to choose from: careless, reckless and serious foul play. A Careless Foul would be a normal foul (whatever normal is). A Reckless Foul would be one that has a little more bite to it (the result is a Yellow Card). One that would make you cringe a little; one that would make me say ouch. Serious Foul Play is a foul that endangers the safety of an opponent: cleats up tackle, wild use of elbows or fouls with excessive force (resulting in a Red Card).
The body language of the player committing the foul is the key. Their intensity increases and they focus on a player who will soon become their victim and away they go. The question is can a referee be close enough to the incident to stop it from escalating. This situation usually occurs after a player has had the ball stolen from them, been on the receiving end of a hard tackle or feel like they didn’t get a call from a referee. Since they cannot foul the referee, the closest person from the opposing team will do just fine.
The place where intent really shows its ugly head is during the committing “tactical fouls”. Tactical Fouls are commonly known as professional fouls. Fouls meant to stop the attacking movements of the opposing the team. Some of these fouls can be forceful in nature; the majority of these fouls are soft in appearance. The lack of force is what is confusing to those watching games. A slight pull of a jersey, the tugging of the shorts and jumping in front of an attacking opponent can all be considered “tactical fouls”. Those “tactical foul” result in the issuing of a “Yellow Card”.
As referees we must be ready to determine if a foul was committed with intent and then deal with the player accordingly.