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Mississippi Soccer Association
To: State Referee Administrators, State Youth Referee Administrators, State Directors of Referee Instruction, State Directors of Referee Assessment, National Referee Instructors and Trainers, National Assessors, National Referees
From: Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education
Subject: Misconduct Involving Language/Gestures
Date: March 14, 2003
Player language, including gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication, can take many forms:
- passing information along to teammates or urging special efforts during play – this is completely acceptable. Referee action: no action needed.
- momentary emotional outburst – borderline acceptable, perhaps a trifling offense only. Referee action: a stern look or verbal admonishment.
- dissent or unsporting behavior – unacceptable misconduct. Referee action: caution and display yellow card.
- offensive, insulting or abusive language – more serious misconduct. Referee action: send off and display red card.
Regardless of age or competitive level, players become excited as their personal or team fortunes rise or fall, and it is not uncommon for language to be used in the heat of the moment. Such outbursts, while possibly vivid, are typically brief, undirected, and often quickly regretted. The referee must understand the complex emotions of players in relation to the match and discount appropriately language which does no lasting harm to those who might have heard or seen the outburst. Of course, the player might well be warned in various ways (a brief word, direct eye contact, etc.) regarding his behavior.
When the words or gestures directly challenge the authority of the referee or assistant referees, actively dispute an official's decision, or are likely to be taken up by a widening circle of other players, the referee must determine if this dissent can be halted through the more formal action of cautioning the player and displaying the yellow card. The objective of the caution for dissent or unsporting behavior (in the case of language which is not dissent but which falls short of deserving a red card), is to protect the referee's ability to continue to manage the match.
Language or gestures can also be “offensive, insulting or abusive” with the result that the player involved is required to leave the field and is shown a red card. The fundamental principle in recognizing offensive, insulting, or abusive language is that the referee must protect the safety and enjoyment of the participants as well as the fairness of the play. Accordingly, language that is generally accepted by players, does not produce adverse or aggressive reactions, and is generally tolerated by them should less likely result in a red card being shown.
The referee might well choose to talk to, warn, admonish, or caution players whose undesirable language occurs in a short, emotional outburst and send off a player whose language is a sustained, calculated, and aggressive verbal assault.
The three critical criteria to be used in evaluating whether language needs to be handled as misconduct warranting a red card are:
- The specific words and/or gestures used. Some words are inherently more offensive than others and are more likely to provoke aggressive reactions. Words that focus on religious, ethnic, racial, or sexual characteristics generally fall in this category and often require a fast, strong response by the referee.
- The audibility or visibility of the language. Language which might call for a more limited response if said quietly and/or to a restricted audience might require a send-off if performed more publicly.
- Specifically targeted language. Language that is clearly directed at specific persons (for example, opponents or officials) is more likely to spark a reprisal and will usually require a stronger response by the referee.