The Laws of the Game identify seven cautionable offenses for which players may be cautioned (Law 12). These include fairly specific actions (leaving the field without the permission of the referee), very general actions (unsporting behavior), and highly judgmental areas (dissent). In all cases, the referee is expected to evaluate a player’s behavior based on several factors:
· Does the act meet the generally accepted and understood meaning of the offense?
· Was the act, even if an offense, trifling?
· Would the issuance of a caution for this misconduct likely have desirable results for game and/or player management?
If the player’s act meets the criteria for the offense, is not trifling, and its punishment will have a positive effect on the game, the caution should be given. Whether the referee should stop play to do so or whether play should be allowed to continue until the next stoppage involves the application of the same advantage concept that is used to decide whether to stop play for a foul.
Every caution must be given for one and only one of the seven reasons listed in Law 12. Player behavior, of course, may involve several forms of misconduct at the same time and the referee must decide whether to caution each one separately (in which case, the second caution must also be followed by a send-off and display of the red card) or to issue a single caution for the total behavior. If the latter is chosen, the referee must decide which specific reason in the Law will be reported as the basis for the caution. In either case, however, the referee should fully describe in the game report all misconduct the player has committed in addition to the misconduct for which the caution was given. A player may not avoid being reported for misconduct by apologizing for the offending behavior.
Please note that there are only three reasons for which a substitute or replaced player may be cautioned: unsporting behavior, dissent, or delaying the restart of play. This means that a caution for a substitute who enters the field illegally must be reported as unsporting behavior. These cautionable offenses for substitutes or replaced players should be evaluated and applied the same way they would be if it were a player who was involved.
There is much discussion among referees as to whether a caution is “mandatory” or “discretionary” and these terms have often been used in the past when the subject of misconduct has arisen. One purpose of this position paper is to reorganize the discussion on this matter and to recommend that referees avoid such terms in the future. The Laws of the Game require that the referee consider a player’s behavior as “cautionable” when it meets the standards for the offense. It does not require that the caution actually be given unless the referee further decides that the misconduct is not trifling and that the caution will result in a desirable change in player conduct.
Each caution must be approached as a series of decisions. The referee’s judgment (discretion) is a critical element in deciding, for example, whether what a player has just said or done is dissent within the meaning of Law 12 and guidance from USSF (see the USSF memorandum on “Misconduct Involving Language/Gestures,” dated March 14, 2003). If the referee decides that it is “dissent,” then the offense must be considered cautionable, but this does not mean that the yellow card must be displayed.
In no case may a caution (or send-off) be delayed beyond the next restart. It must be given as soon as play is stopped, even if this means preventing a team from taking advantage of a quick restart (if the kick is taken, it must be called back and not taken until the delayed card is shown). No alteration of this procedure is permitted.
Because players have a right to some reasonable degree of predictability regarding how the referee will evaluate player actions in terms of the seven cautionable offenses, USSF has developed various guidelines for each of these offenses, designed to provide additional insight into their meaning. The USSF memorandum on player language, for example, provides detailed criteria the referee can use to help judge whether any particular example has crossed the line into misconduct and whether, having crossed the line, the player should be cautioned (or sent off). Referees must avoid purely personal standards in making these judgments. Further, many cautions can be avoided if the referee clearly advises players when their conduct is approaching the level of severity which would warrant a card (as is recommended, but not required, for persistent infringement or delaying the restart of play).
The International F. A. Board (IFAB) has also assisted referees by providing specific examples of various forms of misconduct. Stating explicitly that a particular action is a form of misconduct serves to draw attention to it and to emphasize the likelihood that it should be cautioned when it occurs. It is not that each of these specified actions must be carded but that the referee’s judgment is simplified in determining if the action is cautionable. The decision actually to give the card remains discretionary based on the factors already noted.
Note: The items included under the category of “unsporting behavior” are simply those for which examples are found in official documents. Other such incidents can and do occur in games around the world. It is up to the referee to judge which acts constitute “unsporting behavior” and act accordingly, basing the decision on the circumstances of the incident itself, the referee’s needs for proper player management, overall conditions in the game and general societal norms.
The referee may show cards after the match is finished and until he or she leaves the field of play. The referee must report information on any disciplinary action taken against players and/or team officials and any other incidents that occurred before, during or after the match to the appropriate authorities.