Play of the Week 33: Serious Foul Play

In Play of the Week 33 we are discussing the subject of serious foul play. The Laws of the Game describe serious foul play as follows:

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.

“Any player who lunges at an opponent for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or two legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.”

At last week’s PRO referees camp, we discussed many tackles and challenges; some were serious foul play and others were not. One of our main responsibilities is to protect players from unfair play.

Referees have to be able to judge the difference between those challenges that are fair from those that are not and to consider when an unfair challenge is committed with excessive force. Brutal actions involving excessive force (violence, endangering the safety of an opponent) must always result in a red card!

It is always important to go through these considerations when deciding if a challenge is deemed Serious Foul Play.

Fouls: careless, reckless, using excessive force/Violent conduct

  • Does the player show a lack of attention or consideration when making his challenge?
  • Does the player act without precaution when making the challenge?
  • Does the player act with complete disregard of the danger to his opponent?
  • Does the player have a chance of playing the ball in a fair manner?
  • Does the player far exceed the necessary use of force when making the challenge? What degree of speed and/or intensity is the player using when making the challenge?
  • Does the player show clear malice when making the challenge?
  • Does the player lunge at an opponent?
  • Is the challenge clearly endangering the safety of the opponent?

This latest Play of the Week examines two challenges from the game between FC Dallas and LA Galaxy where, in a five-minute spell, the referee has to decide whether they reach the level of Serious Foul Play.

In the first incident, Galaxy’s Michael Ciani commits a foul tackle from behind on Dallas’s Roland Lamar. Referee Jose Carlos Rivero, from a close position, can see that it is a scissor-type challenge that ticks some of the above boxes such as the lack of attention or consideration, and acting without precaution when making his challenge. Neither does he have a chance of playing the ball in a fair manner.

However, it is not a lunge and it lacks speed, intensity, malice and force. Therefore, Ciani is not endangering the safety of his opponent and Rivero correctly judges that it is a reckless challenge. He brandishes the yellow card in a calm manner without histrionics and Ciani fully accepts the decision, despite the fact that he actually played the ball.

Rivero proceeds to ensure the defensive wall is the required 10 yards from the ball and takes a position where he can see any possible handball offense by players in the wall and keeps his AR and the majority of the players in full view. This is all good prescribed free-kick procedure.

Five minutes later, Ciani attempts to play the ball back to his goalkeeper, Clement Diop. Unfortunately the pass lacks pace and FC Dallas forward Kellyn Acosta starts running towards the ball. At this point, Diop, who is also moving towards the ball goes airborne and makes contact with Acosta.

Rivero has no hesitation in brandishing the red card to Diop who appears at first resigned to his fate and is walking off. When turning to see the red card he shows some surprise, but this is short lived and he walks off the field peacefully without further protest.

When players are airborne they have no control over their body, and therefore by lunging at an opponent endanger their safety. Diop demonstrates the following:

  • a lack of attention or consideration
  • acts without precaution,
  • shows a complete disregard of the danger to his opponent
  • has little or no chance of paying the ball in a fair manner
  • speed, intensity and force

Therefore, his tackle a challenge clearly endangers the safety of the opponent.

Remember law: “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent, is guilty of serious foul play”.

DOGSO could have also been considered here but Serious Foul Play was the correct outcome.

In summary, it is important that referees penalize all instances of serious foul play with a red card.

Four practical elements of decision making:

  • See
  • Recognize
  • Think
  • Act

Positioning is crucial when judging potential Serious Foul Play and in both of these situations Rivero was in a good position to see, recognize, think and act appropriately, decisively and calmly in correctly differentiating between a reckless foul and one that endangered the safety of an opponent.