PRO Insight: Kicking the ball at an opponent

Over the last number of weeks and months, we have seen an increase in players who kick the ball deliberately at an opponent either just before play is stopped or just after the whistle has gone.

Within the Laws of the Game, officials must decide whether the action itself constitutes a Lack of Respect for the Game (Caution/Yellow Card) or 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 teammate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made).

When evaluating these situations, consider the following:

• Point of contact – contact with the ball to more sensitive areas of the body (such as the head, or ‘softer’ areas) should normally result in higher disciplinary action.

• Was there excessive force or brutality used? Higher the force or evidence of brutality will normally equate to a higher disciplinary action.

• Was the action during live play, just after the whistle or was there a longer period of time after the whistle? This consideration has to be applied with a degree of caution, because if the action involved excessive force/brutality, the whistle is irrelevant. However, if the action happens a period of time after the whistle, the official should ask themselves, did the player have time to think about their action?

• What direction did the player kick the ball? If Team A is playing right to left and a member of Team A kicks the ball towards the opponent’s goal but strikes the opponent, the officials must decide if the action was similar to what they may have done had play been ongoing. Then, the officials should consider the first three considerations in conjunction with this.

Officials should be very aware of the consequences of such actions for their match control. If the temperature of the game is high at this point, the aftermath of such actions could result in a mass confrontation or further disciplinary action to other players if they carry out retribution. Therefore, immediate intervention is recommended, if possible.

With the first incident, the point of contact was to the back of his opponent with the ball, very close to the whistle and the player was kicking the ball in what potentially could be interpreted as a normal direction and style for the movement. Therefore, the preferred outcome here is a Yellow Card for Lack of Respect for the Game.

In this incident, the referee’s whistle does not sound, however the player kicks the ball with force and a degree of brutality at the head of his opponent. This is a Red Card for Violent Conduct. Note the players decide to take the law into their own hands after the action, and involve themselves in a mass confrontation.

In this incident, the Tulsa player (obviously frustrated due to the score line) kicks the ball with excessive force and brutality into the head of his opponent. Regardless of any other consideration, this is Violent Conduct and should result in a Red Card.

In the fourth incident, initially we see how the action of the player from North Texas causes an angry reaction from opponents and potentially more match control problems for the officiating team. When the ball went for a throw in, the North Texas player kicked the ball with excessive force and brutality into the softer mid-section of his Greenville opponent’s body, in front of AR1. This should be a Red Card for Violent Conduct.

In this incident, from last weekend, the ball goes out of play for a throw in and the Memphis player pushes his Atlanta opponent to the ground. In his frustration, the defender gets up, has time to think about his action, and with force and brutality, deliberately kicks the ball at the back of his opponent before play restarts. This should be (as the Referee on the day correctly recognized) a Red card for Violent Conduct. Again, look at the reaction to such incidents with the players coming in to a mass confrontation. If officials do not deal with such actions appropriately, these types of reactions and unnecessary difficulties with player behavior will continue.

When examining all these incidents, officials were reminded of the importance of applying the considerations mentioned above. No two incidents are exactly the same, and subtle variances can make a difference to the final outcome in each case. However, by following similar thought processes, and analyzing incidents with these considerations in mind, it is hoped officials can feel confident in their reading of such situations, and be consistent in the outcomes achieved.