A blog post on this topic? Nothing ever happens during a dropped ball, right? Well, here’s what happened during a recent U17B tournament game that I officiated.
I stopped play because of a suspected head injury when the attacking team (white) was in possession of the ball in the final attacking third, close to the penalty box.
(By the way, referees should not stop play in these attacking situations unless the injury might be serious, including a possible head injury.)
As you probably know, the restart in these situations is a dropped ball at the spot where the ball was when the referee blew the whistle.
And as has been customary (for decades probably?), I suggested that the blue player kick the ball back to the white team. This isn’t really an ‘instruction’ because every player and coach knows to do this for sportsmanship reasons. So it’s more of a reminder or clarifying statement to make sure there is no confusion about what is going to happen next.
What do you think happened next?
I dropped the ball (near the blue team’s penalty box) and the blue player boots the ball hard diagonally across the field and into the open space behind the white team’s defensive back line. The blue left forward takes off and scores a goal.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen and I believe that the blue forward truly didn’t understand what was going on. He was completely focused on scoring.
I had no choice but to let the goal stand. Referees have no power to overturn this kind of goal. You can probably imagine the confusion on the field and the sidelines (to put the best possible spin on this) and the reaction of the white team coach.
To the blue team’s coach’s credit, he asked the white team to kick the ball to his goalkeeper during kick-off, who then kicked the ball into his own net for an own goal.
So at least the goal difference was cancelled out, but the white team didn’t get the extra point that one typically gets at tournaments for a shut-out (white won 5-1).
Now, with the above context in mind, here’s the change in the Laws of the Game that went into effect worldwide this summer (bolded):
“The referee cannot decide who may contest a dropped ball or its outcome.”
In other words, referees are not allowed to ‘manufacture’ the outcome of a dropped ball anymore.
So my reminder during the U17B game to blue to kick the ball back to white (to make sure the outcome of the injury stoppage was going to be ‘fair’ as has been custom) wasn’t correct in the strict application of the new law.
The new law is meant to preempt precisely what occurred during my U17B game.
I was also assigned to officiate the U19B Final for that tournament the following day. Guess what happened? Stoppage in play due to injury in the attacking third, but this time, with the previous day’s event fresh in my mind, I told the players that the new law now forces me to execute a properly contested dropped ball. There was a little confusion, but the players and coaches accepted it and we got on with it.
Now here’s the tricky part.
It is not obvious what “the referee cannot decide its outcome” actually means. Referees can’t ask/tell/instruct the players what to do anymore, but the moment one of the players asks a question we can simply tell them to “ask your coach what to do”, for example. Or, in general terms, referees could describe the options the players have, but that the referee will not get involved in that decision.
So the referee will execute a proper dropped ball and will refrain from making any suggestions regarding the ‘right/fair’ way, but the players/teams, either on their own or through coach’s instructions, might decide to kick the ball back to the team that had possession. And that’s completely fine.
Also keep in mind the age and level of the players. For example, nine year old boys and girls mostly don’t know what to do with a dropped ball, so you’ll probably see some referees be more actively involved in creating a ‘fair’ outcome. And parents and coaches will support that fair outcome.
There will be some amusing/unusual dropped-ball situations until everyone adjusts to this modified law.