Can both players and football clubs be punished for their conduct in relation to referees?

Referees in Football

The referee plays a central role in all aspects of football played worldwide. Not only does the referee have to make decisions in relation to matches played worldwide in the professional game alongside his two assistants and the fourth official but they have a huge part to play in the running of the amateur game throughout the UK.

The decline of referees in the amateur levels of football in the UK

Over the last few years there has been a steady decline of people wishing to become referees at the lower level of the game presiding over matches played at all levels of the children’s game and also matches played at all levels throughout the amateur game.

Refereeing has always been seen as somewhat of a thankless task but recently the levels of abuse suffered while refereeing over amateur matches and even from parents while refereeing over children’s matches has caused many referees to give up and has discourages new recruits – this clearly has an adverse effect on how many matches can be played at the amateur level of the game.

The Football Association’s Respect Campaign

Over the last few seasons the national governing body of football in England – the Football Association has been running a campaign to improve the respect shown towards referees in English football. This is a campaign which applies at the top level of the professional game – the FA Premier League – filtering down through all levels of the professional and amateur game.

What is covered by the Respect Campaign?

One of the key issues covered by the campaign is for the players to show respect for the decisions made by the referee. For example players will no longer be able to crowd around the referee to dispute a decision as was often the case. Now if the team feels that they need to discuss a decision with the referee it will be the job of one player to do that – this is a job which is left to the captain of the individual team.

Furthermore the scheme is in place to try and eradicate comments made about the referee by either the players or the coaching staff in their post match interviews.

Will there be sanctions handed down by the Football Association for players and managers who have acted in contravention to this policy?

When players surround the referee in the manner which is forbidden under the Respect campaign the Football Association has the ability to charge that club for the failure to adequately control their players on the pitch.

What would be the likely punishment for the club if this were to happen?

In a recent case where a club has been charged by the Football Association with failing to control their players the club was fined a total of £10,000. If a club were consistently found to be failing to control their players increasingly more stern penalties would be handed down.

What would be the likely charge for a player seen to be in contravention of the Respect campaign on the pitch?

Players can often be charged with improper conduct by the Football Association for their behaviour on the pitch. Often this can be in relation to the way they respond to the referee but also in the way they respond to the opposition fans.

What would be the likely punishment for a charge of improper conduct?

The likely punishment for a player charged with improper conduct would be a playing suspension – for a first offence this is likely to be a one match suspension from Premier League football.

Can players and managers be punished for comments made about the referee following the match?

Often players and coaches will wish to criticise the referee in a television interview following the match. If this is the case they will likely be charged by the Football Association with improper conduct.

What would be the likely punishment in this case?

The likely punishment for a player or a manager found guilty of improper conduct in this scenario would be a fine handed down by the Football Association. For example in a recent case whereby a player was found guilty of improper conduct following disparaging comments made about both the referee and the FA’s Respect Campaign was handed a fine of £7,500.