When Can I Terminate a Game?

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

There are not too many instances in a Soccer Referee’s career when a game has to be terminated. It’s likely that most of you reading this article have seldom, or never, had to make a decision to do so.  Yet, it is important for all of us to know how to use our power to terminate a game because it does eventually happen to each of us, and when it does happen, we want to be knowledgeable about the decision and the procedure so that we can do it correctly. The challenge is that because of it rarity, and the fact that we spend little time learning about this power, that most of us would have trouble naming the instances cited in the NFHS Soccer Rules Book that allow or require us to terminate a game. The best way to begin is to cite the rules covering the subject.

(Note: This discussion is based on 2009-10 NFHS Soccer Rules Book).

R1-6, Spectators’ Area: “Play Ruling 1.6 states “The Referee instructs the home team management to tell the spectators to remain 10 feet behind the touch line, goal line, and/or team/official area, or the game may be terminated.”

Comment: Games not played in a stadium where the field is physically separated from the spectator stands can sometimes be interrupted by spectators encroaching onto, or too near to, the field. This rule gives guidance for correcting the situation, and also allows Referee action if unsuccessful.

R1-7, Field Conditions: “Once a game begins, and until it ends, the determination of whether or not a game may be safely continued shall be made by the Referee.”

Comment: This refers to unsatisfactory field conditions. These may include (but not be limited to) unsafe conditions that are due to weather that makes the field unsafe or unplayable (see Play Ruling 1.7), or the field is unsafe or unplayable because of physical hazards (Also, See “Lightning Guidelines” for additional guidance). Deciding not to continue would, in effect, be terminating the game.

R3-1-2: “After the game is started, it may not be continued with fewer than seven players on either team. If a team has fewer than seven eligible players, the game shall be terminated and a forfeit declared.”

Comment: The fall below seven may be attributed to player ineligibility, player disqualification, player injury, or player blood-related situations.  The assumption in this rules provision assumes that the absence from the field is final, and allowed player entry or re-entry is not possible.

R3-1-2, “Exception: Should a team drop below seven players due to a player having to leave the field for a temporary equipment repair, minor injury, or due to a blood-related situation, the official may suspend the game momentarily until the problem is corrected and then continue the game.”

Comment: This provision accounts for those instances where player ineligibility does NOT preclude the “seventh” player from being able to re-enter in a reasonable amount of time.  The Referee decision of a length of time that is reasonable is, of course, up to the common sense of the Referee, and any prior written agreement between the competing schools,  on definitions of acceptable delays, and any prior policy guidance from the State High School Association.

R5-S3-A1-h: “The officials shall . . . .terminate or suspend the game for any infringement of the rules.”

Comment: In this rule provision, termination would involve the infringement of a rule that specifically calls for termination, e.g. not having seven eligible players, weather or field conditions, or home team management unable to keep spectators the stipulated distances from the field.

R5-S3-A2-b: “The head referee or center referee shall:. . . . .have the authority to terminate a game when stated rule and conditions warrant.”

R5-S3-A2-c: “The head referee or center referee shall. . . . .have the authority to suspend play or terminate the game whenever the elements, spectators or other causes require.”

Comment: These two rules provisions cited above give the Referee the authority to terminate a game. In addition to rules infringements that allow termination, these provisions include such implied problems as: weather-elements, spectators, lack of proper equipment, and perhaps the lack of an authorized school representative to be responsible for a team when that team coach has been ejected (see related R12-S8-A4-c below).

(Note: the Referee Team should make sure to understand how to apply and administer the policy on lightning.)

R12-S8-A4-c: “A coach who is disqualified shall leave the vicinity of the playing area immediately and is prohibited from any contact, direct or indirect, with the team during the remainder of the game.  Failure to comply shall result in termination of the game.”

Comment: This rule further specifies the Referee authority to terminate a game. This game-related possibility should stress to the Referee the importance of knowing what the State High School Association guidance is in a case where a coach is disqualified and no authorized school representative is available to assume responsibility for team management.

Unspecified Condition for Termination: Let me interject a brief word about a consideration not in the rule book. One situation not specifically addressed in the rules (but is implied in the “Spirit of the Rules” concept) involves the instance where the Referee feels that the behavior of the participants during the game has gone “out-of-control” to the point where the Referee considers that imminent physical danger is possible to players because of the accumulated infringements and misconducts committed and the expected continuance of such unacceptable behavior. How many fouls, how many cautions, and how many ejections are enough to consider this action are a matter of Referee judgment. While this is fortunately a rare occurrence, it has happened, and it requires prompt decision and action by the Referee. It assumes that the efforts of the Referee have not kept the behavior level and player safety concerns within acceptable limits. The Referee should always understand that player safety is a prime concern. In such an instance, however rare, the Referee should not hesitate to exercise the authority to terminate.

Summary: Having to terminate a game is a rarity for a referee. But because of it being rare, many Soccer Referees don’t spend as much time learning about and considering when and how to use this power. This subject bears your attention so that you are ready to decide and act correctly if and when the need occurs. Most of your study and preparation as a Referee involves being “ready for anything!” This is one game event you will need to be prepared for.