More locally as we are on the cusp of State Cup play in most states I was reminded of an incident some years back regarding a match ball, and the havoc it wreaked on a youth team, parents, administration, and referees. It was so notable that the story even made Sports Illustrated.
Long story short, while the match ball is not an issue for tournaments like the World Cup, or down through MLS who use a common match ball (I will one day write about why officials have to show up 2 hours before a match ... I am convinced it allows time for the 4th official to check the 20-something balls required in a match), it can very much be an issue for youth tournaments like Regionals, and certainly State Cups where such stringent control of match balls is generally not enforced.
From Law 2 of the 2009/2010 LOTG, we know that the ball is several things, including: "of a circumference of not more than 70 cm (28 ins) and not less than 68 cm (27 ins)"
Which after you unwind the math, is a size 5 ball.
Uh ... but don't some younger players use a size 4, or even a size 3 ball ...
Yes, yes they do.
A very astute, or administratively minded referee or assessor may ask, "Where do local associations get the authority from FIFA to change the ball size then?"
Glad you asked.
Your answer is on page 3 of LOTG and states:
Subject to the agreement of the member association concerned and provided
the principles of these Laws are maintained, the Laws may be modified in their application for matches for players of under 16 years of age, for women footballers, for veteran footballers (over 35 years of age) and for players with disabilities.
Any or all of the following modifications are
• size of the field of play
• size, weight and material of the ball
• width between the goalposts and height of the crossbar from the ground
• duration of the periods of play
So all this for what?
To keep a referee from potentially invalidating a match result based on using the wrong ball size and underscore how very critical it is to assure that the match ball you start with, is the one that you play with, and is the one you finish with, unless the referee authorizes a change.
Authority to check and change the ball is in Law 5, and will be discussed another time.
In a youth match, things can get crazy, a ball goes over the fence, and a new one comes it. A ball gets caught in the sidelines, and a new one comes in. To hurry play, a coach put several balls in play that have not been checked.
This could spell DISASTER for a match, and a sure fire failure for an assessment, where it is amazingly easy to deal with.
Here is a simple checklist to consider:
- Check the ball before the match for safety (are there any lifted panels?) size, weight, and pressure. Note that all are critical, but size may matter the most in this context.
- Keep that ball with you before the match, and I do mean physically keep it under your arm until the match is ready to start.
- Continue to use that ball throughout the match, and only THAT ball.
- If that ball is unavailable or becomes defective, repeat #1 for the new ball.
- At the end of the match, get possession of the ball, and I do mean physically keep it under your arm, and return it to the person it belongs to.
Sounds simple, almost remedial, but has been the subject of at least one national story and a group of very disappointed 12 year old players and parents.
Don't make that mistake ... check, and recheck the competition rules and assure yourself you have the right size ball for the age group you are refereeing.