Wednesday, August 8, 2012

6 Second Mania

Boy oh boy.

Looking around the web over the last couple of days after the women's US v. Canada Olympic match has been interesting. I have seen everything from a full blown US payoff to Norway for the win, to FIFA payoff of the referee to get the "final they really wanted", to it's FIFA's fault for having a neutral referee in there, to it's Canada's fault for not putting more goals in the nest than the US.

I'm not going to speculate on all the nonsense (just a little), but stick more to the heart of the 6 second rule, and some interpretations.

So where do we start? Yep, with the LOTG, which states in relevant part in Law 12:

Indirect free kick

An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following four offenses:

  • controls the ball with his hands for more than six seconds before releasing it from his possession
(Other 3 bullets omitted)

Okay, simple enough. One may ask then, what is control.

Anything in the 2012/2013 Amendments to the LOTG? Nope.

US Soccer position papers? Nope.

How about the advice to referees that has been so widely cited in news articles? This states in whole:

The goalkeeper has six seconds to release the ball into play once he or she has taken possession of the ball with the hands. However, this restriction is not intended to include time taken by the goalkeeper while gaining control of the ball or as a natural result of momentum. The referee should not count the seconds aloud or with hand motions. If the goalkeeper is making a reasonable effort to release the ball into play, the referee should allow the “benefit of the doubt.” Before penalizing a goalkeeper for violating this time limit, the referee should warn the goalkeeper about such actions and then should penalize the violation only if the goalkeeper continues to waste time or commits a comparable infringement again later in the match. Opposing players should not be permitted to attempt to prevent the goalkeeper from moving to release the ball into play. 

Okay, that helps a bunch. Now sprinkle on top that referees should not punish trifling offenses and what do we have?

For the media I think it could have been a bit of a red herring.


Because this is a FIFA match, not a US Soccer match. So regardless of how US Soccer interprets this situation, it has no import. This is totally a FIFA deal.

That said, this last comment may be moot in this case as US Soccer and FIFA seem to align. I make the point as people are immediately jumping to the conclusion that if US Soccer says this is so, it is what happens. Not true in all cases with regard to FIFA matches.

So now what, was it a violation or not?

By the letter of the Law, in the 78th minute, my answer is yes as the keeper held the ball for about 10 seconds, 4 seconds longer than the proscribed time.

That said, I offer the following as thoughts for how to manage this situation (in general), without coming to the same (controversial) result, or even a need for that decision.

1. Nip it in the bud early.

Let's face it, Canada was time wasting. The Canadian coach proclaiming his teams innocence in this regard is BS. This is a coached tactic, a well known tactic, and one to time waste, plain and simple. A referee needs to know when this is going to happen, and deal with it through presence. In this case there were similar incidents in the 58th and 61st minute from the Canadian GK ... this was even after a talking to by the AR at halftime. Start dealing with it when it first comes up.

2. Make a show of it.

Players know how to waste time, and are coached to do so. There is nothing wrong with a referee very publicly showing their displeasure with the tactic and making a show of it. Yes this goes against the grain of being invisible, but it serves to not only put the GK on notice ... who already was in this case ... but also to put the entire stadium on notice the referee with deal with this.

Consider it in the context of a hard foul. A referee will whistle hard, go over, talk and usually gesture about this incident. Often times a "no more" sign language is used. Many times to great effect. Why not do the same here? At a goal kick or other stoppage near an incident with time wasting, go to the GK and gesture "no more", or "hurry up" or something to put the stadium on notice you are going to take action next time. In that way, when the referee does make that decision, the reaction is not, "did you see that!", it is one of "well, the referee told them to hurry up."

3. Be consistent (with tradition).

Much has been written about the "tradition" (my word) of how this particular aspect of Law 12 is enforced. Frankly, history is not on the side of this particular referee as it is rarely enforced through a free kick. The history of the Law points to the egregious abuses where GKs would hold the ball for minutes (!) and have no resulting free kick for time wasting. One thing a referee must consider is what do the players expect not just within a particular match, but from match to match.

Like anything else, tradition (or consistency from match to match for the sport as a whole) is critical for professional and international players. To divert from that tradition is asking for trouble.

Some have said this law has outlived its usefulness. I don't go that far as abandoning it would revert us back to the basketball era goal keepers who dribble around the 18 yard box like Larry Bird. Keep the law, we still need it as is well demonstrated in this match.

4. Don't send your AR in this case.

It has also been widely reported that the AR spoke to the Canadian GK about the time wasting, but the GK did not consider it a "warning" of sorts. She spouted some nonsense like "it was an informal warning" or "it didn't count."

This too is BS as the Canadian GK knew exactly what she was doing. Otherwise she would not be playing at that level. Believe me, I didn't question when a vice principle warned me about discipline in school. It certainly was NOT informal because I knew what was going to happen next. Both GKs should have as well here.

That said, and with all due respect to the ARs out there, it needs to come from the referee in these cases. Its not that an AR is not allowed to do so, or is empowered to do so ... in fact I am certain that the refereeing team was aware and spoke to BOTH GKs about it. In this case however it needs to come from the person who is going to make the decision, not their assistant.

So while the Canadian GKs "excuse" is weak ... it is best hearing this from the referee, and there is no harm in a follow up ... or many ... from the ARs.

5. Silence the dissenters.

If you are taking care of all of the above, and a player (like Wambach) dissents by action in counting in front of you, book them for the dissent.

Her farcical excuse of "I was just counting" is just crap. She baited the referee and knows it. This is not "heads up play", it's gamesmanship and needs to be dealt with. If you experience the same, consider a caution if you are doing what you must to avoid the time wasting.

6. Look for help.

Don't be afraid to get help form the ARs and 4th in dealing with delays as well. Their presence, as well as your words and presence will show that you, as a team, are on top of the issue.

In that way, when the whistle needs to come for delaying the match, it will be far better received.

Take it for what it is worth.


  1. Great Analysis. You know that they are times that "serendipity" happens. One thing can take care of another thing not expected (or prevent something worse from happening, like maybe a PK).

    I had a game where the GK was wasting time (like all players/coaches/ball boys are instructed to do) on the leading team in the 2nd half do. In my case the player on the losing team came up to me counting ... 1....2...
    I blew the whistle and cautioned him. Now the ball was dead and time running ...emphatically waving my arms to the GK to release the ball is so important in preventing (unforced) referee errors... he never wasted time releasing the ball again (AB instructed us on that technique). I don't think any referee or team or fan want a game decided on a free kick like this... that's why "preventive refereeing" is so crucial to having a good enjoyable game.

  2. Great comment Anon.

    Sometimes all it takes are the players seeing how serious you are taking the issue (of time wasting) and the rest generally takes care of itself.

    Angelo is spot on, and I agree absolutely no one wants to see a match altered (I will not go quite so far as to say decided) in this way.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Excellent.... altered is the word... absolutely spot on... I was inaccurate. That's why you are where you are!
    Thank you. I will never forget that word.

  4. Thanks for the kind words Anon. =)