The whistle means stop

By Randy Vogt

It's the most basic principle of any game officiated by the use of a whistle: Play stops when the whistle sounds. Players are told to play the whistle and soccer players can be cautioned if they play the ball a second or two after they hear the whistle. So it’s particularly frustrating that two refs during televised games in the past year blew the whistle for a penalty kick, then allowed the goal to stand when the ball went into the goal, not having the PK taken instead.

In the Red Bulls-Portland Timbers game last August, referee Jason Anno blew the whistle for a Red Bulls penalty kick for a handling foul inside the penalty area. The ball then rebounded from Portland defender David Horst’s arm to the Red Bulls’ Tim Cahill, who shot and scored. Cahill’s shot was by the top of the penalty area. As the ball was going toward the goal, Anno blew his whistle for the PK, then allowed the goal to stand. He should have taken the ball out of the net and given a penalty kick instead.

That situation repeated itself in the Brazil-Italy Confederations Cup game this past Saturday. Uzbekistanian referee Ravshan Irmatov blew the whistle and pointed to the penalty spot when Mario Balotelli was dragged to the ground off a corner kick. Then he allowed Giorgio Chiellini’s shot by the penalty spot, that occurred as the whistle was sounding, to stand. Again, the ref should have taken the ball out of the goal and given the penalty kick.

Teams score on penalty kicks the great majority of the time. The only time that a ref should try and play the advantage for a penalty kick foul is when an attacking player has the ball near the goal with an open goal beckoning.

One of the reasons that referees carry the whistle in their hands, is by raising it to their mouths, gives them an opportunity to see if an advantage situation is developing. It would have been great if the refs in these two situations could have waited an extra split second to see if an advantage situation had developed but I cannot fault them for blowing the whistle as fouls were committed and there’s a much higher probability of the penalty being converted than the following shot.

In games that I have refereed, approximately five times I’ve had to take the ball out of the net as I blew the whistle for a penalty kick before the ball went into the goal. The last time occurred two weeks ago. I can honestly write that I was really hoping that all those penalty kicks would be converted. All were except one years ago. I felt bad about that one time but what could I do? I had to forget about it and continue to ref the game.

I’ve also played the advantage several times when, after a defensive foul inside the penalty area, the ball went to an attacker near the goal who had an open goal to shoot at. All times, the goal was scored.

An NCAA game a few years ago was protested as the losing team had video that the ref blew the whistle before the ball entered the goal, then gave the goal. The NCAA ordered the match to be replayed which was the correct decision.

In the situation in MLS last year and in the Confederations Cup this past weekend, the refs created problems by allowing the goal to stand. How can we tell players to play the whistle if the ref allows play to continue after the whistle?

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at
6 comments about "The whistle means stop".
  1. Oswald Viva, June 24, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.

    By disallowing the goal and calling for a penalty kick instead you are giving the advantage to the team making the infractions. The advantage rule exists for a reason. I admit that the ref blew the whistle calling for a penalty kick, but the goal was converted practically simultaneously with the whistle, so, in my opinion, the goal was rightly allowed.

  2. Mike Asente, June 24, 2013 at 1:58 p.m.

    I'm with Oswald on this! As a Ref you should know there is no law governing the whistle and the Ref has every option to alter his call esp. when it comes to playing advantage. I think you are overly swayed by the idiot commentators on this one.

  3. soccer talk, June 24, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.

    By law like it or not the whistle stops play
    And if the ball has not fully crossed goal line.
    Justfully , not legally I agree w/ Oswald that
    The ref got it right in the end, b/c Brasil did not
    Let up on the split second between whistle
    And second strike. As a ref of soccer and other
    Sports as hard as it is you want to make quick
    Decisive calls or "sell the call". But in certain situations especially scoring opportunities
    A ref should hold the call to let the play finish
    Out. Easier said than done in many times.
    There are occasions that the whistle starts play
    Play from dead ball situations.
    I think commentators all to often hammer refs
    For a bad call and band them from big games.
    Human error is part of the game in any officiating
    Arena. Now if this is common place then address
    It constructively. Too many times sideline yahoos
    Spout off and rip refs of all ages. This is the
    Main reason many young refs quit for the small
    Bucks ; just not worth it! That is a whole other

  4. Kent James, June 25, 2013 at 9:57 a.m.

    Difficult situation, but should justice or legality prevail? Do you want human judgment or mechanical consistency? If the ref blows the whistle and the defense stops on the whistle, then the offense scores (and they might not have scored had the whistle not blown), then clearly the ref blew it (sorry), but you have to take the goal away and award the PK. On the other hand, if the whistle does not effect play, judgment would suggest justice would be served to allow the goal to stand. And of course, allowing advantage to be played when an offensive player has the opportunity to score (but then fails to do so), presents a slightly different problem. Do you then award the pk (even though the offense "should" have scored?). Justice would say yes, the laws of the game say otherwise.

  5. John Soares, June 25, 2013 at 5:57 p.m.

    Having been "guilty" of this infraction....and regretting it. I must go with the RULE. Referees need to take a breath, count to 3, whatever, to allow time to establish advantage...or not. If we start saying (as some have). Yeah; it's the rule, but. Then we have no rules!

  6. soccer talk, June 27, 2013 at 1:50 p.m.

    Only in hindsight can we sat justice was served in this situation where goal would have been scored even w the split second whistle where we have the luxury of review.
    Of course a ref cannot officiate w what happens
    In retrospect. If the whistle blasts then no goal and subsequent PK. Soccer of all sports allows
    The ref to not make harsh speedy calls. Because
    He/she must bring their whistle to their mouth prior to the blast. Hold your whistle as mentioned
    For 2 seconds new refs !

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