Should Refs Apologize?

We don’t want to make mistakes but it’s part of being human. You could say that with all the games I have officiated — more than 11,000 — I’ve made more mistakes than most soccer referees.

Even with Video Review, some important game decisions are still missed in professional matches. I have seen media coverage of referees apologizing for their mistakes.

I guess while referees are apologizing, players should apologize for getting sent off or for missing that sitter and coaches should apologize for the substitution that did not work out.

But should youth soccer refs apologize? Yes and no.

It’s OK to apologize if you have made a mistake that is apparent to everyone. For example, a clear advantage situation where you blew the whistle too early for the foul.

The ref could say, “My bad. I blew the whistle while I should have played the advantage clause. Please take the direct (or indirect) kick instead.”

Years ago, when I was faced with a good deal of immediate dissent from players of one team, I would say, “This is the way I saw it. If I missed that decision, I’m sorry.”

I found out very quickly that apologizing in this manner hindered rather than helped game control as players of both teams lost confidence in me as the referee. Instead, stay with your decision (which I did anyway) and control any dissent by verbally warning or cautioning.

A reason for the dissent could be the ref’s proximity to play, or lack thereof, so it’s important for the referee to be fit and be near the ball.

Then there are the players and coaches who go out of their way to tell you after the game that you are the reason why their team lost the game. You don’t apologize. Instead, you can say something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Have a good day,” and walk away. If they continue, you can still use your cards.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 11,000 games in six different decades.)

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Editor's note: An experienced, professional MLS referee was asked during his appearance at a youth ref class whether he ever apologized to players for a missed call. He said:

"Yes, but never more than once a half."

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Refereeing in Soccer America

Among our recent ref, rules and officiating coverage and commentary:

1Think you know the rules of soccer? Try this quiz. (Part 1) By Beau Dure 

2MLS Next Pro's new rules: Opponent-specific red-card suspensions and off-field injury treatment By Mike Woitalla 

3Becky Pagan paves way for girls and women to join referee ranks By Dan Woog

4Think you know the rules of soccer? Try this quiz. (Part 2) By Beau Dure

Ref Coverage around the Web

1. Referee Igor Benevenuto on coming out as gay: ‘I was scared of being attacked in the street’ By Jack Lang (The Athletic)

2. Qatar World Cup to use semi-automated offside technology By Simon Stone (BBC Sport)

3Basketball referee knocks out man during mass brawl at school game By Ronny Reyes (Daily Mail)

4PRO Inside Video Review with Greg Barkey

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The 2022-23 FIFA rulebook

The are various ways to access free digital versions of the 2022-23 FIFA Laws of the Game.

U.S. Soccer: 2022-23 rulebook (available in English, Spanish, German and French) in PDF form HERE. U.S. Soccer's Pocket Guide HERE.

IFAB: 2022-23 rulebook (available in English and various languages) HERE. IFBA changes to 2022-23 Laws of the Game HEREIFAB app.

Photo: Michael Janosz/ISI Photos

11 comments about "Should Refs Apologize?".
  1. Santiago 1314, July 22, 2022 at 10:24 a.m.

    Best Come back by a Ref Ever: "When you PLAY a Perfect Game, I will Ref a PERFECT Game.!!!"
    I don't know about "Apology" per se, but be Willing to Correct a Mistake, Accept Responsiblity, Fix a Mistake and Move On... (PLAY ON.!!!! Right Sr. Ric.!?!?!?)
    Just like anything in Life.!!!

  2. Beau Dure, July 22, 2022 at 10:36 a.m.

    Dang -- I had just gotten used to telling people that I can only call what I see. 

    Selling a call when you're not sure what happened is one of the toughest parts of reffing.

  3. Kent James replied, July 22, 2022 at 3:49 p.m.

    This is one of the toughest decisions in refereeing; when you are pretty sure what happened, but you didn't actually see it (usually because your view was momentarily obstructed).  You hope your ARs will bail you out, but they are not always in a position to do so.  I think you want to air on the side of not calling it unless you're pretty sure.  Saying you didn't call it because couldn't see it is easier to sell than saying you guessed because you couldn't see it (and you theoretically called something that didn't happen).  

  4. stewart hayes, July 22, 2022 at 10:53 a.m.

    Good to have a ref's perspective especially one with so much experience.  I never thought about apologizing for a bad call but now that I think about it might be a good idea but only once.  

    The perfect time is at the start with the captains.  Something like the following is appropriate, "Mistakes, even by officials are part of the game.  Tell your teammates to accept my decisions and play on.  I will not tolerate dissent."

    Of course now with VAR the referee is less of an autocrat because decisions are subject to review.  Eventually refereeing at the pro level will be done by AI to remove the unequal application of the laws due be 'only human referees'.  

  5. R2 Dad, July 22, 2022 at 12:45 p.m.

    At the youth level, I get annoyed when there is some line call and the coach/fans go mental because we got it wrong. You know the type of call, 2 or 3 players kicking at the ball, right on the sideline near the benches. Often times they can see it better than we can if the AR isn't right there to see it. You do your best, usually you can read the players as they know what happened but we still can get the call wrong. If this is a one-off in a clean match, I can tell the players "I didn't see that, sorry if we got it wrong", and move on. But if you have a couple line calls like that, it's setting the ref up for something possibly worse. So I agree with Randy, Yes and No, referee judgement is required. Read the situation; an admission of fallibility can be the right thing to do but it's based on  referees having a good read of the situation. Often that's beyond a teen's abilities (and some adult refs as well). I have not yet fallen to the ground covering my face like that pro ref that whistled for a foul instead of applying advantage while the attacker was stroking the ball into the net--knock on wood. 

  6. Kent James replied, July 22, 2022 at 3:59 p.m.

    I was an AR on an intense college rivalry game where an attacking player was leveled just after he hit the ball.  The CR blew the whistle quickly to prevent retaliation (or a riot), but wouldn't you know it, the ball went in the top corner (the keeper never had a chance).  He allowed the goal, even though that was technically wrong.  The team that gave up the goal wasn't happy, but they accepted it.  Not sure what would have happened if they protested it (officially) but it was clearly the right outcome (the whistle had no impact on whether the goal was scored or not).  Sometimes you gotta make stuff up as you go along...

  7. Steve Kearns, July 22, 2022 at 1:29 p.m.

    I am long retired, but some great advice I got from a senior ref - especially useful as I got older - to sell a call made when you're at one end of the field and the defender kicks it long the other way that results in a breakaway where you know a foul is coming, and does, is blow your whistle but keep running until you're on top of the play before you signal for the foul.  The players and fans will think you were there the whole time.  Helps avoid that "how can you make that call from where you were?" scream.  

  8. Randy Vogt, July 22, 2022 at 3:38 p.m.

    The officiating crew that I was a part of last night did apologize to the players that we could not start the match as one goal was broken and dangerous with no replacement available. First time in 40+ years of refereeing that I can recall unplayable field conditions because of a goal! I see something I have never seen before on occasion even with a lot of experience.

  9. Kent James, July 22, 2022 at 3:54 p.m.

    This can be a touchy issue; if there is respect on all sides, a referee admitting an error will usually be accepted and forgiven.  If there is not respect, then the error will be used as ammunition for the rest of the game.

    A different issue is an apology after the fact (for professional, or other high level games).  I think these are more useful if they can be used to educate the fans (which requires an explanation of why the call was wrong). 

  10. Bob Ashpole, July 22, 2022 at 4:21 p.m.

    Before I quit playing, I played about 800 organized adult matches. For over 700 of those we only had a center (and virtually every official did not want club linesmen). What amazed me was how good a job that they did. A couple didn't ever make a bad call over multiple games. I don't know how that is possible. As a manager the only thing I really cared about was keeping the game safe. We were too cheap to expect perfection. Safety was what we were paying for.

    For a youth match, even a national championship match, I think adults are crazy and setting horrible role models for getting agitated about winning or losing. Truly in a youth match the only thing that should matter is how the team played. 

  11. Craig Cummings, July 25, 2022 at 9:24 p.m.

    Randy when I was outright call wrong I would say I was wrong, But I never said that very often, as  I believe my calls were mostley correct. I have  been refing for over 40 years.  But hey, I have major discent for over all the years. and also seen big fights in mens semi pro games. So good games and bad games. LOL.

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