WHEN IT IS SERIOUS…….Don McMahon
This article continues our series on the interpretations and meanings behind the laws of the game.
FIFA’s concern about players returning to the field of play with serious head injuries is justified and proportional to the need. That said, the player also has his word in this decision and if the medical team (physio, team doctor and manager) decide that it is safe to do so, then as Wenger clearly explained to those who are listening, the player is permitted to re-enter the field.
The referee always has the last word and can refuse the player access to the field if in his opinion, the risk is too great. That said, it isn’t usually within his aegis to determine whether a player is seriously injured and whether that has been sufficiently remedied…. unless it is very clear that the injury is highly visible and still dangerous to the player himself or others around him.
The referee relies on the team of medical experts to determine such matters. Neurological injuries or potentially serious cranial ones are tricky to determine since they tend to have long term consequences and symptoms…so a doctor is usually the only one capable of assessing them accurately.
Now those who are trying to beat up Wenger over the idea that permitting Kos to return after his injury cost us the game, should reflect on two things:
1) Medical specialists who know football injuries, decided that it was safe to allow Kos back on and
2) Kos himself was willing and able to return after acquiring a prosthesis to protect his scalp.
The fact that they scored shortly thereafter is irrelevant and could have happened whether Kos was injured or not. To ¨blame¨ Wenger for allowing Kos back on is disingenuous at best and irrational at worst. Kos, the referee and Wenger made that decision and, while it proved to be short-term, it was the logical one to do at the time.
The referee’s mandate regarding protection of players before, during and after a game extends to all forms of protection from all forms of threats. The Laws state:
Law 4 – player’s equipment: In summary a player may not wear anything which may be harmful to himself or another player (and specifically bans all kinds of jewelry). It also specifies that a player must wear a jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards and footwear (i.e., shoes).
Law 5 – The Referee: In summary while ensuring the safety of the players is the referee’s primary objective, he should permit the game to flow and not call trivial fouls, nor should he call fouls where stopping play for a free kick would be less beneficial to the fouled team than permitting play to continue.
Law 12 – Fouls and misconducts have already been reviewed but remember that any act that is reckless, careless or done with excessive force is to be considered a foul and a risk to an opponent and even to the offender.
The referee even has the authority to temporarily or permanently prevent a match from starting, stop a match because of dangerous playing conditions and hold players on the field after a match because of threats to their safety.
The referee can, in professional football, suspend play when the spectators or conditions warrant it and as FIFA’s representative on the field, require that the stadium conditions be remediated immediately, before he restarts play.
He can also prevent individual players, managers, staff and other stadium authorities from being present during the game (by reporting them to the stadium authorities) if in his opinion they represent a risk to the players, by reporting them to the stadium authorities.
This requirement to protect and ensure the players’ safety is one of the three pillars of the prudent exercise and professionalism in officiating. The other two are being firm in ones decisions and actions and being fair in the application of the Laws.
When you have thousands of people watching an event it is essential that the referee keeps his eyes out for things that can injure or threaten the players, whether they are on or off the field. That is why Wenger’s decision, supported by his Arsenal medical team and the referee’s acceptance, was the correct one in allowing Kos to return to play.
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