Rebooting Soccer As Positive Cases Are Very Low in New York
Youth soccer referees are on the field with players constantly during a soccer match, and while not in direct contact, social distancing is not always possible. Here is our New York columnist Randy Vogt who has refereed more than 10,000 games discussing how he feels safe, again.
Positive virus cases from testing have been steadily around 1% for the past three months in New York State, allowing soccer games to be played here for the first time since early March. Since all my matches were indoor futsal games this year, I had not refereed an outdoor game in 2020.
No longer as I refereed a Boys-Under-17 friendly solo on August 16. I have been reffing friendly games and tournaments for the past month and felt safe while doing it.
I wore a mask upon entering and leaving the field, took it off when I was refereeing and wore it during the match as an assistant referee as people were around me. Many leagues now have the two squads on opposite sides of the field with the team benches by the AR when the ref runs the usual left wing diagonal used in almost every match.
So the AR is near players, including when standing at the halfway line and substitutes are ready to go into the match. Also, when the player is taking a corner kick on the AR’s side and sometimes when a player is throwing the ball in from the defensive half. I’ve noticed that most AR’s are wearing masks as well in the games I have seen.
Running while wearing a mask seemed to restrict breathing. I would be remiss if I did not mention that US Soccer says “to discuss with your Primary Care Physician if any medical conditions pre-dispose you to avoid the use of a face cover while participating in physical activity.”
We’re having the AR’s use their own personal flag even if it does not match the other AR’s flag. Things need not be perfect as soccer reboots but we all need to be safe. One rationale behind this is I’m reffing with another official giving me the flag when he/she refs, I’m holding the same flag. Then if I ref another game, I’m putting a whistle to my mouth which seems like a possible risk to avoid by simply having AR’s use their own flag.
Unlike the AR’s position just outside the touchline in line with either the second-to-last defender or the ball, whichever is closer to the goal line, the ref’s position is not as rigid so I have not worn a mask as the ref. When booking a player, I made sure to keep a social distance but still made it clear who was being sanctioned. In getting the 10 yards on ceremonial free kicks, I marked the distance but stayed well away from where the wall would form. I tried to avoid handing the ball to players as well.
With these precautions, I have felt safe when officiating.
For those refs who want to wear a mask, you can use an electronic whistle that you would hold and activate in your hand. I purchased one months ago but have not felt the need to use it.
The coaches and all the substitutes are supposed to be wearing masks. Although I’ve noticed the coaches doing this, their substitutes have not and coaches need to make sure all their subs comply. It’s arguably the easiest way in a soccer setting to catch the virus, to be sitting next to another person and neither one wears a mask. That and team huddles before the half where the players do a loud cheer at the end so I don’t know why they continue to do them.
Although very few subs have been wearing masks, I’ve noticed two teenage boys on different teams wearing masks throughout the game, including when they were playing.
No need for me to check passes at friendlies or tournaments but this will occur when league play restarts soon.
I think the best method would be for the coach, with a mask on, to show the ref the pass as the player approaches, with a mask on, but still maintains a social distance. Of course, the referee is wearing a mask as well and no need for the ref to collect passes during this pandemic.
I have felt safe but for those who are worried about refereeing again because you are concerned about your safety, do not give your availability to assignors.
Wait and see if any of your colleagues become sick from refereeing and make a decision based on that.
Randy Vogt, the author of Preventive Officiating, has officiated over 10,000 games.