The beauty of soccer is that it is played in almost any weather
conditions. The athletes and officials must be in good condition and properly
prepared to play in some of the more foul weather conditions. However, the same
two over-riding principles hold fast in all aspects of the game – safety and
fairness. These principles apply to weather and field conditions as much as they
due to whether a tackle is an excellent play or a free kick..
A simple review of the various soccer organization rulebooks demonstrate that
the referee has the authority and responsibility to suspend or terminate a match
if the playing conditions warrant it.
– Law 5 – The Referee. IFAB DECISION 1 - …a decision that
the conditions of the field of play or its surrounds or that the weather
conditions are such as to allow or not to allow a match to take place.
- USSF - Advice to
Referees 5.11 TERMINATING THE MATCH. The referee may terminate
a match for reasons of safety (bad weather or darkness)
- NFHS - Rule 1-7
FIELD CONDITIONS. Once the game begins, and until it ends, the
determination of whether or not a game may be safely continued shall be made by
- NCAA - Rule 5-5
DISCRETIONARY POWERS. The referee has the discretionary power
to: a) Suspend the game whenever, by reason of the elements, interference by
spectators, or other cause, such action is deemed necessary… Approved Ruling
(A.R.) 63 states: “The game is started in good weather, but conditions rapidly
deteriorate and both teams insist on continuing the game. RULING: The referee
has the authority to suspend a game for reason of the elements.”
The intent of these rules are clear but the specifics of when and how are
vague. Do we stop if I hear thunder? How much rain is too much? What is too cold
and what is too hot? What about lightning or ice or fog? Are there hard and fast
rules or do they vary from league to league, age to age? Does the referee always
make the decision? What if the field proprietor decides not to play a game
because of the possible damage to the pitch? These are very difficult and
complex questions that are often thrust into the lap of the referee.
Preventative Measures – There are some things that the referee
can do prior to a match to make sure he or she is armed with as much knowledge
(1) Know the Rules – Make sure that you are aware of the applicable rules for
the competition. The NFHS states that the home school athletic director can deem
the conditions acceptable to play or not to play up to the beginning of play.
Until you start this match, you can not suspend or terminate a match. In some
state high school associations, waiting periods have been pre-set by the state.
For example, in Ohio there is a set number of minutes that must be waited after
the last lightning strike or thunderclap. These are rules that the referee is
obliged to follow. It is always wise to consult the match or tournament director
on their policy for weather conditions and safety.
(2) Pre-game Field Inspection – An early arrival to the field is even more
important than usual if there is currently or threats of foul weather in the
course of the match. Is this a pitch that tends to pool water in certain areas.
Always take the time to inspect the goal areas. They are usually the hardest
beaten and most suspect in the event of bad weather. Discuss with you assistants
and fourth official about how to signal to you when they see lightning or
believe that the match should be stopped. If there was play on the field earlier
that damaged areas of the field, what is there condition now. If the temperature
has dropped to below freezing, those same ruts can not be frozen into razor
sharp edges that can cause deep cuts on thighs and arms. Don’t forget to look at
the touchline areas. They are often one of the least maintained areas on the
field. Some venues have benches or stands close to these areas that under normal
conditions are sufficiently far away but under slippery conditions can be
dangerous. What conditions will your assistants be working in? Should you
consider a reverse diagonal to provide them some relief? Understanding the field
conditions before the game can provide you with critical information about the
safety and well-being of the players as the game nears.
(3) Weather Forecasts – Weather prediction and technology has made tremendous
strides over the last 5 years. Check the weather before you leave for a match.
This can be done by phone, Internet, or television. I have a pager and a cell
phone that can receive weather emergency information automatically. This is
important information for determining if there is any point in starting the
match or how to long to wait for a small pocket of foul weather to pass.
(4) Detection Devices – Many schools, parks, and tournaments are equipped with
detection devices for foul weather, especially lightning. All of us have seen
these things work both excellently and poorly. I can remember a detection device
go off at a field that was bathed in warm summer sun and perfect playing
conditions. We played the entire match without any dark clouds, rain, thunder or
lightning. That night I checked the radar on the Weather Channel and nothing was
detected with 200 miles of that field. Similarly, I was working a game under
fair conditions when the detection device sounded and the storm moved so
quickly, we barely made it to cover before multiple lightning strikes blanketed
the area. These are just another tool to use to help you make a very difficult
(5) Age of Players – Young players need to learn to play under less than optimal
conditions but they also have to learn to enjoy the game first. Albeit cute, we
have all suffered through watching two teams of 10 year olds stand around a
puddle of water carefully kicking at the ball stuck in the center of the puddle.
With young kids, temperature is a key condition to watch. Very hot conditions or
very cold conditions can be dangerous to young players. Include a couple of
water breaks to assure that the kids don’t dehydrate. Encourage them to drink
water when they are not on the field. Adults know the dangers of not wearing
sufficient clothing on cold days and can make the choice to wear those gloves or
not. Young players do not always realize the dangers and the adult supervision
may be caught up in the game too much to realize what’s happening. Older players
kick the ball harder and farther than younger players. In foggy conditions, will
you be able to follow the flight of the ball and be able to see the landing zone
to look for fouls or misconduct? This is an important consideration for fairness
(6) Traveling Teams – As players get older, teams begin to travel. A college
team that has traveled for 3 hours to reach a game site will be very reluctant
to not play due to some inclement weather. These situations require some
consideration before suspending or terminating a match for foul weather. Can
this game be played safely and fairly or do you just not want to get muddy and
cold? Be more lenient with traveling teams than local matches but never risk the
key principles of safety and fairness.
(7) The Impact – Another factor to consider is the impact of not playing this
match will have on the players, teams, standings, and/or league. Many
tournaments are forced to stay on schedules or play finals in poor weather and
field conditions because of potential interference with league play or
inconvenience to traveling teams. Some games are not as critical to standings as
other games and the league will likely not replay the games. Other games are
critical to standings or are big rivalries. Patience is important here. Player,
fans, tournament officials, school administrators are anxious to play and are
frustrated by the weather or other conditions that may result in the game being
suspended or terminated.
(8) The Score – If the game is a blow-out, the choice is easier than if the game
is a draw or a close hard fought battle. That said, the principles are the same.
Is it fair to end a match when you may not normally just because one team is
losing badly. Those teams, players, schools deserve to play the game. The game
score is a contributing factor but should be given less weight than many of the
other factors previously discussed.
(9) Back-up Plan – If you decide to play in questionable weather, always make
sure that you have a solid, well thought-outback-up plan. Are the bleachers
metallic? How far away are the cars? The locker rooms?
We have discussed the why, but what about the how? How do I know when to consider the conditions unplayable? Here are some ideas for making that decision.
- Heat –
In general, this is not a reason for terminating a match. Youth players may need
a water break mid-way through a half. Humidity and smog are greater safety
concerns. High humidity and bad smog can cause allergic and asthmatic reactions.
Many areas have smog alerts. Be aware of these situations and be patient with
players having difficulty due to allergies, asthma or dehydration. One more
point is that at higher level games the number of substitutions are limited so
the players exposure to the high heat is more intense and warrants closer
- Cold –
Extreme cold can be very dangerous. Pay attention to the weather forecast and
understand the signs of frostbite. Blue lips or extremities are signs of reduced
circulation and overexposure to cold. Fingernails can be could indicators of
internal body temperatures. If you are warm, it is likely that the players are
doing okay as well. Typically, you should expect to chilled or cold at the very
beginning of the game. You should warm up as you exert energy to stay with play.
Assistant referees are particularly susceptible to these conditions as they may
stand still for longer periods.
- Rain –
Rain, in and of itself, is not a big deal. However, rain combined with other
factors can be very dangerous. Cold and rain mixed can result in hypothermia.
Rain accompanied by thunder and lightning can create vary dangerous conditions.
The impact of a heavy rain is really dependent upon the pitch on which the game
is being held. If it drains well, play on. If it becomes a muddy, slippery mess,
use your best judgment. Personally, I like to watch how the players are doing.
Are they slipping or are they upright? If they slip, do they fall awkwardly and
risk serious injury or do they just get muddy. Can the keeper perform their job?
Is one end of the field different than the other?
- Fog –
I was involved in a game this last year where as the sunset, fog seemed to
appear out of the ground. In the first half it was kind of fun. It reminded me
of one of the B horror movies that play at the drive-in. At the start of the
second half, however, there was a cross to the area and I could not see the goal
or the keeper. At this point, I signaled the referee and terminated the match.
Fairness and safety are the keys here. If you stand in the middle of field, can
you see the goals? Is one end different than the other? Will your assistants be
able to call off-sides?
- Snow –
Snow is a real inconvenience. The touchlines and markings disappear. Players
slip and fall and become wet in cold conditions. A slight dusting is harmless
but if it impedes the progress of the ball or the safety of the players,
terminate or suspend the match.
- Ice –
Ice is perhaps the worst condition for the ground. Rather than a soft landing on
grass the player now lands on frozen turf. This can result in serious injury.
Damaged areas of the field are now more like a bunch of small knives ready to
cut any one that may slip. If the players are older and seem to be able to
control themselves and the ball, then play. But if they fall and they complain
of injury due to the conditions, end the misery.
- Thunder & Lightning
– Always stay on the conservative safe side of this danger. Lightning strikes
are extremely dangerous and a soccer pitch is a prime area for being struck.
Large complexes have vast open areas with few trees and typically the players,
officials, fans, and coaches are the highest items in the opening. If lightning
strikes it will be attracted by these higher items. We recently had a
meteorologist at one of our association meetings. He reiterated, using a number
of humorous yet frightening stories, that where there is thunder, there is
likely lightning. If you hear thunder, look at the sky and see if things are
moving quickly or if there are any bright flashes on the horizon. If the game is
near completion, you may be able to complete the match. If you or anyone sees
lightning, stop the game and get to safety immediately. As a general rule, wait
at least 20 minutes after the last lightning was seen before restarting the
–Generally wind is not a major reason for stopping a match. However, if you are
located in area where tornadoes can occur and the conditions are favorable for
their formation, wind can tell you a lot about any impending trouble. If you
have any reason to believe that severe weather is close by, terminate or suspend
the match and get yourself and everyone else to appropriate cover.
It is very difficult to know when a game should be terminated or suspended
due to weather or field conditions but with some preventative measures and a
watchful eye you can avoid these problems and make the right decision.
that safety and fairness are the paramount principles to live by.