When to Abandon a Match

By Sonia Denoncourt

Sonia Denoncourt is a former FIFA level referee, achieving some incredible accomplishments including 3 FIFA Women’s World Cups and 2 Olympic Games. She now works with a range of referees and leagues to focus on education and development. You can follow her updates on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

There are several reasons to justify abandoning a match. Make sure you do everything possible to avoid it but if so, keep in mind your safety first. Thankfully, it is rare that a match is abandoned. Before making this important decision, you need to consider all aspects of the game to make sure the final decision is the very best option available as this could have serious implications. Consult your team, league official, administrator or manager before doing so.

Here are some of the reasons to abandon a game:

Lightning and thunder
If thunderstorms produce lightning this is dangerous. Lightning kills more people each year than tornadoes. Lightning often strikes as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Many deaths from lightning occur ahead of the storm because people try and wait to the last minute before seeking shelter. You are in danger from lightning if you can hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, and lightning comes within 30 seconds, you must seek shelter immediately as it means that it could strike at any moment. Lighting and thunder are a significant cause but most likely in delaying games than abandoning one. The rule of thumb is 30-30.

Weather conditions/ Field not playable
Weather issues is one of the most common causes of abandoned matches. Bad weather can come in many ways, like heavy rain that the pitch is unplayable or heavy fog that makes it impossible to see a foot ahead of you. Weather conditions seems to affect grassroots games more than the pros, most probably because of stadium setup. Professional leagues and stadiums have more resources and know better how to cope with adverse weather conditions. The best teams have start-of-the-art draining systems and under-soil heating that means neither rain nor snow will be allowed to stop games of football being played on the pitch. Normally it is under the advice of the police or weather authorities who fear for the safety of supporters outside the ground rather than the conditions inside. Sometimes it is the outside environment to the stadium that makes it unsafe due to road block or flood.

Grassroots leagues are typically more susceptible to abandoned games because they are less able to cope with poor weather. If the pitch is so wet and muddy that the ball gets trapped in pools of water, then the chances are that the referee will call the game off. The referee is never alone to call the game off, it must be in consultation with the league, the competition and, in consultation with the groundskeepers if present.
If either the spectators, the players or referees are in danger, matches are abandoned if they are either at risk and won’t be able to play or enjoy the game because of the weather. Fog limits what fans can see, rain limits how well the players are able to play, and heavy snow might stop the fans to come or to leave the stadium.

Crowd safety
Another reason that matches are abandoned is crowd safety. It takes various form, for example a package left in the stand or the bathroom, a bomb in the stand or a threat! Yes, it happens!

A game can also be abandoned if the crowd cause trouble, particularly for a pitch invasion. If too many supporters were on the pitch with a significant amount of time still to play, then it was deemed impossible for the game to continue and so it is called to end. We see this more in South America or Central America, but it is less common in developed nations with greater security measure in place.

Floodlights issues
Most of the time, the problem can be sorted, and the games are simply delayed. Matches played in the evening require the use of floodlights in order to ensure that all players and spectators can see the game clearly and safely. If this is not fixed in an acceptable time, the game must be replayed or taken where it was stopped according to the league or competitions regulations. If this is an international game the wait could be from 2-5 hours as the implication of rescheduling is very costly. In a domestic game, the regulation usually varies from 30 minutes to 2 hours before rescheduling or abandoning the game.

Referees illness, injured or no show
This is rather unusual, but possible. It does not happen during international competitions or professional leagues as there is always a backup of 4th and 5th official, but in regional leagues it may occur. We are dealing with humans so in the very rare occasion, we hope everyone understands the difficult situation and act appropriately. Sometimes, referees do not show up at all and the game is called off.

On-field Mass confrontation
That is the worst scenario and nightmare for a referee crew. It must be nasty and endangers the safety of the players or match officials for a match to be abandoned. People’s lives are most important. Do not worry, everything be taken care of if you abandon the game. Take a step back and think about safety first and foremost. You must make sure everyone is safe. After all, it is just a game! Protect yourself, the players and seek safety if things gets out of control. Report every single fact of what you have seen to the respective authority.

Lack of available or eligible players
Another unfortunate scenario is when less than 7 players are eligible to play according to the FIFA Laws of the game, Law 3. It could be because there are not enough players showing up or too many were sent off during the match! Remember a match may not start or continue if either team has fewer than seven players.

What happens once a game is abandoned?
Each competition, leagues or National Association has its own rules and regulations about this. In some cases, for example, a match that is already part way through isn’t abandoned, it is merely postponed to a later date. This means that if a game is stopped after 70 minutes with one team 2-0 up then it will be resumed later with the remaining 20 minutes played out. Keep in mind, this is difficult to reschedule and hard to find another time or date.

In other cases, if you play more than 60 minutes, the game is considered valid and the result stands at the time of the game abandonment.
Another scenario is If a game is called off before the game started then it is typically replayed later, and most of the time with the supporters offered a refund or replacement tickets for the new game.

As we can see, there numerous scenarios are possible, try to avoid abandoning a game but if need be, do it with safety and report detailed facts as soon as possible. Good luck!

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