Under new guidelines, players who deliberately cough at each other, at referees, or at other match officials can now get the red card and be sent off.
The International Football Association Board (Ifab) and Football Association (FA) guidelines come amid concerns about potential on- and off-pitch transmission of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The coughing offence applies under Law 12 of Ifab’s Laws of the Game governing fouls and misconduct in football, the FA said in a document (pdf) setting out guidance for match officials on re-starting outdoor competitive football at the grassroots level.
Though “routine” coughing should not be punished, if the referee is certain that a player has deliberately, and at close quarters, coughed in the face of another player or match official, he or she can be sent off.
If the referee doesn’t think the offence quite calls for a player to be asked to leave the pitch, a yellow card can be issued under the “unsporting behaviour” part of Law 12.
Only where there is clear evidence that coughing was being used as an act against someone should disciplinary measures be applied, the FA guidance says.
“This is not a new ‘rule’ but simply an interpretation of Law 12” in light of COVID-19, Ifab said in a statement.
“As with all offences, the referee has to make a judgement about the true nature of the offence—if it were clearly accidental, then the referee would not take action nor if the ‘cough’ took place with a large distance between the players.”
Spitting and Shouting
Referees should also avoid spitting and caution players not to do so under the FA guidance, but, “spitting on the floor is not an act of misconduct unless it is at someone.”
Though goal celebrations involving physical contact should be avoided, they will not be sanctioned under the guidance either.
When asked about referee responsibility following the Ifab and FA guidelines, Paul Field, chairman of the Referees’ Association, reiterated Ifab’s statement that referees have to make judgement calls regarding player conduct.
If a player gave a small cough and was not looking directly at him, he would not be concerned, but “if I’m a match referee and someone comes into my personal space and deliberately coughs, there’s going to be one outcome, and that would be a red card,” Field told The Epoch Times.
Field said he had written to the FA when re-starting grassroots games was first being talked about because there had been cases in the national news of police officers being coughed at by people saying they had the CCP virus, who were then arrested.
“In my view match officials and players should have equal protection,” he said.
“If I was deliberately coughed at by a player whilst refereeing, that would be a red card offence and my next phone call would be to the police. So it’s about time we started protecting match officials who are applying a public service and going about their lawful business.”
Though the FA guidelines cover grassroots football enjoyed by 10 million players in the UK, the English Premier League and English Football League (EFL) protocols would also treat the issue of deliberate coughing very seriously, he said.
The last games of the Premier League season were played under government lockdown rules “behind closed doors” with no supporters allowed in grounds.
With the new season set to commence on Sept. 12, clubs and fans await government guidelines for any changes in match attendance protocols.