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Can Soccer Referees Change Their Decisions?

Can Soccer Referees Change Their Decisions?

Soccer has been in existence for many decades. It is a team sport that has a maximum of 11 players (10 field players and 1 goalkeeper) from each team—and three to five substitutes.

The goalkeeper’s role is to stop the opposite team from scoring. He is the only player allowed to use his arms and hand to catch, throw, and save the ball, but only within the pitch perimeter.

Back in the old days, soccer rules were not clear and players often went away without a booking after starting a scuffle with the opponent. That is no longer the case today.

Several other rules apply to all players or are specific to goalkeepers. One of the newest has to do with goalkeeper movement during a penalty kick. In the past, the goalkeeper was allowed to move around before a penalty kick.

a penalty is about to be taken

Now, their movement is limited and their legs must be on the line when the ball is kicked for the save to count. They can even earn a yellow card for moving their legs from the goal line before the ball is kicked.

Referees appear to be the judge and jury of a soccer game and some of them are famous for flashing cards and making controversial decisions. The big question now is, can a referee change his or her decision?

Is it possible for a referee to give a player a red card and after a few seconds of rethinking, rescind the decision for a yellow? We have all the answers that you have been searching for in this article.

Top 10 refereeing decisions that changed football history | Oh My Goal

Can soccer referees change their decisions?

Referees are saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that soccer games not only remain safe but also fair for both teams by enforcing the rules of the sport.

They spend the entirety of the match either on the field of play or running the sidelines monitoring out-of-bounds and offside calls.

There are 17 laws of the game that officials work collectively to maintain all through a soccer game. Apart from the head referee, there are two linesmen (assistant referees), a fourth official, and a video match official all working together to make sure that match rules are upheld.

an assistant referee is making his task

Decisions are made to the best of the official’s capability according to the laws of the game and based on the judgment of the center referee who has overall power to take final decisions during the game.

According to Tom Stagliano, a high school college and USSF soccer referee, in the sport of soccer (association football), the referee may change her/his decision before the next restart. Once the referee restarts the match, no past decision may be reviewed or changed in that game.

Another instance where referees are not allowed to change decisions they made is after they terminate a half. For example, if a referee made a bad decision immediately before ending a first or second half, they can’t reverse that decision no matter how much pressure is directed at them.

A Norwich fan replaces the referee (Football/soccer)

How often do referees change their decisions?

It wasn’t always common to see soccer referees changing their initial decisions until the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in 2018. VAR was earlier tested in 2016 but was officially introduced to the game in 2018.

Before the introduction of the VAR technology, assistant referees were the only match officials vested with the task of assisting center referees with making crucial decisions during a soccer match.

Before now, when the center referee makes a mistake during a game, the assistant referees were the only ones capable of correcting them. For example, a referee may award a throw-in to the wrong team and the assistant will quickly correct him with the flag—and most times the center referee will change their mind and go with the correction of the assistant.

Now, whenever a referee isn’t sure of the decision they made, they seek assistance from the VAR to confirm before changing or upholding that decision. There is no fixed time interval in which a referee is allowed to change a decision.

Live VAR Audio Feeds during Broadcast!

Because of the introduction of the VAR technology, more and more referee decisions are being overturned these days in soccer and the number of critical bad decisions made by soccer referees has reduced.

Before the year 2018, many soccer fans bitterly complained that referees deliberately made extremely controversial decisions during major soccer matches to favor their preferred teams. This often led to situations where angry fans invade pitches after the final whistle is blown to physically abuse soccer referees.

Physically attacking soccer referees is not tolerated in soccer. Fans guilty of such nefarious acts can get banned from stadiums for life and fined huge sums of money for damages.

7 football stars who physically attacked a referee | Oh My Goal

Referees’ performances in top soccer leagues are evaluated after each match and low-performing referees are either dropped or demoted at the end of the season. Although it rarely occurs in soccer, referees can be sacked immediately after a game.

Graham Poll, a former English soccer referee, was fired after officiating a match between West Bromwich Albion and Derby County in 2007. Graham made another terrible decision during a World Cup match which led to the end of his admirable career.

2006-07 Derby County 1 WBA 0 - Wembley Play Off Final - 28/05/2007

For you to understand clearly how the decision-making process of referees has transformed presently, let’s take a deeper look at the VAR technology.

VAR (Video Assistant Referee)

A Video Assistant Referee, also called VAR, is a soccer match official who reviews the verdict made by the center referee using video footage and a headset for communication. The VAR technology was introduced in soccer to correct missed incidents and fix obvious errors.

The Referee is Calling a Player for Sanctions

The VAR team is stationed somewhere called the Video Operation Room (VOR) and their job is to keep a constant check on the on-field referee’s decisions. Silent checks by the VAR team don’t cause any delay during matches because the referee communicates using an earpiece.

During major incidents, the referee halts a game for a few minutes or seconds for the VAR team to properly check whether a mistake occurred. The VAR team can either call for a decision overturn or an on-field review (OFR). However, the referee can ignore the VARs advice if they feel like it.

The introduction of VAR technology has helped in revising unfair decisions. For example, during a quarterfinal match in the UEFA Champions League between Manchester City and Spurs (2019), Manchester City scored what should have been the winning goal under the 90th-minute mark but it was canceled due to an offside.

Some pros and cons of the VAR system are stated below:

Pros of VAR

  • This system aids a referee to make an informed decision in regards to an incident during the match which brings about better decision making
  • Some games are often remembered because of certain VAR decisions taken by the referee that changed the faith of the game
  • It helps in maintaining player’s discipline which is an integral part of sports
  • A referee can miss crucial moments or incidents that can define the outcome of matches, but the VAR technology helps in pointing them out instantaneously
Why VAR will either SAVE or KILL football

Cons of VAR

  • There is time wastage because VAR technology involves a careful analysis of an incident. These breaks can slow down the tempo of the game
  • VAR did not automatically erase bad officiating
  • When an incident is under review, the VAR team and central referee engage in private discussions with the sometimes suspicious outcome
  • VAR works with electronics and can become faulty at crucial moments
  • Referees are gradually losing the confidence of making proactive decisions
  • VAR is leading to a decline in collaboration between the center referee and the on-field assistants
  • Decisions can be subjective, thereby creating an avenue for controversy, which isn’t healthy for the game

Can a referee overturn his decision after the match has restarted in soccer?

A restart decision may not be reversible by the center referee even if he/she realizes that an error was previously made. The same rule applies if a referee has signaled the end of the first or second half (including extra time) and left the field of play.

The referee is about to blow his whistle

However, referees are allowed by law to restart matches according to IFAB (International Football Association Board). There is a recorded incident between Brighton and Man United (2020) where a late penalty was awarded to Man United after the final whistle was blown.

Soccer fans were stunned, enraged, and questioned if a match can be restarted even after the referee’s final whistle. However, even though such kinds of incidents rarely occur, referees must try as much as possible to avoid them because most soccer fans and players don’t believe such rules exist.

Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Manchester United 3


An incorrect decision or verdict made during a match can only be altered by the center referee on the instruction of the fourth official or an assistant referee, provided that he/she has not restarted or terminated the match.

However, with the introduction of VAR, the controversy around the major decisions that referees take during soccer matches is not as rigid as it used to be.

If referees constantly change their decisions due to pressure from players and soccer fans alike, they will see it as an avenue to always force referees to reverse their judgment whenever they feel—and this will kill the spirit of the game.