December 4, 2016

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 4: Removing jersey for message of solidarity

The worldwide football community corporately are still mourning the victims of last week's plane crash in Colombia involving huge parts of the Brazilian football team AF Chapecoense. Two football players active in European clubs have shown their solidarity on the field - in a way which is not in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Our rather sad Door no.4.

During the French Ligue 1 match between PSG and Angers, Paris striker Edinson Cavani scored from a penalty kick and removed his jersey unveiling a message in memory of the Brazilian team (video). Referee Frank Schneider cautioned him with a yellow card - which is prescribed by the Laws of the Game if a player removes his jersey or pulls it over his head. In the post match interview, Cavani said the following:

Something similar happened in the Dutch division match between Vitesse and Zwolle: Vitesse attacker Nathan who removed his shirt while celebrating a goal, giving a tribute to Chapecoense and two of his friends who died in the plane crash. Referee Jochem Kamphuis - in contrary to his French colleague - did not caution Nathan for that.

The Dutch football association KNVB has now officially praised Kamphuis for that. Gijs de Jong, operating director of the KNVB, said that "of course there are rules, but for us this is an exception to the rule". Furthermore, he highlighted that referees are "humans of flesh and blood" and added that Kamphuis' reaction to the incident "felt perfect". See how Kamphuis explained his decision.

Since July 2016, Law 5 supports the KNVB's point of view:

"Decisions will be made to the best of the referee`s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game."

But the laws also say:

"Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans,  statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show  political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other  than the manufacturer`s logo. For any infringement the player and/or the team  will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or to be justified by FIFA."

So - apart from removing the jersey while celebrating a goal - it is doubtful whether such messages can be tolerated or even praised in general. I personally believe that common sense and humanity both support refraining from issuing a card here. The question is: Where to draw the line? What is still in line with "humanity" and what is not? In a conversation with our user Hagi the latter asked me what decision should be taken if someone e.g. mourns the death of the Pope. Or Nelson Mandela. Or Fidel Castro. Where to draw the line?

However of course, match officials are used to both consider each match incident separately but equally put them into a wider context. So it is not ultimately necessary to draw a line, you might argue.

You could also say that as long as the match official shows the card with modesty and empathic explanations - what Schneider seems to have done - then a yellow card is fully accepted by everyone. Media reports from Germany proof that this is not the case though where Schneider was partly criticized for a lack of game feeling.

But you might also argue that as soon as comparable actions happen within the same league - imagine: even on the same matchday and in the additional time of two matches with the same kick-off-time - two different reactions to such incidents, i.e. one referee issuing yellow and the other referee not giving any card, will become a problem.

Although I highly appreciate and like the KNVB's and Kamphuis' behavior during and after the game, I consider it as rather problematic for the reasons mentioned above. Anyway, such events luckily do not happen that often so that the KNVB well used Kamphuis' decision to send a signal of humanity and maybe also to enhance the image of referees in the football community.

What do you think? Discuss and vote!

How to react to players removing their shirt to show a message of solidarity / humanity / sorrow?

Yellow Card.
No Yellow Card.


  1. For me it is a yellow card. It is not fair for other players who have previously (or will) suffered loses and have been cautioned for doing the same under the same rules. There are many other ways to show your respect and your pain which are not against the LotG. If you want to show a message on your shirt, do it, but expect the mandatory YC. It is not fair to blame the referee for doing his job (I say this for the media, not for the player).

    As said in the post, the line has to be drawn somewhere and that is exactly what the LotG do. Maybe a discussion should be started on whether IFAB should change the text and allow this kind of messages. But with the current rules, it is a cautionable offence and has to be dealt with accordingly.

    BTW, González González also booked one player for showing a message for the victims in Granada - Sevilla this Friday in LaLiga.

    I would not like to end this message without expressing my condolences to the victims and their families. My thoughts are with you.

    1. IMO this is the most stupid rule that should be erased from the LoTG. There is no problem with a 10secs longer goal celebration and there are bodies that can punish players for unveiling unwanted messages.

    2. The topic is really delicate and difficult to be treated but basically I'm with your opinions. I think that a referee who issues YC for that, can't be accused of being insensitive. There are many ways to make a tribute, removing shirt is not allowed by LotG.
      Having said that, I wouldn't penalize a referee for having skipped a YC for this reason, of course, but this question should be solved in a different manner.
      I appreciated the statement by KNVB, but what I want to underline more than other words is this sentence: "this is an exception to the rule".

  2. I feel that the two clauses of the Laws quoted by you in this piece can be used to justify no caution in this specific circumstance (without considering where the "line" must be drawn, for the moment). The referee can use the "spirit of the game" clause to acknowledge the sentiment of the gesture and how nearly universally it would be accepted by the crowd and the teams, and to refrain from cautioning the player. The sanction, if any, comes from the competition organizer (league); let them decide. If one is worried about the "line", let the league set that uniformly.

    1. You have a point here, but also consider that I did not directly quote a 3rd clause which is the most important one for our question:

      "A player must be cautioned for:
      • climbing onto a perimeter fence
      • gesturing in a provocative, derisory or inflammatory way
      • covering the head or face with a mask or other similar item
      removing the shirt or covering the head with the shirt"

  3. A very difficult topic. Personally, I never really liked a caution for removing jersey, but the question about political messages and where to draw the line is nearly impossible to solve.

    OT: Have a look at the refereeing here (Dinamo - Rijeka, Ref: Vučemilović-Šimunović).

    1. Sorry, the refereeing was disgraceful. I have no evidence there was something else behind that but we all know what position GNK Dinamo Zagreb has in Croatia...

  4. Real Madrid CF - Borussia 09 Dortmund for Marciniak.

    1. Serhiy Boyko with FC Viktoria Plzeň - FK Austria Wien in EL.


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