Home > Referees > Fourth Official’s Authority to Inform Referee of Violent Fouls

Fourth Official’s Authority to Inform Referee of Violent Fouls


I am grateful to Craig for pointing out a substantial error in my initial post (i.e., that I overlooked the fact that “Violent Fouls” is a term of art that is defined by the Laws of the Game:  Law 12, page 118 as the use of “excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball.”)  This clearly applies to Zidane’s head-butt during the World Cup and clearly does not apply to Sacha Kljestan’s foul during the Brazil Group Stage match.  The content of this post has been completely rewritten to account for — and correct — that error.

For the purpose of this post, we will assume that Sacha Kljestan’s red card was at the advice of the fourth official.  This is the claim made by U.S. Soccer’s Official Blog which stated prior to the Semi-Final Against Spain that:

Also part of the crew tonight is fourth official Coffi Codjia, who served in the same capacity in the USA-Brazil game last week and signalled to the referee that Sacha Kljestan deserved to be sent off.

Given that it is an official blog and its author appears to have been with the team (e.g., on the team bus heading to and from each match), I think it is a fair assumption that this statement is correct.

Instead of quoting only a snippet of the Laws of the Game as they relate to fourth official, here is what appears to be the entirety of the Laws’ description of the role and authority of a fourth official as taken from the Laws of the Game, p. 53.




  • A fourth official may be appointed under the competition rules and officiates if any of the three match offi cials is unable to continue, unless a reserve assistant referee is appointed. He assists the referee at all times
  • Prior to the start of the competition, the organiser states clearly whether, if the referee is unable to continue, the fourth official takes over as the referee or whether the senior assistant referee takes over as referee with the fourth official becoming an assistant referee
  • The fourth official assists with any administrative duties before, during and after the match, as required by the referee
  • He is responsible for assisting with substitution procedures during the match
  • He has the authority to check the equipment of substitutes before they enter the field of play. If their equipment does not comply with the Laws of the Game, he informs the referee
  • He supervises the replacement balls, where required. If the match ball has to be replaced during a match, he provides another ball, on the instruction of the referee, thus keeping the delay to a minimum
  • He must indicate to the referee when the wrong player is cautioned because of mistaken identity or when a player is not sent off having been seen to be given a second caution or when violent conduct occurs out of the view of the referee and assistant referees. The referee, however, retains the authority to decide on all points connected with play
  • After the match, the fourth official must submit a report to the appropriate authorities on any misconduct or other incident that occurred out of the view of the referee and the assistant referees.
  • The fourth official must advise the referee and his assistants of any report being made
  • He has the authority to inform the referee of irresponsible behaviour by any occupant of the technical area [effectively, the bench and similar areas]



If the US MNT Blog is correct that Codjia is the one who advised Busacca that Sacha Kljestan deserved a red card, then it appears his actions were beyond the scope of his authority.  Kljestan’s foul was not “violent conduct” and it would be a stretch to extend his authority to serious foul play, given that “violent conduct” is specifically enumerated as one of the fourth officials responsibilities but “serious foul play” is not.

But, it is also possible that the Blog’s author was incorrect and that one of the assistant referees, who clearly do have the authority to signal “serious foul play,” made the red card recommendation.

Categories: Referees
  1. Craig
    July 1, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I believe in this instance, “violent conduct” is being used as a term of art, referring to a specific class of sending off offenses that are classified as not involving playing or challenging for the ball. In most instances, a play on the ball would be serious foul play, rather than violent conduct. Hence, the reference to Zidane’s head-butt, an off-the-ball attack on another player (clearly violent conduct). Thus, I think your comment about “a play on the ball… not… seen by three different people” is misdirected, and I also don’t think that this really bears on Kljestan’s red card (which I would be extremely surprised to find to be for anything other than serious foul play).

    I think it’s extremely doubtful that the fourth official factored in Kljestan’s sending off. If I were to put it on anybody other than Busacca, it would be the assistant, who would have been near the play and had a different angle. (I do agree that it’s plausible that it wasn’t Busacca’s decision to send Kljestan off, as it’s much more rare for referees to play advantage on red card offenses than on other offenses.)

    Also, the stuff about video review on the Egypt call is seriously misguided (not your fault, the press was in such a rush to find a controversy that they shirked their responsibility for due diligence). People who have reviewed the incident closely have concluded that it is a complete impossibility for video review to have been involved, since the decision was made prior to a replay being shown. I believe that it was the more distant AR (the one at the midfield stripe) who made the call, based on having a better view of the play than the attacking zone AR or Webb himself.

    • Michael
      July 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm


      First, you’re right. The distant AR would have probably had a perfect (or as close as you could expect) view of the play. I credited the possibility of fourth official assistance because of the delay in Webb’s decision — it felt as I watched that a long time passed before the decision was made. And Webb’s attentiveness to the fallen (diving) Egyptian player made it appear to me that he initially believed (and wasn’t hearing in his ear otherwise) that the Egyptian player was injured from the ball hitting his head (or his head hitting the goal post as it whipped over to block the shot).

      But, it is perfectly reasonable that Webb was advised by the distant AR that it was a handball, but still wanted to ensure the player was ok before issuing the red card and awarding the penalty kick. I’ve seen that happen at least twice on clear red-card fouls.

      I’ve substantially modified the post in response to the first part of your comment. I’m leaving your comment in place — I’d prefer not to make mistakes, but I’m grateful that you pointed it out. Thanks for your comments; they are appreciated.

      • Craig
        July 1, 2009 at 5:37 pm

        It’s certainly fair to question Codjia if he did in fact advise Busacca to send Kljestan off when the referee had intended not to do so. I’m not sure how reliable the official blog is on this point; consider that Egypt seemed dead certain that the 4th official made their red card/PK decision based on replay, but the evidence contradicts that belief.

        There was some discussion of the point on the BigSoccer referee forum (which is an excellent resource if you’re interested in getting an official’s-eye view of things).

      • Michael
        July 1, 2009 at 5:57 pm

        Thanks for the referee forum recommendation: it is very interesting to read referees’ experiences during matches and even their trials and tribulations. And I think it helps remind us that all are human and the vast majority are trying their best to do the right thing every time.

        The blog’s reliability on the point is tough: we’ll never really know for sure. Something made the blogger/team think it was Codjia, but then again the lack of a protest suggests that US Soccer either didn’t have evidence to support it or ultimately concluded that it wasn’t Codjia.

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