What should the referee do if a player of a team leaves the game field and doesn't come back until the end of the game? The player just left without asking the referee.

  • 2
    Go across the street to the pub and get a beer? I mean, the game is over, so I don't really know what referees normally do after games, but that seems reasonable.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 17:47
  • Did the player ask the ref for permission to leave? Was he substituted, or did the team play on with 10 players?
    – Fillet
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 6:46
  • 1
    This is not the referees problem as there is no fault in it. A player does not need explicit permission to leave as far as I know. Players often leave the field for injury treatment, change apparel,go to the toilet(less common, but happens),...The only moment when a referee is involved is on returning onto the pitch, for which he must give permission, if a player comes back on the pitch without permission he could get a yellow card.
    – Don_Biglia
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 6:51
  • 4
    @Don_Biglia A player does need permission to leave. See Law 12, cautionable offences: deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission
    – Fillet
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 6:56
  • 1
    @Fillet a player needs referee permission to leave, but they do not need explicit permission to leave. See my answer for details. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 1:19

2 Answers 2


This player deserves a caution (yellow card) as it is mentioned in Law 12. When you cannot book the player because of his/her having left the pitch, you just go and explain the situation to the captain and tell him that the player is booked.

It is used too when a player injuries him/herself while committing serious foul play : you cannot show the red card to the player being sent to hospital, so you go to explain to the captain.

  • For your second part: It's still a different situation then the one he's mentioning. If a player is injured in a way he has to go to the hospital, he will have had treatment on the pitch presumably, and he must leave the pitch after treatment. Even if he will play afterwards. So he has permission to leave by another rule. (PS I'm not trying to be annoying or anything, with all my commenting here on this question :) ) And I agree with the first part, in theory. Never seen it, but then again, never seen a player just leaving to come back a while later for no apparent reason:)
    – Don_Biglia
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 12:55
  • 2
    The question seems not to be about the sanction itself, but how as a referee you have to deal with disciplinary sanction towards a player which is not here. This second case happened some years ago in French League.
    – LeReferee
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 13:19
  • The way it's written down, I imagine a situation where a player walks off, is 'missing' for an half an hour and 5 minutes before the end just walks back on it. Small chance of it happening but still. If it's not something similar, the question really needs some improvement. I did not mean to say the second part can not happen, I'm sure it has happened more than once, but i don't see a link with this question, as the player would get a card for a foul. Not for leaving the pitch. But I'm leaving it with this. The OP accepted, so obviously he's had a sufficient answer.
    – Don_Biglia
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 14:19
  • 1
    @Don_Biglia. For the second part you're right, the card would be for the foul, not for leaving the pitch. The link to the question is that an absent player is a bit like a very badly injured (e.g. unconscious, or in shock) one: you can't show them a card. At least not without looking like an idiot (absent) or extremely heartless (injured). So in both cases you would explain the booking/dismissal to the captain.
    – Fillet
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 14:54
  • I've downvoted here, as the card must be shown in the second case to signal the sanction. On page 74 "once the referee has decided to issue a card to a player who is injured and has to leave the field of play for treatment, the referee must issue the card before the player leaves the field of play". In the first case, if you decided to caution the player, play should be stopped immediately unless there is a clear advantage anyway. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 0:21

It depends. If this is all the information I have, I would probably would be doing nothing and allowing the team to make a substitution at the next stoppage.

The FIFA Laws of the Game state:

A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offences:


  • deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

The only explicit exception given in the Laws of the Game is this:

If a player accidentally crosses one of the boundary lines of the field of play, he is not deemed to have committed an infringement. Going off the field of play may be considered to be part of a playing movement.

However, there is no prohibition on granting permission after the fact, or allowing implicit permission. There are many times where this should be done, eg. if a player:

  • is injured and in pain and makes their way off the field for treatment.

    • It is far better to have someone off the field getting medical attention instead of lying on the field in clear discomfort, in the way of other players and at risk of being struck by another player or the ball. If they're bleeding, it's better they're off the field too.
  • is feeling unwell.

    • If a player is ill (and particularly if they're about to vomit or discharge some other bodily fluids on the field) it is much better that they're off the field. Aside from this, a player who has a sudden bout of nausea or dizziness is a hazard to themselves and other players due to the collision risk.
  • has had a personal or work emergency they need to attend to.

    • If a player has left the field due to a emergency work call-in (think paramedic / firefighter / police officer) or a sick or injured relative, the decision not to grant implicit permission or permission after the fact is going to potentially antagonise or agitate an entire team, making match control very difficult from that point onwards. At the lowest levels of the game, this may inspire a mass walk-off. This would all be for no particularly good reason.
  • is being abused or assaulted by spectators

    • If a player has had objects thrown at them from off the field or is receiving verbal abuse, particularly of the racial / religious / sexist kind. (the ones that tend to be very upsetting, and rightfully so), once again, this is going to be a flash point if you punish them for getting off the field and out of harm's way. In this situation it is also pretty unlikely that the game would continue, but cautioning them is going to make it very difficult to get off the field without large problems with their teammates.

If a player left the field and didn't come back, and I had no idea what for (as in the question), I believe it would be pretty safe to assume that it fit into one of the above categories.

Of course, in all of these situations, if the player attempted to re-enter the field without permission, they would be cautioned - a player suddenly appearing on the field unmarked when their team has possession, or coming on to apply immediate pressure to the opposition is unfair to the opposition and must be dealt with accordingly.

There are only three instances where I wouldn't implicitly grant permission for a player to leave the field without permission and would caution them, ie. when a player:

  • leaves the field to start a confrontation with opponents or spectators, or otherwise commit an offence
  • leaves the field to attempt to bend the offside law, or otherwise gain some sort of unfair tactical advantage
  • leaves the field to make a point against a particular refereeing decision or the refereeing in general.

However, after all has been said, if a referee decides that they haven't provided implicit or after-the-fact permission, and the player has deliberately left the field (and it was not part of a natural playing movement) they are well within their rights to caution the player. They of course then must wear the consequences of that decision.

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