If a referee isn't sure about a goal, the teams are arguing, and there is no goal-line technology, what should the referee do?
If there are assistant referees appointed for the match, the referee will receive help from them to ease any uncertainty. Whenever a shot is taken, the assistant referee should follow the ball all the way to the goal line (as it becomes the offside line when it moves beyond the second last defender).
If there is fumble, or slowly moving ball, this will enable them to see if the ball has crossed the line most of the time. This is highlighted on p. 88 of the 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
The assistant referees must be in line with the second-last opponent or the ball if it is nearer the goal line than the second-last opponent. The assistant referees must always face the field of play.
The signals for relaying this information to the referee are provided on p. 93 of 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
“Goal – no goal” situations
When a goal has been scored and there is no doubt about the decision, the referee and assistant referee must make eye contact and the assistant referee must then run quickly 25-30 metres along the touch line towards the halfway line without raising his flag.
When a goal has been scored but the ball appears still to be in play, the assistant referee must first raise his flag to attract the referee’s attention then continue with the normal goal procedure of running quickly 25-30 metres along the touch line towards the halfway line.
On occasions when the whole of the ball does not cross the goal line and play continues as normal because a goal has not been scored, the referee must make eye contact with the assistant referee and if necessary give a discreet hand signal.
In some elite matches without goal-line technology (such as UEFA competitions), additional assistant referees (who are positioned slightly behind the goal line) will also help the referee make goal/no goal decisions. The relevant information is on p. 85 of the 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
The additional assistant referees’ position is behind the goal line.
The additional assistant referee must communicate to the referee when a goal has been scored.
The additional assistant referees will use a radio communication system only and not flags to communicate decisions to the referee.
In the event of a breakdown of the radio communication system, the additional assistant referees will use an electronic signal beep flagstick to indicate their decisions.
If the referee has no help from assistant referees (either by virtue of them not being appointed, or by the fact they are too far from the goal line to offer advice), and the referee cannot decide that the ball has crossed the goal line, the decision is then that the ball has not crossed the line and play continues. This decision is indisputable, as highlighted on p. 26 of the 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.
The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.
Players politely and calmly appealing for decisions is an accepted part of the game - however, protesting decisions once they have been made is not (in spite of what you may see at the elite levels of the game). The referee should simply say 'no' and move on. If players continue to appeal, argue, or remonstrate beyond this point, they are then protesting and have crossed the line to dissent. This is highlighted on p. 126 of the 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
A player who is guilty of dissent by protesting (verbally or non-verbally) against a referee’s decision must be cautioned.
It will most certainly be the attacking team protesting here. Since the defending team will most likely be under pressure near their own goal, advantage should not be played if the referee needs to take action against dissenters. Play is stopped, any player(s) guilty of dissent is/are cautioned, and play is restarted with an indirect free kick taken by the defending team from wherever any dissent was being delivered from.
If multiple players are committing dissent, the restart is taken from the position of whichever one is closest to their own goal line (this could even be the opposing goalkeeper, which would see the ball moved ninety metres down the other end of the field).
This is demonstrated on p. 38 of the 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player:
- commits any other offence, not previously mentioned in Law 12, for which play is stopped to caution or send off a player
The indirect free kick is taken from the place where the offence occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).
The principle of awarding a restart from the most advantageous field position (by playing a silent advantage) is enshrined in this piece of unrelated advice on p. 120 of the 2015/16 FIFA Laws of the Game:
If a defender starts holding an attacker outside the penalty area and continues holding him inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick.
If the referee feels he did not have a clear view of the ball, he can refer to the assistant referee, who will give him his opinion in whether it is a goal or not. The referee does not have to go by the advice given to him by his assistant, but generally does so. Once he has given his decision, if the players are still arguing beyond reason, he may book them.
UEFA has introduced two additional referees into the game, in their tournaments (Champions League, Europa League, EURO, etc), to assist in these kinds of decisions. These additional referees are positioned behind the goal line, beside each goal. Again, the main referee is under no obligation to give the same decision advised to him by the additional referee.
The decision made by the main referee in this regard is final and binding upon the game.
See FIFA Laws of the Game 2015/16, page 61 onwards,
Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees.