Responsibilities of a football referee

whistle on its side image by John Hartley from

A football referee's responsibilities are many and varied and go beyond simply upholding the rules of the game while the ball is in play. The referee is responsible for the whole event and not just the game. What are those responsibilities on and off the field?

Spare a thought for him in the future as you recall a few of the things from the following list that he has to deal with.

The rules

The referee is in charge. It is his responsibility to ensure that the game is played within the rules and without diminishing the competitiveness of the contest, i.e. that game is allowed to flow whenever possible. He should be fully aware of the rules of the game and be able to apply them wherever and whenever necessary.

The playing area

It is the referee's responsibility to make sure that the playing area is fit for purpose. This includes the playing surface and the immediate area. For instance, according to FIFA (the world's governing body for soccer) the pitch markings must be unbroken, the corner flags must be in place and advertising boards must be at least one meter from the playing area. For larger games the referee's responsibility includes the crowd and its relationship to the playing area, i.e. that members of the crowd should not be given access to the field.


The ball must conform to regulations and the players' equipment must also follow strict guidelines. According to FIFA the ball must be spherical and be within given weight and size parameters. The players must wear sleeved jerseys, shorts, stockings, shin pads and footwear. It is up to the referee to ensure that the correct equipment is worn and used. He can refuse to start the game or allow players to enter the field until they conform to the rules.


The referee is responsible for player safety. He must ensure that the players are not wearing anything that could harm themselves or other players, such as jewellery or inappropriate footwear. If a referee judges that a player is injured then he must stop the game to allow treatment. The playing surface must be clear of debris, particularly if it is dangerous such as broken glass. He is also responsible for the crowd's safety. If at any time the crowd is endangered by the game's continuing he is obliged to stop it.

Cooperation and timekeeping

The match officials consist of a team of at least three: the referee and his two assistants sometimes called linesmen. In larger competitive matches there will also be a fourth official in charge of the technical area. The referee heads this team and should take notice of their contribution, enabling him to better officiate the game. It is up to the referee and his assistants to ensure that the game lasts as long as is stipulated and add time for stoppages in play.