Referees occasionally find themselves called on to enforce a local rule exception (club, league, or tournament) which is not consistent with or perhaps might even be contrary to the Laws of the Game. This is not uncommon particularly in youth recreational play where the rule exception is intended to take into account special issues involving youth play, local field conditions, or local traditions. Usually, these are quite sensible and would cause the referee no concern at all. Examples include outright prohibitions on casts or metal cleats, where spectators are required to be, how far away a player sent off must go to be "gone from the field," when substitutions may be made, and so forth. Although there is a "standard" set of exceptions on such things as substitutions established by US Youth Soccer, localities might even differ from these as well.
It is the referee’s responsibility to be aware of such local rule exceptions before a match starts. This is particularly important where the referee is considering an assignment involving a club, league, or tournament for the first time. The assignor is often a good place to start in finding out what exceptions might exist. Many leagues and tournaments post their exceptions at fields where their matches are occurring and, of course, there are often websites for these "competition authorities" which can be consulted.
Metro DC/Virginia follows common practice across the country in stating that such rule exceptions are to be enforced by all our officials. A USSF referee should not refuse to enforce a clearly stated local rule merely because it is not consistent with or may be contrary to the Laws of the Game. If after investigating an assignment, an official decides that they would not wish to enforce any local rule required by that competition, the solution is very simple -- do not accept assignment to that match. If a local rule is discovered at the last minute, the referee may choose, politely, to inform a league or tournament representative of the inconsistency but is expected nonetheless to enforce the rule. The only situation where this might not be the case would be the very rare instance where a local rule exception significantly reduced or countermanded the referee’s ultimate responsibility for the safety of the players, the field, the ball, or player equipment.
A case in point is a recent controversy regarding the use of the "golden goal" to determine which of two teams will advance in a competition if their match is tied. As of July 1, 2004, the International F.A. Board decided that only certain "tie-breaking" procedures would be acceptable in all affiliated matches -- the "golden goal" (or any of its variations) was not one of them. However, either because the "golden goal" is preferred locally or because the competition has simply not had a chance yet to consider this change in the Law, a referee might well be faced with a "golden goal" tie-breaking procedure. If so, it will be implemented. The referee has no right to refuse in such a case when the procedure is clearly required by local rules. Leagues, clubs, and sanctioned tournaments are our customers: our professional obligation is to do everything we can to assist their efforts.
Any further questions regarding this issue may be directed to the State Director of Instruction or the State Referee Administrator.