How Many Referees are there in Soccer? (3 Different Types)

The game of soccer has evolved, with its rules and regulations following suit. Such rules must be enforced during matches to create a safe and fair playing atmosphere. This is a tedious task and is seemingly impossible to do alone. How many referees are there in soccer?

There are three types of referees in soccer. The center referee enforces the rules of the game. The two assistant referees and the fourth official help the center referee apply rules they otherwise couldn’t from the center of the field, including substitution protocol and offsides. Four total referees are responsible for each game.

Each referee plays a critical role in enforcing the laws of the game, and they must work together to officiate the match. Keep reading for more information on the roles and responsibilities of each referee.

How many referees are there in soccer?

The game of soccer requires a close watch to detect fouls and other infringements throughout the match. To make sure nothing goes unnoticed, referees are tasked with watching everything from the players to the time left on the clock.

There are three types of referees in soccer; one center referee who runs up and down the middle of the field following the ball from a distance, two assistant referees who run along either sideline, and the fourth referee who stands between each team’s bench just a few yards from the touchline. There are four total referees during a game.

Each referee has a particular role to fulfill during a soccer match, which is crucial to maintaining a safe and fair playing experience. They work in unison to ensure each team follows the rules of the game.

The center official is the one calling the shots. They will make the major decisions during a game unless either of the two assistant referees is better positioned to make a call. For example, an assistant referee’s job is to flag offside players in soccer.

All final decisions during a game are made by the center referee.

The fourth official is in charge of off-field occurrences like the substitution process and ensuring coaches, players, and staff are behaving appropriately and according to the game’s laws.

The fourth official must report any off-field or technical area rule violations to the center referee and keep a log of any such occurrences.

In FIFA matches, like those during the World Cup, there are four match officials. VAR is also a part of the FIFA tournament match officiating.

It’s necessary to have four officials to ensure the rules are followed by both teams at all times.

Having four referees on the field makes it easier for them to make accurate calls and reduces the chance of missing something important, like a foul or offside player.

The three different types of soccer referees

As I mentioned above, each referee has their own roles and responsibilities to fulfill during a match. The center official, assistant referees, and the fourth official are integral to facilitating regulated matchups.

Here are the three different types of referees in soccer:

  • Center referee
  • Assistant referee
  • Fourth referee

Let’s dive into each one’s roles and responsibilities during games.

The center referee’s roles and responsibilities

The center referee’s primary responsibility is to referee the game fairly and unbiasedly. In professional games, the center official facilitates the coin toss between the teams’ captains before the game starts to decide which will kick off or who will defend which side.

The center referee has full authority to enforce the game’s rules throughout the match and can overrule decisions made by other referees. They are responsible for timekeeping and ensuring the game does not exceed the allotted time limit.

While the other referees assist the center official, the center referee makes essential decisions regarding the game’s basic rules, including fouls, handballs, an advantage during the run of play, and injuries.

The center referee calls all stoppages for any rule violations in accordance with the laws of the game and is also the only referee with a whistle.

The assistant referee’s roles and responsibilities

There are two assistant referees for a soccer match. Each is placed on one sideline and is tasked with making decisions on the offside rule, when the ball goes out of bounds, or if a foul is committed in an area where the center referee could not make a decision from where they were standing.

The assistant referees are the two referees on either sideline. They bare a flag that signals to the center referee to blow their whistle and stop the play when a foul is committed. The flag also visually displays which team gains possession after the ball goes out of bounds.

How many referees are there in soccer?

The assistant referees help the center referee officiate the match in accordance with the laws of the game. They also frequently inspect the equipment used during a match, including the balls and the goal nets.

Generally, the assistant referee makes decisions that the center official otherwise might not have seen or could not declare on their own. They ensure the ball is placed properly on goal and corner kicks and are required to be in line with the ball at all times.

Assistant referees are tasked with flagging infringements on the offside rule. Each assistant referee only covers one half of the field, running from one goal line to the halfway line; there will never be two assistant referees on one half of the field.

The fourth official’s roles and responsibilities

The fourth referee stands off to the side of the field, between the two teams’ benches. This official is most commonly seen during professional games, but some lower levels of play will utilize a fourth referee.

The fourth official supervises substitutions throughout the match and ensures that players coming into the game wear the proper equipment. They advise the center official when a team elects to make a substitution and notify the center official of technical area violations or verbal abuse from coaches or players on the sideline.

A fourth official displays the jersey numbers of players being substituted into and out of a soccer game.
A fourth official displays the jersey numbers of players being substituted into and out of a soccer game.

The fourth referee, sometimes referred to in professional games as the VAR official, lets the center referee know when a play needs to be reviewed. This can happen if:

  • The officials are unsure whether or not a ball fully crossed the goal line
  • A foul, handball or other infringement occurred that wasn’t originally called by the center referee
  • A foul requires additional cautioning

During professional games, the center referee will communicate the minimum amount of added time to the fourth official at the end of each half. The fourth official displays this amount of time to the players, coaches, and fans via an electronic board.

Why are there four referees in soccer?

Referees are the supervisors of the soccer match. They’re the ones that guide the flow of the game, creating equal and fair competition for both teams. There are four total referees for each professional match.

There are four soccer referees to cover the game’s rules completely. Each referee has different roles and responsibilities, allowing calls to be made from anywhere on the field at any time. Likewise, each referee works together with one another to ensure the laws of the game are followed.

The center referee enforces the main rules of the game; fouls, handballs, and stoppages for injuries. The other three officials assist with things outside the center official’s control, like offside and substitutions. This way, with four referees on the field at all times, it’s easier to facilitate a fair and safe game.

How many referees are in a FIFA soccer game?

Referees at the professional level require a 360-degree view of the field at all times.

There are four referees in an international FIFA soccer game. The Men’s and Women’s World Cup uses a center referee with two assistants on the field and a fourth official that stands on the sideline between the two team’s benches.

All FIFA tournament matches use four or more officials.

These tournaments also use VAR, which requires an additional three or four video assistant referees.

Can there be only one referee?

In professional games, there will always be at least three referees. At lower levels or during small-sided matches, there may be fewer.

Can referees physically interact with players?

Referees are allowed to step between two players to prevent a physical altercation. Otherwise, referees are not allowed to touch the players during a match.

Sean Tinney

I’m Sean Tinney, a lifetime soccer player and Ball At Your Feet owner. This website is a hub for practical soccer advice, information, and insights from one player to another.

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