Soccer Dissent

Soccer Dissent

In soccer, dissent is defined as any outward or public disagreement with a referee’s decisions, either verbal or through physical actions. If a player in a soccer match expresses public disapproval of any decision made by the match’s official, that player may receive a dissent penalty and receive a caution, including a yellow card.


In soccer matches, referees often have to make quick judgment calls based upon fast-moving plays, declaring things like goals, infractions, and penalties. Sometimes, if an official’s decision causes anger or dismay in one of the players or coaches, that person will express disapproval of the decision through their words or actions. However, this form of disapproval, called dissent, is against the rules of soccer and is often a cautionable offense. According to the Laws of the Game, as established by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), in association with FIFA, dissent is considered any outward show of disagreement towards a referee’s decision from a player, be it verbal or action-based.

There are a few different types of actions that can qualify a dissent foul in soccer. Most dissent involves verbal comments or gestures, often towards a referee, such as dismissive language, hand waving, or even foul words and obscenities. Insulting or abusive language after a call can also count as dissent. The IFAB rules explicitly highlight three types of cautionable dissent, which are: throwing or kicking drinks or bottles, as well as any other objects on the field, gestures that display blatant disrespect for officials (such as insults, or gestures like sarcastic clapping), and deliberately leaving the field of play in order to express dissent towards a decision. Each of these offenses constitutes dissent and is typically termed a foul.

There are certain sets of guidelines in various soccer leagues governing what is termed dissent. One of these methods is known as the “3Ps,” which stand for “Personal, Public, and Provocative.” The first, “Personal,” refers to any dissent aimed at a specific official, which is considered a personal attack upon that referee. The second, “Public,” differentiates between private disagreements that are kept quiet and those which a player or coach loudly projects by yelling so that various people can hear. The third, “Provocative,” involves the manner of the dissent, concerning whether the disagreement was made politely or if the dissenter utilized abusive language, gestures, or threats. If a dissenter’s action satisfies any combination of these three criteria or satisfies one of them in the extreme, dissent is often called.


In soccer, most leagues follow the Laws of the Game established by the International Football Association Board. According to IFAB rules, dissent in words or actions is a cautionable offense for both regular and substitute players and is punished by a yellow card and an indirect free kick for the opposing team. A yellow card serves as a warning for the offending player, while an indirect free kick takes place from the spot of the foul, allowing the non-offending team to gain possession of the ball and try for a goal. If dissent continues after a penalty is issued or involves certain blatant offenses, a referee may choose to give the dissenter a red card and expel them from the remainder of the match.

Referee Signal

Soccer Dissent Referee Signal

In soccer, dissent is often signaled verbally by the officiating referee and is traditionally followed by two signals. The first signal would be the flashing of a yellow card to signal the cautionable offense of the dissenting player. The second signal would be for an indirect free kick awarded to the non-offending team. To signal an indirect free kick, the referee raises their arm into the air, keeping it steady in that position until the kick is completed, and the ball touches another player aside from the kicker. 


  • During a soccer match, the ball strikes Player 1 in his forearm as he attempts to head the ball. The referee determines that Player 1 has committed a handball offense, but Player 1 believes it was accidental and approaches the referee, gesturing in anger with his arms at what he believes was a bad call. When the referee is unable to calm Player 1, who continues his actions, the referee determines that Player 1 has committed a dissent foul and gives him a yellow card. The opposing team also receives an indirect free kick.
  • After a tripping call, in which Player 2 has seemingly tripped Player 1 while he was in possession of the ball, the referee calls for a review of the play to see if tripping occurred. When the referee determines that he believes Player 2 did trip Player 1, Player 2, who is nearby, laughs loudly and mockingly at the referee, clapping his hands as a show of disrespect to the call. In addition to tripping, Player 2 receives a yellow card for dissent, and Player 1’s team receives a direct free kick as a result of the tripping offense.
  • After disapproving of a call made by the referee, Player 3 becomes agitated and walks off the field while the referee issues a penalty. The referee follows Player 3 and attempts to penalize him for dissent, but this only angers Player 3 even further, causing him to use foul language at the referee and shove him. Due to the egregious and continued nature of his dissent, the referee gives Player 3 a red card, ejecting him from the game.

Similar Misconducts to Dissent

  • Delaying the Restart of Play
  • Entering, Re-entering, or Leaving the Field of Play without Permission
  • Unsporting Behavior
  • Entering the Referee Review Area (RRA)


What is dissent in soccer?

In soccer, dissent occurs whenever a player or other team official publicly objects to a call made by the game referee. Dissent can be verbal or action-based and consists of things such as insults, abusive or foul language, threatening or dismissive gestures, and throwing or kicking objects. Dissent is often called in the aftermath of other penalties that players object to or in the absence of calls that a player believed were necessary.

What are the consequences of being called for dissent in soccer?

In most soccer leagues, dissent is punishable by the same penalties. Open dissent to a referee’s decision is considered a cautionable offense and is punishable by a yellow card. In addition to the yellow card, dissent fouls are punished by awarding the non-offending team an indirect free kick, which takes place from the spot of the foul, and must be kicked to another member of the non-offending team.

Can managers be called for dissent in soccer?

Managers are not often called for dissent in soccer, but if their dissent is blatant and disruptive, they may be dismissed from the game and replaced by their assistant coach. U.S. Youth Soccer released a video clip entitled “Ask, Tell, Dismiss,” which explained the ideal referee procedure when dealing with dissent from managers or coaches. In the clip, referees were asked to employ the “Ask, Tell, and Dismiss” method, which involves first politely asking a coach to cease their dissent, followed by firmly telling them to stop, and finally dismissing them from the field. Though the rules of soccer do not officially hold a position on calling managers for dissent, it is possible to find them guilty of a dissent foul and penalize them for it.