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Question Number: 31913

Law 4 - The Players Equipment 10/16/2017

RE: Competitive Club Soccer Coast League Under 16

Ann Helton of El Cajon, Ca USA asks...

My daughter played against a team this past weekend where one of their players was wearing a knee brace. My daughter as center defender cleared a ball and the girl with the brace hit my daughter in the knee with the brace. No sleeve present on the brace. My daughter had to come out of the game. Her knee has a terrible bruise and swelling. It was the brace that caused the injury. Why isn't it the rule to have the brace covered with a sleeve? Furthermore, if the brace is on the player, how does a few know if it's been altered? Plastic when slammed hard at a knee is dangerous. Please enlighten me.
Regards, Ann

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Ann,
There are braces and casts that are soft shelled and permitted as certified safety inspected but there are also hard metal and plastic braces that have no business on the FOP covered or uncovered. Although the referee has authority to permit or deny what is safe or unsafe as extra equipment most often referees defer to league policy if they are some & they are aware of it. A referee who feels compassion for one who wants to play but requires a brace might feel letting them play is going to be ok should revaluate he possible consequences.

If a referee who is going to allow a brace or cast that is not actually safe he risks credibility and must face the consequences if it goes south. Personally if you need braces to play soccer you might want to rethink that decision if the match is highly competitive with body contact. Us old persons can wander about in relative safety as we have eliminated slide tackles and our back knee and arm braces are generally allowed as we learn not to charge in quite the way we used to.

As to plastic being harder than a knee to knee bone and flesh impact. I will not say the impact for your daughter would be any better but perhaps the other player benefited from the cushioning so she did not suffer the blow as did your daughter. I have seen knee to knee and knee to head injuries that I only wished there was swelling & a bruise. I have seen broken legs and wide open blood spewing gashes requiring stiches along across the knee and head .

It was unfortunate your daughter had to come out an the referee could have really have paid closer attention under these circumstances to see IF the player was using the brace as a purposeful contact point. Knee to knee can be very painful whereas brace to knee might not be as damaging as it could have been although the opponent might suffer less.discomfort

Admittedly I have permitted certain situations to go unsanctioned at the youth level including a cast covered in bubble wrap. The player was in tears asking to play as it was a championship match. I was NOT going to allow it when the opposing coach said he had no objections. I thought it was a magnanimous gesture and of course I would be the bad guy for not permitting it . I saw the effort that had gone into wrapping the arm covered in tape and bubble wrap he was bouncing it off his own head, he wanted me to hit it sigh I told him UNDER the provision he not use that am in ANYWAY to knock at or push an opponent or swing it carelessly in their direction I would allow him to play. He was true to his word kept the arm tucked away until the 75th minute or so when the ball he tried to play glanced off the bubble wrap, if the arm had been normal size the ball would have easily missed him by a few inches. He made no peep when I awarded the DFK.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Ann,
I'm not familiar with the league you mention so I don't know which code they play under but under the IFAB's Laws of the Game there is the general provision that, ''A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous.'' So if the knee brace used was indeed dangerous, those laws (if applicable) should have precluded its use.

NFHS rules however, seem to have some conflicting provisions. First of all, they say that ''hard and unyielding items (guards, casts, braces, etc.) on the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm or shoulder unless covered, and must be padded with a closed-cell, slow-recovery foam padding no less than 1/2 inch thick'' but when it comes to knee braces, the rule is that ''knee braces that are unaltered are legal and do not require any additional padding.''

I have to say I'm at a little of a loss as to why there is this difference between knee braces and other guards, casts and braces, especially when the rules also say that, ''any equipment which, in the opinion of the referee, is dangerous'', is illegal.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Ann
Thanks for your question.
Unfortunately injuries are part of the game despite every effort to make the game safer. I once as a young player had my kneecap dislocated from contact by an opponents knee with no brace. It was the bony part of his knee which caused the injury. When injuries do occur we look to see what factors caused it and whether there could have been decisions made to eliminate the risk.
Now a player is allowed to play in a brace or a soft cast provided that in the opinion of the referee the brace / cast poses no risk to opponents. Some competition rules require that the brace / cast is covered with foam and some do not allow any to be worn. In the absence of a competition rule it is left to the discretion of the referee as to assess the risk posed.
As we know there are many many types of braces. In the absence of a rule referees are left with the onerous task of deciding what braces are acceptable and what are not. Certainly exposed metal or hinges etc should not be allowed and sometimes we have to look at the brace as to what safety measures that the manufacturer designed into the product. Was it meant to have a sleeve? Is it meant for orthopedic use only? A referee will look at the brace and opine whether it has been altered or not. I would believe that most braces are legal and I have not seen a brace that I considered illegal to the point of not allowing the player to play.
The big question is whether your daughter would have sustained the equivalent or lesser injury by contact with an un-braced knee. I just cannot tell nor I suspect anyone could. Momentum of a knee with or without a brace into a knee will cause bruising and swelling as I can attest to. If there was a cut caused by an exposed edge on a brace then that is a different matter entirely.

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