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Soccer goalie with Tourette’s given two-match ban for swearing at referee

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Referees are often criticized for calling a poor game at the youth sports level. At its root that criticism makes sense, since most referees who are working at the youth level have significantly less experience than their counterparts taking charge of collegiate and professional games.

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Ware youth goalkeeper Owen Thompson, who has Tourette's but was suspended for swearing at a ref — SWNS Group

Ware youth goalkeeper Owen Thompson, who has Tourette's but was suspended for swearing at a ref — SWNS Group

Still, what one English soccer referee did in a recent match is much more befuddling. The referee in question decided to ban a youth team goalkeeper after the goalie allegedly swore at the ref. There was just one trick: The goalie happens to suffer from Tourette Syndrome, which can cause involuntary swearing and physical tics among its symptoms.

As reported by the Daily Mirror and a handful of other sources, Ware Youth Under-15 goalkeeper Owen Thompson was suspended for two games and fined £25 (just more than $40) for telling a referee overseeing Ware's game against the Bengeo Tigers to "[expletive] off," after he disagreed with a decision to allow a Bengeo goal which Thompson had attempted to keep out.

"It does not seem fair," Owen, who said he has been inspired to continue playing with Tourette's by the success of Everton and USA goalie Tim Howard, told the Mirror. "Football often suppresses my ticks, but I cannot control them when I get upset or stressed. He just really stressed me out."

The referee was immediately shown a medical card that attests to Thompson's condition, but that didn't change his mind, and he reported the incident in his official match log, automatically flagging it for further discussion by the local football association. Bengeo went on to win the match 2-1, and Thompson reportedly refused to shake the referee's hand afterward, bucking the longtime soccer tradition to avoid causing additional incident.

[Also: Barcelona star Lionel Messi carted off field with knee injury]

Yet that refusal to shake the ref's hand may have instead sealed Thompson's fate, with the Hertfordshire Football Association, which governs the league in which Ware and Bengeo compete, determining that he swore out of anger and could have used more control.

Naturally, that goes directly against the very basis of Tourette's which specifically claims that Thompson does not have control of his verbal and physical tics under such a situation.  A subsequent Ware appeal of the suspension making precisely that case was rejected, though Thompson's ban was belatedly reduced to one game from its initial two-game duration.

Quite understandably, the adult figures surrounding Thompson remain furious at the decision and insist that the 14-year-old goalie has been punished for something that is entirely outside his control.

"The punishment is ridiculous," Melanie Burgess, Thompson's mother, told the Mirror. "Football is a really important part of his life."

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