The Football Association (FA) has ordered a league in the North-East and Cumbria to put moves to ban players from swearing on hold.
The FA is running its own Respect campaign
The Arngrove Northern League (ANL) second division was planning to allow referees to show an immediate red card for foul language from next season.
The scheme would have been the first of its kind in the English leagues.
But the FA has ordered the ANL to abandon the move while it evaluates its own campaign to improve behaviour.
ANL chairman Mike Amos said he was devastated by the FA's decision.
He said: "This effectively gives players the nod to carry on effing and blinding at full volume and for weak match officials to turn a deaf ear to it.
"Decent people are sickened by the full-blast obscenities which they hear at football matches and are being driven away in droves.
"It is a very black day for football at our level. I despair at our leaders."
Referees would have enforced the ban by rigidly applying existing laws.
The FA's Respect campaign, running over the next five years, operates at youth and adult level in pilot areas across the UK and is aimed at eliminating abuse of referees.
An FA spokesman said: "In the interests of uniformity around the country, we have asked the ANL to put the zero tolerance initiative on hold for the time being.
"The initiative may be considered in the future, but it has been put on hold in order that the FA can measure tangibly the effect the Respect campaign has."