Question:
Before a corner kick or a direct kick or an indirect kick, the team with the ball is placing a player directly in front of the keeper. Also, that person is screening the keeper and is pushing backwards on the keeper and trying to push the keeper into the goal.

The screening player will do everything to prevent the goalkeeper from getting in front of them. I believe this is a violation of “Impeding the Progress of an Opponent”. All this is happening before the kick is made and when the ball is put into play. What is the ruling?

Answer (June 2, 2012):
What you describe is actually pushing or holding, both direct free kick offenses that should be punished by the referee. (Unfortunately, many referees do not recognize this and make no call or fail to bawl out the goalkeeper.)

It is a general principle underlying the Law that players are not permitted to “play” the opponent rather than the ball. Except under certain conditions spelled out in the Laws (such as at a penalty kick or throw-in or goal kick), a player is permitted to stand wherever he or she wishes. After the ball is put in play, a player who — without playing or attempting to play the ball — jumps up and down in front of the goalkeeper to block the ‘keeper’s vision or otherwise interferes with the ‘keeper’s ability to play the ball is committing the foul of impeding an opponent. If there is contact initiated by the player doing this, the foul becomes holding or pushing. When such activity occurs, the referee should immediately stop the restart and warn the players to conduct themselves properly. If, after the warning (and before the restart), they do it anyway, they have committed unsporting behavior and should be cautioned. The restart remains the same.

Before the ball is in play, the referee can simply allow the opponent of the ‘keeper to impede, wait for the restart to occur, blow the whistle, award an indirect free kick coming out, and card if needed. This is the “harsh” approach and it carries the danger, provided the jostling doesn’t sufficiently enrage the goalkeeper (or any other defender), that the tensions or violence will escalate to something more serious. It is also not a good approach when it is an attacker who is doing the jostling.

The referee can see the situation developing and verbally and/or by a closer presence encourage correct behavior on the part of the jostlers in the hope that they will cease their misbehavior. This is the “proactive” (some would call it the “wimpy”) approach and is more likely to prevent escalation, if it works. If it doesn’t work, the referee can always hold up the restart, caution, and then signal the restart or go to the option above.

Such actions against the goalkeeper can also occur during dynamic play and are very often missed by both referee and assistant referee.