THE SIX-SECOND RULE

November 5, 2008

Question:
I would like to know when FIFA adopted the rule which requires an indirect free kick to be awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, controls the ball with his hands for more than six seconds before releasing it from his possession. My reason for asking is that I recently refereed a tournament in which I awarded an IFK in two separate matches. The reaction by the coaches clearly indicated their displeasure with my call, even though in my pregame routine I have made it a practice to remind the coaches, captains and the goalies directly to be aware of the six seconds and to release the ball from their possession within that time frame. To be honest I do not count just to six seconds and then blow the whistle. I count slowly to eight seconds and then blow the whistle. This assures me a high level of confidence that the six seconds have passed without resorting to watching my watch which would take my eyes and concentration away from the field and the players.

My other concern is that while I was watching other matches or when I was an assistant referee in other matches I noticed throughout the matches goalies keeping possession well beyond the six seconds and the referee paying no attention to it. As an assistant referee is it also my responsibility to enforce the rule and should I have raised my flag?

USSF answer (November 5, 2008):
The six-second rule was introduced into the Laws of the Game about 20 years ago. This particular portion of the Law is noted for its not being called strictly to the rule — and there is a reason for that. The six-second count does not begin until the goalkeeper is clearly in possession of the ball and ABLE to think about releasing the ball into general play. Not while the goalkeeper is on the ground; not while he or she is recovering from a fall; not while he or she is rising: Only after the goalkeeper is clearly alert and ready to function.

Anything beyond that time is a matter for the individual discretion of the referee, who is the sole judge of the passage of time in a soccer game.

Using the guidelines above, you can mention this in the pregame conference to the ARs who work with you or to the referee when you are AR, but never, never make calls on situations that are clearly visible to the referee.

Finally, a point we emphasize in our answers to this and similar questions about goalkeeper release of the ball: Most of the time the offense is trivial as long as you are seeing an honest effort to put the ball back into play. We also recommend that the referee warn the ‘keeper about the time on the first offense before we do anything more about it.