Why aren’t fouls called more often at touch lines or goal lines (within the field of play) in professional soccer? I regularly see players shielding the ball rolling to the line (to win a possession at the ensuing restart) being pushed or taken down from behind with an obvious shove or rough tackle by an opposing player. Sometimes the shove/tackle actually propels the player who is shielding the ball into the ball itself, causing the ball to cross the line more quickly! Despite this, more often than not, the contact is ignored.

I can understand if the referee prefers to believe that the ball had completely crossed the line (or was just about to) prior to the contact. Once the ball crosses the line and is out of play, the referee can simply award the throw-in, goal or corner kick to the victimized team. Perhaps also, I can understand a referee’s reluctance to award a PK when this kind of contact takes place at the goal line in the PK area, for reasons that may have more to do with common sense than the letter of the LOTG. Yet, the same referee will blow the whistle and/or pull out a card for similar or even lesser contact elsewhere on the field.

I guess my point is that the failure to call fouls (or show cards) at the lines seems to invite a lot of cheap shots. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen time and again in both MLS and international matches and would have no difficulty compiling a video montage if I were so inclined (and had no life!). It’s so common place that certain TV commentators, who might otherwise find no trouble finding lame excuses to berate the referees, usually have nothing to say about it.

So my question (yes, I do have a question, finally), is am I just imaging that cheap shots at the lines are being ignored, or am I missing something or is there really something there needing to be addressed? As a referee of youth games, I try to watch and learn from the pros. But in this regard, I feel disinclined to emulate the professional referees. Professional players expect to take their lumps perhaps, but youth players are a different matter.

USSF answer (December 19, 2007):
We cannot speak for the individual decisions made by referees at any level. After the duty to ensure the players’ safety, the second prime criterion for match-management decision making is that the referee must use his or her brain and form an opinion on each of the thousands of acts that occur during that game. Their decisions must be based on the level of play, the skill of the players, the way the game is being played from the first kick-off (or even before it kicks off) and the circumstances under which the particular act has occurred. While the referee must take care during every moment of every game, there is one rule of thumb that most players and the referee can agree on: The higher the level of play and the accompanying level of player skill, the more freedom the players expect and are granted; the lower the level of play and skill, the less the players, coaches, spectators, and thus the referee will tolerate.

We might add only that our soccer experience (well over 100 years among those of us involved in answering your question) does not mirror yours regarding jostling, etc., at the boundary lines. Some, yes, but not all and not all that often.

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