The 2007 ATR is quite specific that a tap on top of the the ball, stepping on the ball, or dragging of the ball does not count as the first touch for an indirect free kick – the ball must be touched in a kicking motion. So far this season I have refereed mover 50 games and have talked to thirty or more referees. Not one coach, or even one referee has been aware of this ATR. I have taken the tack this season to inform both teams during equipment check that I would be following the ATR and then giving the coach a copy, so that they would know where I was getting my information from. I have had now problems. However, this does require a little “speech” to the players, a luxury one does not always get.

At the recent [local] tournament I had the opportunity to talk to several level 5 referees about this ruling – they were unanimous in telling me that you don’t tell teams about this ruling and you certainly don’t follow it – if you disallowed a goal because the only touches were a tap on top of the ball and a kick that put the ball in the goal you wouldn’t make it off the field in one piece.

I’m now in a quandry – do I follow the ruling – if so, do I tell the teams before the game. Imagine this situation – League tournament finals, score tied, one minute to go, defender makes a high kick – IDFK just outside, or inside, the penalty area. Kicking team lines up four players who run at the ball in turn. The first player jumps over the ball, the second player taps the top of the ball, the third player kicks it, loops it over the wall tough play for the keeper. The keeper, following the ATR, knows that a goal cannot be scored, and not risking touching the ball, backs away from the ball and lets it go untouched into the goal. What’s my call? Do I follow the ATR and signal for a goal kick, following a ruling that NOBODY else in the stadium knows, risking major mayhem, or do I make the easy call – GOAL penalizing the goalie for knowing the rules?

That raises a second question – why isn’t a ruling that makes such a fundamental change in how what can be a critical play is judged, better advertised?

USSF answer (June 3, 2008):
It is not surprising that many State-level referees, no matter which state they come from, do not follow the instructions in the Advice to Referees. We find this to be the case throughout the United States, because so many “senior” referees and assessors seem to know more than the Federation about how games should be refereed.

No matter what your colleagues may tell you about what is in the Advice to Referees, it is the interpretation of the U. S. Soccer Federation and should be followed by all referees, assessors, and instructors. Anyone who troubles to read the introduction will find that the Advice is intended to be read by referees, instructors, assessors, players, coaches, parents, and anyone else wants to know what to expect from the officials in a game.

Section 13.5 of the Advice has been changed for 2008, but only “gently.” It now reads:

The ball is in play (able to be played by an attacker other than the kicker or by an opponent) when it has been kicked and moved. The distance to be moved is minimal and the “kick” need only be a touch of the ball with the foot in a kicking motion. Simply tapping the top of the ball with the foot or stepping on the ball are not sufficient.

When the restart of play is based on the ball being kicked and moved, the referee must ensure that the ball is indeed kicked (touched with the foot in a kicking motion) and moved (caused to go from one place to another). Being “kicked” can include an action in which the ball is dragged by continuous contact with the foot.  The referee must make the final decision on what is and is not “kicked and moved” based on the spirit and flow of the match.

The referee must judge carefully whether any particular kick of the ball and subsequent movement was indeed reasonably taken with the intention of putting the ball into play rather than with the intention merely to position the ball for the restart. If the ball is just being repositioned (even if the foot is used to do this), play has not been restarted. Likewise, referees should not unfairly punish for “failing to respect the required distance” when an opponent was clearly confused by a touch and movement of the ball which was not a restart.

The referee must make the final decision on what is a “kick” and what is “not a kick” based on his or her feeling for the game-what FIFA calls “Fingerspitzengefühl” (literally: “sensing with one’s fingertips”).

The intelligent referee will do at least two things here:
1. Recognize the situation for what it is and deal with it correctly.
2. Not to explain all this to players or coaches or spectators either before the match or at the time of the first indirect free kick (which is the only situation where the distinction is important).

We continue to emphasize to new referees that, for example, the “captains talk” (the coin toss) is not the time to lecture on the Law.

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