I believe it’s a little bit silly how many questions there are about the “pass back” violation, given how rarely these situations actually occur. That said, a potential “pass back” situation arose during a recent assessment, and I hope you don’t mind offering a little clarification.

An attacking player kicked a ball forward toward the penalty area. A defending player, under pressure from another attacker, controlled the ball with his upper leg/thigh toward his goalkeeper, and the goalkeeper caught the ball with his hands.

Given the skill of the players, I felt the defender’s action was deliberate, and he knew he was pushing the ball out of reach of the attacker and to a place where his keeper could easily collect the ball. However, the ball never touched the defender’s foot, which I considered a requirement (part of the “iron triangle” described in the 21 May 2008 Memorandum).

After the game, the assessor said that I was not interpreting the term “foot” correctly. He stated, “Any part of the leg is considered, not just the foot.” He did not believe I should have called a “pass back,” however, because he felt the defender’s action was not deliberate: he considered the action more of a mis-directed attempt to clear the ball over the goal line.

Can you offer clarification and guidance? What parts of a defender’s body are included for the purposes of the “pass back” violation?

USSF answer (October 15, 2008):
Sigh! You are correct, there have been and continue to be too many questions about possible “pass back” infringements.

The Law is clear: “An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, . . . touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate.” Kicking requires the use of the foot. The foot does not include the knee, thigh, or shin.

We cannot read the minds of the players; we can only interpret what we see. In this case no foot equals no infringement.

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