When Is the PK Over?

Robert, a referee of older youth players, asks:

A penalty kick is completed when the ball stops moving. How about giving me some examples when a ball stops moving during a penalty kick situation.

Answer

The International Board, in its infinite wisdom when it rewrote the Laws of the Game to make them simpler and easier to understand, wasn’t entirely successful in several of its changes.  This is one of them.  Note that almost the exact same language was used in Laws 10 and 14 to say when the kick was complete:

Law 10:  The kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any infringement of the Laws

Law 14:  The penalty kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any infringement of the Laws.

More to the point of your question, both Laws include “ball stops moving” as one of the ways that a kick from the mark (KFTM) or a penalty kick (PK) may be considered ended.  This works fairly well for a KFTM and it also works for a PK taken in extended time.  As long as the ball continues to move while making contact with any one or combination of the goalkeeper, goalframe, or the ground, a valid goal can be scored.  Yet, at the same time, in each case no one else is allowed to participate in the play.  Thus, if a PK in extended time or a KFTM struck the crossbar, rebounded backward onto the ground in front of the goal, but had acquired a spin which resulted in the ball now rolling forward a few feet into the goal, that goal would count.  The same would be true if the ball rebounded from the crossbar to the back of the goalkeeper and then rebounded from there into the goal.

A regular, ordinary PK, however, is a bit different because, except for the original kicker, the ball can be played by anyone once it is in play (kicked and moved forward).  During that time, it is entirely possible that the ball could be motionless … and it doesn’t matter because, with one exception, no one particularly cares when, whether, or even if the PK is “over.”

The exception is if an outside agent interferes with play at the taking of a penalty kick.  Ordinarily, if play is stopped because of outside agent interference, the restart is a dropped ball.  We can just picture some spectator, who supports the Orange team which is just about ready to defend against a PK, thinking that, if he or she ran onto the field after the PK was taken and interfered, the referee would have to stop play and then restart with a dropped ball (effectively taking the PK away from the hated opponent)!  So the Laws of the Game provide that, if the interference occurs while the ball is moving toward the goal and hasn’t made contact as yet with any part of the goalframe or the goalkeeper, the restart will be a retake of the PK.  Until the ball stops moving forward (not just stops moving), the PK is not “over” at least for the purpose of retaking the PK rather than having a dropped ball in the case of outside agent interference.  The implicit theory of this provision is that a team which has been awarded a PK should have a reasonable opportunity to score and any event which interferes with that during the period from the ball being kicked and the ball reaching the immediate area of the goal should result in the offended team getting to redo the PK after all the dust has settled.

Not So New Rule

Mark, a coach of older youth players, asks:

I had a Referee tell me that standing in front of the ball to delay a team from taking a free kick is now a yellow card. I can’t find it in the Laws of the Game. What is the rule now?

Answer

There is no “now a yellow card” — it has always been a cardable offense.  It is in the Laws of the Game — see Law 12 (p. 85) and Law 13 (p. 93) in the 2016/20917 edition — and it has been clearly interpreted in various USSF documents (Advice to Referees, for example).  Moreover, it was the partial subject of a recent document issued by the International Board regarding the meaning of several Law changes that occurred in 2016 (“Revision of the Laws of the Game: Questions and Answers”.

Let’s unwrap this and see what is at issue here.  For decades (literally), one of the cautionable offenses which a player could commit was to “fail to respect the required distance” on a free kick (many of us simplify this as the “10-yard rule”) which mandates that all opponents must be at least 10 yards away from the ball (in all directions) on a free kick until it is in play.  Ignore for a moment some of the “ins and outs” of how this is enforced.  The point is that opponents who fail to retire to a point which is at least 10 yards away can be cautioned.  Let’s also agree that “standing in front of the ball” means that this player is closer than 10 yards and is thus committing a violation of the Law which the Law itself declares to be misconduct and worthy of a yellow card.

However, in more recent years, the approach to this issue has become more complex.  While a yellow card for “failing to respect the distance” should not cause anyone any confusion, there has developed the notion that standing in front of the ball is a bit different.  The 2013-2014 version of Advice to Referees put it this way (emphasis in bold added):

13.2 Opponent Attempting to Delay a Free Kick
Opponents engage in a different form of misconduct when they act to delay a free kick. While delay is a byproduct of interfering with the free kick by failing to respect the minimum distance, there is a difference between merely being within ten yards of the restart, which may or may not cause a delay, and using certain ploys which necessarily will result in a delay.

Typical examples of causing a delay in this way are kicking the ball away when a decision has gone against them, picking up the ball and not giving the ball to the attacking team or to the referee, moving to retrieve a ball some distance away and then walking slowly to bring the ball back, and standing so close by the ball as to effectively interfere with all reasonably likely directions for the restart. These ploys must be met with an immediate response because, as a result, a delay is no longer theoretical; it has been forced and the challenge to Law 13 must be dealt with swiftly.

So, the bottom line is this.  It is a cautionable offense to interfere with the taking of a free kick or corner kick by failing to retreat to at least 10 yards away (a similar violation occurs respecting a throw-in but here the minimum distance is two yards).  It is, however, a cautionable offense to delay the restart of play by standing so close to the ball that it blocks the team in possession from kicking the ball in a direction they would want.  Ironically, the team in possession of the restart (which includes every restart except the dropped ball) is also subject to a caution for delaying the restart of play in various ways (e.g., unnecessarily switching the location of the ball on a goal kick or persisting in failing to throw the ball so that it enters the field).

Referee – Coach?

Ian, a youth coach, asks:

Can a Referee coach a team during the game?  If not, which rule does this breach?

Answer

One of the really great things about the Laws of the Game is that it has only a few (17) actual “rules” and is written in such general terms that these rules include a lot of flexibility.  This allows Referees to interpret them (within accepted guidelines) in pursuit of the long-accepted but never-included core objectives of the entire body of rules — safety (of the players), fairness (among the players and between the teams), and enjoyment (of the players and, to a lesser extent, of the spectators).  As soccer (or football, as it is otherwise widely known) grew to become the most popular sport in the world, the actual word count of these Laws has grown: they have gradually become relatively more detailed, more specific, and (while remaining organized in modern times into 17 sections), the Law writers have added definitions, interpretations, information about mechanics and procedures, and advice on such specific important concepts as advantage and offside.

Moreover, we believe the Laws of the Game has always been unique among all the major sports as regards its reliance on tradition.  Sometimes (particularly in the case of participants in the United States) this is frustrating precisely because not everything they need to know is actually in those Laws.  The sport assumes that you will know, understand, and appreciate this.  The question you are asking is one of these things.

There is nothing in the formal Laws — nor in any of the parallel rules governing such variations of the sport as envisioned by NFHS (high school) or NCAA (college) — which would prevent a coach or assistant coach from serving as the Referee or Assistant Referee in a match involving their team, but it just wouldn’t happen.   Oh, it might at a level involving very young players (many games at the U4 – U5 – U6 age level are “officiated” by a parent or coach), or involving such unofficial matches as scrimmages, or if the assigned official fails to arrive (though even here it is more likely that the coaches would identify, if possible, a parent who happened also to be a certified official and who would step in by temporary common agreement to  meet the emergency).

But this is expected to be rare exception to what lies at the heart of the officiating function; namely, that someone needs to be in charge of applying the rules and making decisions affecting what is happening on the field who does not care which team wins.  Everyone else cares — the players certainly, the coaches whose income might depend on the team’s record or who might have a son or daughter on the team, and the spectators who almost always either have a family connection with one or more players or who have paid money to see a favored team play.  The officiating team does not.  Its concern is how the game is played, not who wins, and “how the game is played” is defined by adherence to the Laws of the Game as understood and applied by them in accordance with their training and lack of favoritism.

So, could someone officiate a match involving a team of which they are a coach?  Yes, theoretically, but it would be an implicit violation of the core concept of “Referee neutrality” as to decision-making and outcome.  In fact, this is deemed such a fundamental restriction that it is almost always applied even where there is a degree of separation, as would be the case where the coach/Referee was officiating a game involving a team which that coach/Referee’s team might play some time in the future.

It is often not known or understood that soccer was played for a long time with no Referees at all.  The sport evolved at a time and in a culture where “sportsmanship” was deemed such an important, core, and assumed ingredient in the game that disputes about play were decided by the participants themselves.  Indeed, there were neither coaches nor Referees.  Gradually, this changed with persons being appointed to make decisions about the legality of some event on the field only if the issue could not be decided by the participants and only if the issue were “referred” to these persons (hence the title of that person as “Referee”).  Ultimately, the role of this person developed and solidified into the modern concept of the “Referee” as a neutral, professional, and trained person.  Yet, this development, while implicit in virtually every word in the Laws of the Game, was and remains unwritten.  The closest the sport has come to saying anything on this subject is to be found in the 2016/2017 version of the Laws, early in Law 5 (The Referee): “Decisions will be made to the best of the referee’s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game.”

Substitutes Misbehaving

Mick, an adult/pro referee, asks:

A substitute comes onto the field of play without the Ref’s permission and prevents a goal by kicking the ball out of the penalty area.  What is the decision of the Ref with the new interpretations of the laws?

Answer

For the very first time, the Laws of the Game provide for a direct free kick or a penalty kick if a person other than a player commits an offense.  In this case, we have a substitute illegally entering the field of play and interfering by kicking the ball away from a location within the penalty area.  Since no goal was scored, the remedy is found in Law 3, section 7 (if a goal had been scored, we would used the remedies provided in Section 9).  Summarizing the specified remedy, 12.7 requires that, since there had been interference, play must be stopped and resumed with a direct free kick or a penalty kick.  Since the interference was inside the penalty area, the restart would be a penalty kick for the opposing team (we are presuming that the invading substitute was from the defending team since it would make little sense for an attacking team substitute to have kicked the ball away).

We have the restart now but what about misconduct?  Let’s assume for the moment (though the specifically relevant elements of an OGSO scenario are completely missing from the question’s scenario) that we are, in fact, dealing with an OGSO.  Unfortunately, even so, things are a bit murky and what follows is an unofficial interpretation and recommendation until such time (if any) that the IFAB clarifies the matter.  We know that the invading substitute is subject to a caution (illegally entering the field) but is he or she subject to a red card for OGSO?  We would have to report that the answer is unclear.  Law 12 states that “a player, substitute or substituted player” who commits any of the following offenses is sent off and then lists 7 violations, the second one of which is “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity” so one would think that the answer would be, yes, the substitute could be shown a red card for kicking the ball out of the penalty area.

There are two problems with this red card.  First, the OGSO card must arise from the commission of an offense punishable by a free kick “(unless as outlined below)” and what is “below” is a section of Law 12 which provides that an OGSO misconduct is not punished with a red card unless the offense is “holding, pulling or pushing” (which isn’t what happened) or the substitute “does not attempt to play the ball” (which he most assuredly does attempt, and succeeds) or the offense is one that would be “punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field” (it isn’t).  Exactly what offense did the substitute commit?  Only one — illegally entering the field.  Kicking the ball is not itself an offense … and certainly not one that would earn a red card if committed anywhere on the field.  Second, the section providing a more detailed explanation of an OGSO red card refers only to a player, not a substitute.  And, as noted, this might not even be an OGSO situation in the first place if it is decided that merely kicking the ball is not an offense and/or not against an opponent (as opposed to, say, tripping or holding an opponent).

Now we move to a bit of speculation.  Suppose the Referee decided that the substitute, while being on the field illegally, has committed unsporting behavior misconduct which is cautionable.  Would this be unreasonable?  What is included in “unsporting behavior”?  According to Law 12, one example of unsporting behavior is “shows a lack of respect for the game” which would seem to provide a great deal of flexibility and might well include merely kicking the ball.  If so, then the Referee could show the invading substitute a yellow card for illegally entering the field, a yellow card for unsporting behavior, a red card for having received a second yellow card … followed by a penalty kick restart.

As the French might say, “Voila!”

The Handball Violation

An adult amateur coach from the Czech Republic asks:

[After describing several potential handball violations which depend on the position of the hand or arm and wondering which, if any, violate the Law, the question ends with the following request.] Maybe you can describe some model situations, which can help me. IFAB LOTG 16/17 does not explain it clearly.

Answer

The handball violation (and, yes, it is now permissible to use this phrase to describe the infraction rather than the traditional  “handling offense” so we will take off our grumpy hat and bow to common usage) is the quintessential foul that cannot be described — you have to be there.  Nevertheless, it is possible to offer some generalizations that may assist both new and experienced officials in properly evaluating all the facts and circumstances so that our understanding of it is better grounded.  What makes the handball such a contentious issue is its history as one of the most important reasons why and how the sport of soccer originated.  It is also useful to remember (particularly for Americans) that the sport in most parts of the world other than North America is called football.  Simplifying dangerously, soccer is soccer rather than rugby because the use of hands is forbidden to all participants except for one specially identified player for each team and only if he or she is in their own penalty area.

Law 12 uses just 17 words to define the offense: “involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”  The physical act itself is simple and very concrete (contact with the ball by the hand) which may be easy to see or it may be hidden from the referee but seen by others or it may be so brief that no one is entirely sure it even occurred.  What requires us to earn our money, however, hinges on one word — “deliberate.”  The act must be deliberate, and that is where we can supply some guidelines.

Law 12 (notably in the current edition of the Laws) itself offers several thoughts.  For example, the contact might be entirely reflexive or instinctive as when a player sees a hard object hurtling toward some part of the body which he or she is conditioned by nature to protect due to its importance or sensitivity.  The face, for example, but there are others, and while many may be assumed for male and female players, others could be entirely individual (as, for example, a player attempting to protect an area of the body which was previously injured and has not yet healed).  A reflexive or instinctive act is not deliberate.

What triggers an instinctive act?  One factor might be the speed of the object as in the case of a ball hard struck in a volley as opposed to rolling on the ground.  Another factor might be the lack of time to avoid contact using any other means as might be the case when the origin of the ball’s movement is close rather than distant.  A third factor might be the unexpected nature of the imminent contact, as when the ball coming from a peripheral direction is not noticed until bare moments before the inevitable collision.  These factors underlie, in part, the common aphorism that handball offenses usually involve the hand moving to the ball but rarely the ball moving to the hand.

The notion has been around for a long time that an important factor might be where the hand is at the time of contact, often verbalized as a “natural” versus “unnatural” position.  Given a player in motion, pumping legs, driving forward, trying to maintain balance, pivoting quickly, trying to get the attention of a teammate, and so forth, we are hard-pressed to conclude that there really is any such thing as a “natural position” for the hands unless we picture such extreme examples as a player standing still with a hand up in the air waving to someone in the crowd at the moment the hand is struck by a ball played in the air.  Furthermore, it has been argued that players may protect their balance while in motion by using their arms differently due to gender-based differences in body structure and/or how weight is carried on those structures.  This has frequently confused officials and has resulted in their making mistakes through not understanding gender and age differences in players.  The IFAB emphasized this concern when they stated in Law 12 that “the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

We have heard of and have ourselves seen players running with arms pumping back and forth being whistled for handling because the ball, struck from behind the player, has hit the hand while it was in motion extending behind the player!  We have seen players whistled who have fallen and are in the process of lifting themselves off the ground when the ball rolls into the weight-bearing arm!

The bottom line is that, while extremes in hand positioning might be a factor in deciding whether ball contact should be treated as deliberate based on that fact alone, it is far more important to focus on the totality of the player’s situation and what led to the contact.  Moreover, referees must consider that contact which initially should be judged as not deliberate (for reasons noted above) may become deliberate (and therefore a violation) if the player then uses that contact to subsequently control or direct the ball.  Actually, truly “whistleable” handball offenses are surprisingly rare — most hand contacts with the ball are accidental and often a surprise to the player.  Many fall under the “doubtful or trifling” rubric and are not a justifiable reason for stopping play.

By the way, you may feel that, regarding the handball offense, the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game “does not explain it clearly,” but we would suggest instead that the current Law does a much better job in this regard than at any time in the past.

Player Disappears During Kicks from the Mark

An adult referee asks:

Kicks from the penalty mark 11 v 11 and all subs used.Last player on one side scores their 11th as it is now sudden death but the other team player says they are too injured to take theirs, possibly fear of losing the game?

Answer

This will likely not be the last time we entertain questions regarding how the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game changed elements of the Kicks from the Mark (KFTM) process.  This question, at least, is one of the easier ones (the really difficult questions will emerge after enough experience accrues to highlight the less well known ins and outs of KFTM).

Before proceeding, however, we need to clarify some terminology.  There is no such thing as “sudden death” in the KFTM procedure.  If the tie has not been broken by the time five pairs of kicks have occurred, the process moves to a phase in which the two teams take kicks in pairs and the tie is broken only if one team has scored and the other team has not. The term “sudden death” would be applicable only if the tie is declared broken (and KFTM is ended immediately) because the first kicker in the pair was successful.  In point of fact, both teams always have a chance to kick once the first five pairs have finished with the score still being tied.  In fact, this requirement for there to always be a second kick is at the heart of the question here.

With that settled, the scenario we are faced with here is fairly simple. The teams have started with 11 v. 11 and not lost anyone so far through ten pairs of kicks due to a send-off or injury.  We come then to the 11th pair of kicks with two and only two players (one from each team) who are eligible to kick in the 11th pair.  The team which started each pair of kicks is up and its 11th player kicks.  The opposing team by rule must also have the opportunity to kick using its 11th player.  Note that, so far, it doesn’t matter whether the first kicker of the pair scored or not.  The referee, who has been keeping track of who has kicked so far (assisted by the AR in the center circle), calls for Red #55.  No one comes forward.  Calls again but still no one.  Maybe Red #55 isn’t even there (not a likelihood in a high level match), maybe he or she has become ill (but has not officially withdrawn), or perhaps (as in this question) Red #55 is merely feigning injury for unsporting reasons.  With some variations, it really doesn’t matter why Red #55, the last eligible Red player, will not come forward to proceed with the 2nd kick of the current pair.

There is nothing in the Law dealing directly with this.  The closest “on point” guidance is in Law 10: “Kicks from the penalty mark must not be delayed for a player who leaves the field of play. The player’s kick will be forfeited (not scored) if the player does not return in time to take a kick.”  Note that this language is specifically directed at a player who has left the center circle where all eligible players are required to remain(excepting only the goalkeepers), hasn’t returned, and therefore is delaying the taking of the next KFTM.  It is a fundamental principle of interpreting the Law to find the core issue and expand from there and this delay is the prime issue.

Red #55 is clearly delaying the KFTM by not coming to the penalty mark when called to do so as the last possible player eligible to kick.  Law 10 says that we should declare Red #55 to have forfeited his or her opportunity and to be marked as having not scored … and now, finally, it makes a difference as to what happened when the last Blue player took his or her team’s 11th kick.  If it was successful, then the Red team failed to score and the KFTM is over, favoring Blue.  If the 11th Blue player had missed, then so also had the 11th Red player (our unresponsive #55): the two teams remain tied and so the referee must move to the 12th pair (thus beginning a new round).

Red #55 could be cautioned for all sorts of reasons — leaving the field without the permission of the referee, delaying the restart of play (if you count a KFTM as a “restart”), or simple unsporting behavior (showing a lack of respect for the game, which might be particularly pertinent if Red #55 were feigning an illness or simply willfully refusing to take the kick entirely despite being present).  Whether cautioned or not, this behavior must certainly be included in the match report, as well as any factually supportable evaluation of the player’s reasons (it would be up to the competition authority to determine punishment, if any, for the recalcitrant Red #55).

Anything beyond this is pure speculation.  For example, in a 2nd round, would Red #55 still be eligible?  If no longer eligible, then does “reduce to equate” apply and the Blue team must drop one before proceeding to round 2?  Let’s save these and related issues for another day.

Misconduct Before the Match

An adult referee asks:

When can a referee show cards before the game as the new laws talk about when the game starts and during field inspection?

Answer

This is actually one of the more interesting Law changes announced in 2016.  Previously, referees were allowed to show yellow and red cards for misconduct before the match (from the time they entered the area of the field) and after the match (from the end of the match , including any tie-breaking procedures, to when the officiating team left the area of the field.  More to the point, a yellow card issued before the match “counted” if a second yellow card were issued during the match — the second yellow would earn a red card just as if the first caution had occurred during the game.  A red card before the match, which resulted in the usual dismissal from the field, did not also result in the team having to play “short.”

With the 2016/2017 Laws, however, the International Board changed things in two ways.  First, no cards (red or yellow) could be displayed, regardless of the conduct, before the opening whistle of the match and therefore a “second yellow” send-off could only be based on cautions issued during the match (not before or after).  If any misconduct occurred before the match which would otherwise warrant a send-off (e.g., spitting or violent conduct), the player involved would still be sent off and (as before) the team could still field the same number of players.  In either case, all misconduct before or after a match, including otherwise cautionable offenses, must be documented in the match report.

Something else changed as well.  The International Board decided to mark the beginning of the “before the game” time by the appearance of the officiating team for the purpose of conducting the inspection of the field.  While this sounds acceptable, the Board was thinking of international and national  matches and other very high level matches where much of what happens is governed by tight schedules and highly ceremonial activities (such as formal field inspections).  In these kinds of matches, the officiating team is usually sequestered in stadium rooms until their first official appearance and so their formal entry onto the field to begin their publicly visible responsibilities under Laws 1, 2, and 4 is easily recognizable.

For most of us, though, things are much looser, less regimented, and often complicated by assignment schedules which include multiple matches where the same officials, as a team, may be “at the field” for long periods of time throughout the day.  This makes it difficult to determine the precise moment when the authority to send off a player before the game actually starts.  Our advice to you is that it starts when you decide it starts (and, likewise when the match is over, when you want your authority to send off a player will end).  It would be a good idea not to abuse this flexibility by, for example, marking the start of your before-the-game authority by when you drive into the parking lot or the end of your authority as late as the middle of the next game!

The bottom line in all this is that you are no longer authorized to show any cards before the first whistle or after the end of official play (including overtime and other tie-breaking procedures mandated by the rules of competition).  You can send off any player, substitute, or substituted player before or after the game (within the limits described above).  All misconduct before or after a match (cautionable or red cardable) must be included in the game report.