Resources on the Laws of the Game

Rob, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Good day
Where can one obtain a copy of the basic interpretations of the new changes to the Laws of the Game, from a layman point of view as we are have conflicting different opinions with regards to these among some of my colleagues. Whilst we are understanding that the interpretation differs from country to country, the principles all still remain the same.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

As you can appreciate (particularly after reading the “dos and don’ts” for this website at the “About” tab), we are concerned almost exclusively with the official Laws of the Game as updated annually by (now) the International Football Association Board (IFAB, or simply the Board) and implemented in matches affiliated with and/or sanctioned by US Soccer and its affiliates.  This is quite a plateful as it is without bringing in games and officiating elsewhere in the world (or even competing soccer organizations in the US).  It is not surprising that there are more countries in FIFA than there are in the United Nations.  It also means that, while we maintain associations and contacts with individuals in different parts of the world, we would be overwhelmed if we needed to know about any of them even a fraction of what we have to keep up with for this website.

So, sadly, we cannot assist you in your laudable quest to find reliable sources of information, interpretation, and good advice wherever you happen to be (our guess at the moment is Australia based on the “g’day” thing or at least a British Commonwealth country based on the “whilst” thing).  Without trying to beat our own drum, however, you and your referee mates are always free to submit any question to us here — much as you have already done and it’s so easy — and know that we will do our best to clarify and possibly resolve any differences of opinion based on our own reading of the materials available to us — not officially approved and not necessarily universally accepted (we have heard in our travels in Europe, for example, many very strange interpretations that the reporters thereof absolutely swear are common knowledge in their country).

We tell our own referees here that you should start with those who instructed you, or who provide your in-service training and refresher courses, or the local, regional, or national organizing body who pay you or who punish you for mistakes, etc.  And if you don’t understand the explanation at one level, bump it upstairs to the bigwigs.  By the way, we hear through the grapevine that the Board does not look kindly these days at national associations which attempt to produce separate publications purporting to explain the Laws of the Game as they apparently feel that their language has become so clear that there should not be any mysteries.  If that were truly the case, would close up tomorrow.

Throw-in Location

Clay, an adult pro player, asks:

Regarding throw-ins, how far behind the touch line can a player take the throw? For example, counter attack occurs with players still on the other end of field. Ball is cleared out of bounds. Player of counter attacking team runs to the ball and takes the throw while standing more than 5 yards/meters behind the touch line.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Players just love to push the limits, don’t they?  The formal Law on the subject is very clear — the throw-in must be taken from the point on the touchline where the ball left the field.  Period.  And we all know exactly where that is, don’t we?  Let’s be serious, except for a ball rolling slowly across the ground, no one really knows where the ball left the field (particularly when the ball is high in the air!).

So, whereas the Law is specific and clear, real life isn’t, and thus we offer three connected answers.

  • First, the ball left the field where the Referee (assisted by the AR) says it left and this, in turn, is indicated by where the Referee allows the throw-in to be taken.  In other words, the player has retrieved the ball and begins walking toward some point on the line — the Referee nods OK or points semi-vaguely to some general area or says nothing or (if dissatisfied) indicates to the player to move upfield or downfield or the player asks (verbally or otherwise) the AR where to take the throw-in.
  • Second, the thrower has traditionally been given an allowance of up to a yard in either direction (including back from the line) from where the ball probably left the field.
  • Third, Practical Refereeing 101 (what you learn on the field and from experienced officials) teaches us that variances greater the one yard can be tolerated the farther away the thrower is from the goal the thrower’s team is attacking.  The theory here is that it is a technical violation of the Law but, in essence, trifling and so can be ignored or given a warning since the ball was put into play without delay and without a demonstrable unfair benefit gained.

Where we Referees start to grumble is when a player takes advantage of our good will by accepting our allowing the throw-in to be taken from somewhere in accordance with answers 1, 2, or 3 and then trampling on our good will by using that point to begin a lengthy and totally unnecessary run yards farther away, thus displaying contempt for answers 1, 2, and 3.  Unfortunately, this is also often when we make a mistake by calling the player back after he or she throws the ball from a place which unexpectedly was many yards away from where we were allowing the player to take the restart and indicating that the player should take the throw-in again but this time from the correct place.  If it was bad enough to call back, it was bad enough to be subject to the penalty specified in Law 15 — give the restart to the opposing team.  If you don’t want to do that, then realize that you can’t call it back.

By the way, 5 yards back from the line is really pushing the envelop, no matter which of the three answers above you use.

The Field and Objects Around It

Matt, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

What is the required clearance on touchlines for obstacles such as fences and light poles?  I’m asking for US Youth Soccer guidance and field side clearance.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

We do not speak “for” US Youth Soccer anymore than we speak “for” USSF.  We suggest you contact US Youth Soccer directly and ask if they have any specific guidelines on the matter.

However, we also don’t like to seem as though we are shirking our responsibility to give whatever advice we are able to provide — particularly because doing so is quite easy.  There is no such thing as “required clearance,” at least not in the sense that the Laws of the Game deal with this issue.  The field is the subject of various requirements (mostly in Law 1) but they all have to do with (a) the layout and constituent parts of the field itself (e.g., lines, goals, dimensions, etc.) and (b) the technical areas just outside the field.  Advice to Referees added guidelines about “appurtances” (things attached to goals)  and “pre-existing conditions” (e.g., overhead wires, overhanging branches, pop-up sprinkler heads, etc.) — none of which connect directly to your question.

What do you do when a potential problem pops up which seems important but which is not covered explicitly by anything in the Law?  You step back to common sense and the three ultimate objectives of officiating — safety, fairness, and enjoyment.  The Referee has a duty to inspect the field and to deal affirmatively with any condition reasonably pertaining to what goes on in and around that field related to the match.  Suppose you saw a large trash bin on the ground less than 2-3 yards away from the goal line.  What would you do?  What can you do?  You can go to the home team coach (the person traditionally held responsible for providing a safe, legal field for the match) and advise him or her about a dangerous condition that potentially affects the safety of players on both teams and urge that it be corrected.  This sometimes works.

If it doesn’t, then you have another decision to make — how important (i.e., dangerous) is the situation?  Important enough that you would be willing to declare that the field was unsafe and an officiated match could not be held at that location?  If so, stick to your decision.  If the teams can move to another field, well and good.  If they want to play anyway despite your warnings and final decision, let them (just walk away, after making clear the basis for your decision).  Finally, include it in your game report and know that you have upheld one of the prime principles of the Laws of the Game.


From what I can see, the Advice to Referees has changed in its wording on 5.6 (Advantage). It now appears that advantage may be applied and indicated by the referee when not just Law 12 is violated, but various Laws. However, there is a bullet that “not all violations of the Law qualify for the application of advantage.” Can you please clarify what does and doesn’t qualify?

Answer (April 28, 2014):
First and foremost, no violation of the Law to which the concept of advantage cannot be reasonably applied would be excluded. In other words, “static” violations which do not involve active play aren’t covered; for example, field, ball, uniform, substitutions, coin toss, ball in/out of play, timing of the match, or events occurring when the ball is not in play, etc. Second, any violation of the Law that does not involve player behavior is excluded (think large overlap with the first category). Third, any violation of the Law involving a restart requirement is excluded–e.g., feet on the ground on a TI, ball leaving the penalty area on a GK, ball not going forward on a KO, ball being kicked before it hits the ground on a DB, etc.


During the March 30, 2012, DC United vs. FC Dallas MLS match, there was a play late in the first half where Dallas player Perez (#9) scored after receiving the ball following a deflection/misplay by DC United defender Dudar (#19). At the time the ball was last played by Perez’s teammate Hernandez. who chested the ball forward, Perez was in a clear offside position. All of our training as well as the Advice to Referees states that in order for the offside situation to “reset” the defender must control and play the ball. A deflection, miskick, or misplay is not supposed to reset the offside situation. In this case the AR did not raise his flag for offside and the goal was allowed to stand.

USSF answer (April 4, 2012):
An official review of the situation at the highest levels confirms that the call should have been offside.


What are requirements for shoes? Are cleats allowed and what colors? I imagine multi colored boots aren’t allowed. But what about a cleat that is predominantly black but has yellow on it. I know I will be wearing my yellow shirt most of the time anyway.

USSF answer (February 27, 2012:
This answer from November 29, 2001 is still valid, although we have updated the content of Advice 5.1:

Referees may wear only the gold primary jersey or the black, blue, red, or green alternate jerseys, and may wear only the approved socks. (The term “primary jersey” means only that this is the color all referees must have. It does not mean that the gold jersey must be worn in preference to other colors.) No other colors will be worn without express permission of the USSF. If the uniform colors worn by a goalkeeper and the referee or by a team (or both teams) and the referee are similar enough to invite confusion, the goalkeeper or the team(s) must change to different colors. Only if there is no way to resolve the color similarity must the referee (and the assistant referees) wear the colors that conflict least with the players. Referees and assistant referees must wear the same color jerseys and the same style of socks, and all should wear the same length sleeves. The referee uniform does not include a hat, cap, or other head covering, with the sole exception of required religious head covering. Referees must wear the badge of the current registration year. In general, referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, and reserve referees may not wear any item of equipment, clothing, or jewelry (with the exception of a watch) which the Law does not permit a player to wear.

Referee shorts must be black.

Referees should select their shoes with an eye for both utility and appearance. Referees have to run on the field with at least as much speed and agility as do the players, so the shoes should enable them to do this under all field conditions. Players, team officials, and spectators often make initial judgments about the skills and knowledge of the referee based on appearance, and shoes can contribute significantly toward building that reserve of confidence. It is also occasionally important that players, who are frequently looking down at the ground, be able to identify the referee quickly by differences in the shoes. Accordingly, the referee’s shoes should be predominantly black, clean, polished, and neatly tied.

Under normal circumstances, it is not acceptable for a game official to wear headgear, and it would never be seen on a high-level regional, national or international competition. However, there may be rare circumstances in local competitions where head protection or sun visors might sensibly be tolerated for the good of the game, e.g., early morning or late afternoon games with sun in the officials’ line of sight causing vision difficulties; understaffed situations where an official with sensitive skin might be pressed into service for multiple games under strong sunlight, or a referee who wears glasses needing shielding from rain. Sunglasses would be subject to the same considerations. In addition, we ask referees to remember that sunglasses have the unfortunate side effect of suggesting that the referee or assistant referee is severely visually impaired and should not be working the game. They also limit communication between the officials and the players by providing a barrier against eye-to-eye contact. Sunglasses, if worn, should be removed prior to any verbal communication with players.

The Advice does not cover shorts, socks or shoes, but referees who want to get ahead will make every effort to present themselves neatly and professionally. Shorts should be made of the same materials as the jerseys. Shoes must be black and bear as little ornamentation as possible. Referees should dress as conservatively as possible to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves.

The policy on hats was published in the October 1999 issue of Fair Play:

Q. May referees wear caps and sunglasses?
A. With regard to caps, the policy of the United States Soccer Federation was stated in the Spring 1994 issue of Fair Play magazine: “Under normal circumstances, it is not acceptable for a game official to wear headgear, and it would never be seen on a high level regional, national or international competition. However, there may be rare circumstances in local competitions where head protection or sun visors might sensibly be tolerated for the good of the game, e.g. early morning or late afternoon games with sun in the officials’ line of sight causing vision difficulties; understaffed situations where an official with sensitive skin might be pressed into service for multiple games under strong sunlight or a referee who wears glasses needing shielding from rain.” Sunglasses would be subject to the same considerations. In addition, we ask referees to remember that sunglasses have the unfortunate side effect of suggesting that the referee or assistant referee is severely visually impaired and should not be working the game. They also limit communication between the officials and the players by providing a barrier against eye-to-eye contact. Sunglasses, if worn, should be removed prior to any verbal communication with players.


After a substitute enters the field of play and trips an opponent from behind (blind side) the referee stopped play and showed the substitute the red card. He restarted with a IFK. At the end of the game while writing the report the referee is struggling with what reason to write for the red card for.

The LOTG states: A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offenses:
• serious foul play
• violent conduct

The referee wants to go with SFP since the play wasn’t that violent to go with VC. But AR reminds him that ATR 12.33 says:
This does not include serious misconduct by substitutes, who should be punished for violent conduct if they commit an act as described in the first paragraph of this section. (See 12.34.)

My question, can the ATR trump what is very clearly stated in the LOTG?

Answer (February 10, 2012):
There is nothing in the Advice to Referees that recommends anything that is contrary to or “trumps” the Laws of the Game. The Laws of the Game always take precedence over anything in the Advice, as clearly stated in the introduction to the Advice. Your scenario is clear-cut and the same answers are in both publications.

First you must justify the nature of any misconduct committed by the substitute before you decide how to punish it. In your scenario the sub who enters the field and trips an opponent, but has not committed any act of a violent nature. Why would you send him off for serious foul play? A substitute cannot commit serious foul play. He can commit violent conduct, but your scenario does not include any act of violence. Therefore the information in Advice 12.33 is absolutely correct: The substitute MUST be cautioned for unsporting behavior (entering without permission), but not necessarily until he interferes with play, and the opponents awarded an indirect free kick from the place where the ball was when play was stopped. If the referee “needs” the second sanction for game management purposes, then he or she should caution the substitute for a second instance of unsporting behavior, tripping the opponent. If the trip from behind involved excessive force, then send the sub off for violent conduct.


This is a question for clarification of the Denying an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity offense, particularly in reporting it. I am aware that for the DOGSO-H variety to be applied, in the U.S.A. we have the direction, “but for the handling, the ball would have entered the net” as a requirement. But, I am confused about 2 scenarios which by all rights should be DOGSO, but may not be, leading to massive game control issues. The scenarios:

Scenario A: An attacker is on a breakaway with no defenders around for 15 yards. Just outside the penalty area, within the arc, directly heading towards goal (all D’s met) the GK jumps down on top of the ball grabbing it away from the attacker’s feet outside of the penalty area. The attacker had not taken the “shot”, but if not for the illegal handling, an obvious goal scoring opportunity existed.

Send-off? DOGSO-F or DOGSO-H?

Scenario B: An attacker is on a breakaway. The GK is out of the area (pick a reason, i.e. whole team pushed up for corner kick, and he’s not very fast.) The attacker is outside or inside the penalty area, (which side of the 18 yard line only necessary in determining restart.) He has the ball at his feet, directly in between the goal posts and is heading straight towards goal. One defender manages to match his speed, but no other defenders within 15 yards. The defender dives, reaches out, and grabs the ball with his hands just before the attacker takes his shot. Now, the shot had not been taken, so it wasn’t headed into the goal.

However, all other aspects of the Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity are present. The attacking team expects the send off, the defending team expects the send off, but according to the Guidance, “the ball was not headed into the goal but for the handling.” So, send-off? How would this be written up?


Your response and clarification would be most helpful, as some other referees and I can’t seem to meet agreement here.

USSF answer (November 19, 2011):
In Advice to Referees 12.37 the Federation has said that a red card for denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity requires that a goal be prevented: “applies to any player (or substitute) other than the goalkeeper in his own penalty area who handles a ball to prevent it from entering the goal … . A red card for denying a goal by handling cannot be given if the attempt is unsuccessful; in other words, if the ball goes into the goal despite the illegal contact.” Accordingly, the ball on its way into the net is the sine qua non of denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity — if it is prevented from going into the goal, it is a red card; if the ball goes into the goal anyway, it is not; and if the ball wasn’t going into the goal but was interrupted by a handling violation under conditions that meet the 4 Ds, it is a red card for denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by an act punished by a free kick..


Having a debate here about definition of ‘delay of game’.

On a kick-off from the half line, after a goal, or starting a game, if a team does an improper kick-off (i.e. ball does not move forward, and cross over the half line) several times, is this delay of game? I have seen teams do this in the past. I would allow this twice, then give an IDFK to the opposite team. I was recently told by a senior official that this is not a delay of game and not IDFK. Well, if so, what do you do about it?

USSF answer (November 17, 2011):
The tactic you describe could be considered to be delaying the restart of play. A number of examples are given in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The following are specific examples of this form of misconduct (some of which may also be committed by substitutes):

• Kicks or throws the ball away or holds the ball to prevent or delay a free kick, throw-in, or corner kick restart by an opponent

• Fails to restart play after being so instructed by the referee

• Excessively celebrates a goal

• Fails to return to the field from a midgame break, fails to perform a kick-off when signaled by the referee, or fails to be in a correct position for a kick-off

• Performing a throw-in improperly with the apparent intention of being required to perform the throw-in again, thus wasting time

• Unnecessarily moving a ball which has already been properly placed on the ground for a goal kick

• Provokes a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play

Because the ball was out of play at the delay, the restart after any caution in this case would still be the kick-off.


To be offside, player must be in offside position and involved in active play. The Laws of the Game provide three instances: interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining advantage by being in offside position.

Am I correct to assume, if any of these three elements are present, and player is in offside position, then player is offside?

To me, The Laws of the Game, The Interpretations, and the Advice to referees, do not read the same. In the LOTG there is no “or” or “and” between the three elements, in the Interpretations there are “or”s between the elements (suggesting any instance will make the player in active play, and thus offside), and the advice to referees doesn’t provide guidance one way or another, on the issue of whether they are separate or inclusive.

The reason I ask is because there was a player deeply offside and his goalkeeper punted the ball. He ran from the offside position about 35 yards to try and head the ball in the air. He was disadvantaged being in an offside position because he had to work so hard get into position to head the ball.

NEXT QUESTION: Is it true advantage cannot be applied when a player is offside?

USSF answer (September 28, 2011):
1. Yes, if any of those conditions applies, then the player is declared offside. We would suggest, that you read the Law again. Here is the entirety of Law 11 for 2011/2012, full of ifs and ors:

Offside Position
It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position.
A player is in an offside position if:
* he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent
A player is not in an offside position if:
* he is in his own half of the field of play or
* he is level with the second-last opponent or
* he is level with the last two opponents

A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
* interfering with play or
* interfering with an opponent or
* gaining an advantage by being in that position

No offense
There is no offside offense if a player receives the ball directly from:
* a goal kick
* a throw-in
* a corner kick

Infringements and Sanctions
In the event of an offside offense, the referee awards an indirect free kick to the opposing team to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred (see Law 13 – Position of Free Kick).

The conditions are further amplified and defined in the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees:

In the context of Law 11 — Offside, the following definitions apply:
* “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” means that any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition
* “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
* “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
* “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position

When an offside offense occurs, the referee awards an indirect free kick to be taken from the position of the offending player when the ball was last played to him by one of his teammates.
//rest deleted as not germane to the question//

The Advice to Referees says precisely the same thing, but to quote it here would unnecessarily enlarge the response.

2. No, the advantage per se cannot be applied to infringements of Law 11; only to Law 12. What some players and coaches — and, unfortunately, some referees — incorrectly define as offside is simply the referee’s decision to wave down the assistant referee’s flag and not to punish what is not truly an offside. The assistant referee may flag for an “offside,” but the referee makes the decision.