I have an issue concerning the 12th law. In this law (2007/08) it states, “A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offenses… handles the ball deliberately” (Law 12 Page 25). There are a few reasons I have an issue concerning this law.

First of all, let us consider Law 11. Concerning offside positions it is an offense intentional or not; the same should apply to handling. It is not an offense to be in an offsides position if no advantage is gained; therefore, it should not be an offense to handle the ball if no advantage is gained. If an advantage is gained from being in an offsides position, deliberately or not, it is an offense; therefore, if an advantage is gained from handling the ball, deliberately or not, it should be an offense.

Secondly, this change in the law makes it much less ambiguous. This means there is less reason to argue with the official; it is much easier to argue intent then it is to argue if advantage was gained.

Thirdly, this law makes it much easier for the official to make a decision. It is much harder for the official to decide if the handling was deliberate than it is to tell if an advantage was gained.

Finally, on a side note. I believe law 12 (2007/08) should be left alone in the “Sending-Off Offenses” portion where it states, “A player, substitute, or substituted player is sent off and shown the red card if he commits any of the following seven offenses… 4. denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball” (Law 12 Page 26). I don’t believe a red card should be given for unintentionally handling the ball preventing an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, but it should still be a foul and a direct free kick (or a penalty kick) should be awarded to the opposing team.

In conclusion, I think that the current law should be changed because it isn’t fare, it is easily arguable, and it is difficult to know when to call.

USSF answer (July 17, 2008):
You seem to have missed the crux of the matter: Handling is an offense ONLY and punished ONLY IF IT IS DELIBERATE. There are many occasions on which a player may handle the ball accidentally,. Some examples: When it is kicked at the player from short range and there is no time to react, when the player turns around (we will assume no guile here) and finds the ball coming at him and there is no time to react, or when the player is protecting him- or herself while in the wall. This is not only soccer law, but soccer tradition.

We have covered the topic in our publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” which states:

The offense known as “handling the ball” involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player’s hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). “Deliberate contact” means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

In comparing the concept of “advantage” under Law 12 with the same concept in Law 11, you are comparing peanuts and watermelons: Both are essentially the same shape, but their constituent parts function differently.

A further point to ponder is that there is no element of intent or deliberation or even advantage when it comes to an offense under Law 11.


I had an incident in a recent match which, despite much reflection, review of The Laws (and position papers, etc…), and deliberation with other referees, is still unsettled in my mind.

Basically, the situation involves a shot by ORANGE that is without any doubt on a path to enter YELLOW’s goal. Yellow defender (not the goalkeeper) while on the goal-line, between the uprights, leaps and handles the ball in mid-air directly back onto the field of play. I stop play, look to my AR to see if he has information, and he beckons me over. His words were simple “Ball went in the goal. Still a caution to [Yellow defender who handled the ball] for misconduct.”
Now, it’s my understanding that a player can be cautioned for unsuccessfully attempting to deny an obvious goal (say, by handling it, or some other foul).  But the controversy here is whether or not you can still caution this Yellow player if the ball had already entered the goal when he handled it. [FYI – In this case, if the ball crossed the plane of the goal as the AR stated, then the ball MUST have entered before he batted the ball away from the goal with his hand.]
Support for cautioning Yellow was the 7+7 memo a few years ago, saying that an attempting to deny a goal/opportunity can be a caution. Support for not cautioning Yellow is that handling the ball after a goal is scored is not an offense because the ball is now out of play.

I lean towards the latter being the correct course of action (award the goal and no caution), but I need some insight outside of my immediate peers and leadership (too many strong, yet opposing opinions here). The only I seem to be able to conclude is that this is a gray area of The Laws. If you confirm that idea or offer a different conclusion, great.  Thank you in advance for any guidance on this. If you need clarification on any of my descriptions, or lack thereof, please ask.

USSF answer (May 27, 2008):
The case for a caution for the apparent misconduct after the goal was already scored is iffy — not nonexistent, but iffy. Depending on the circumstances and on what had been occurring in this game up to that moment, the referee could defend a caution based on the argument that the player’s action was taken with the intent of preventing a goal and the fact that it was not only unsuccessful but too late as well does not eliminate the intent. A better solution might be to simply warn the player and remark on his good fortune that he might only have been attempting to prevent the ball from hitting the netting at the back of the goal because it appeared weak and likely to tear.

In any event, you will not find this and many other examples of unsporting behavior documented anywhere. They belong to that category of actions known as bringing the game into disrepute, for which a caution (under the category of unsporting behavior) should be given.


In a recent Premier League game Manchester City hosted a match and distributed balloons to fans. The balls were behind the City goal most of the time but quite a few blew onto the field in front of the goal when, you guessed it, the ball was sent across the goal mouth on the ground. A defender was positioned to kick the ball away but instead kicked a balloon. An attacker struck the correct round object and scored the goal that won the game. The referee allowed the goal to stand but it is thought that the rule about “outside agency” should be applied instead.

What is correct?

In another recent professional game the ball was kicked high to a player who was dashing along the touchline looking at the descending ball. He had to step over the line to receive the ball but fell as he ran into the unseen AR who was also running tight along the touchline off the field. The player would likely have been able to play the ball as no opponent was anywhere near. The AR could see the play and I expected him to drift wide of the play, which he didn’t do. Possession went straight to the opponents. There was no call; no drop ball restart.

What is correct?

The use of arms to protect the defenders who are formed into a “wall” in front of a goal has been accepted to protect the face, groin area and heart. I expect the arm/hand should be touching the body, or almost so. However it’s a common enough sight on replays to see defender’s arms deliberately reaching out to prevent the ball from striking them. I’ve even seen the ball repelled by an elbow. Consider an arm extended about 14 inches in front of a contorted face (I’m measuring this right now with a ruler) seems to be a deliberate act of directing the ball away to an unthreatening area of the field than would occur if the arm was held protectively close to the body.

What is correct?

USSF answer (February 12, 2008):
1. Balloonacy
Under Law 5 the referee has the powers to protect the safety of the players and to stop, suspend or terminate the game for outside interference of any kind. The only reasons for the referee to stop the play for balloons or other foreign objects being thrown onto the field would be if he or she considered that (a) the state of the ground was hazardous for the participants, (b) the balloons were causing the game to become farcical, or (c) he or she considered them to be outside interference.

If it is at all possible, the referee should act preventively to have foreign objects removed from the field before any incidents occur to mar the game. In these circumstances the game would be suspended until the playing surface had been cleared of the foreign objects.  If play was stopped for this, the restart would be a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped. If the referee had the time to act preventively to have the items removed, play would be suspended at an appropriate stoppage in the game and restarted according the reason for the stoppage — throw-in corner kick, etc. However, if there is a great number of foreign objects in one playing area, such as in the penalty area, and this could interfere with both sides enjoying an equal opportunity for a good game, the referee should stop play immediately.

This problem is a difficult one for referees to manage at any level of play, but particularly at the professional level, as the longer the game is suspended to deal with this type of incident, the greater the risk of the spectators continuing to disrupt the game.  In most countries the referee would not hold up the game for such incidents unless the foreign objects were completely covering a large area of the playing surface.

2. Player knocking over the AR (or vice versa)
The assistant referee is considered to be part of the field. If he or she is hit during the course of play by the ball or by a player, there is no infringement, nor is there any need to stop play; the only reason to stop play would be if the ball has left the field. (Let us note that the AR should be well off the field in all cases.)

3. Raising the arm from the body to play the ball
Players are indeed allowed to put their arms across their bodies to protect themselves. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the player so doing is actually moving the arms or hands to control the ball, that constitutes deliberate handling and must be punished accordingly.


I have a question about a recent middle school boys game. Team A took a shot on goal and a player from Team B handled the ball on its way towards the goal (attempting to deny an obvious goal-scoring situation). However, the ball still crossed the goal line for a goal. The referee waved off the goal and awarded a PK but did not send off the defender. What is the correct ruling on this, allow the goal to stand and either not card the defender (or possibly issue a yellow card?) or disallow the goal and send off the defender?

Answer (October 29, 2007):
We must state once again that we do not deal with the rules for games that are not played under the Laws of the Game. However, if this game had been played under the Laws of the Game, we would make the following observations:
1. Denial of a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball is a sending-off offense. The referee may apply the advantage and, if the ball does enter the goal, the player who attempted to deny the opportunity must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.
2. The goal should have been scored.
3. Only a very foolish referee would take away a goal already in the net and award a penalty kick that cannot assure a goal.


I am trying to figure out why a deliberate handling infringement by the kicker is discussed in Laws 13, 14, 16 and 17. It seems that once the ball is in play, a deliberate handling infringement as discussed in Law 12 would cover this. Is there something about denying a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity that requires this to be distinguished from a Law 12 infringement?

Answer (September 5, 2007):
We need to remember that the Laws are written for the players, too, even though most of them do not ever bother to read them. Although the same might be said for most referees after their first year of refereeing. The emphasis on deliberate handling in Laws 13, 14, 16 and 17 (and you forgot 15) is to remind both players and referees that the game must be restarted for more serious offense if two infringements are committed simultaneously. In this case they are: a second play of the ball before someone else has touched or otherwise played it and deliberate handling. The second play of the ball is usually simply an indirect free kick offense, whereas the deliberate handling is a direct free kick offense. Most referees would recognize that, but some would not.


Without having the time to read all the archives, these questions have come up: 1. In normal play and not from a free kick, a teammate deliberately passes the ball back to his goalkeeper but it is over and over the GK’s head. In order to prevent an accidental own-goal, the GK handles the ball. Is this a DOGSO or an IFK for the opponent?2. A player completes a legal throw-in to a teammate who heads it back to their own GK. Is this trickery? I contend it is not but there are USSF instructors who insist it is.

3. When time is extended for the taking of a Penalty Kick, do players have to remain on the field or can all go to the team benches except for the kicker and GK? This is another I believe where players have to remain on the field because the ball is still in play but some USSF instructors claim all players but the kicker and keeper can leave.

USSF answer (June 18, 2007):
1. No, it is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE for the goalkeeper to be sent off for denying an obvious goal or goalscoring opportunity to the opposing team by deliberately handling the ball in his/her own penalty area. It’s in the Law: 4. denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

2. Read through this excerpt from the draft for the 2007 edition of the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” The only change is the addition of the note at the end.

A goalkeeper infringes Law 12 if he or she touches the ball with the hands directly after it has been deliberately kicked to him or her by a teammate. The requirement that the ball be kicked means only that it has been played with the foot. The requirement that the ball be “kicked to” the goalkeeper means only that the play is to or toward a place where the keeper can legally handle the ball. The requirement that the ball be “deliberately kicked” means that the play on the ball is deliberate and does not include situations in which the ball has been, in the opinion of the referee, accidentally deflected or misdirected. The goalkeeper has infringed the Law by handling the ball after initially playing the ball in some other way (e.g., with the feet). This offense, like any other, may be ignored for the moment if it is trifling or doubtful (see Advice 5.6).

NOTE: (a) The goalkeeper is permitted to dribble into the penalty area and then pick up any ball played legally (not kicked deliberately to the goalkeeper or to a place where the goalkeeper can easily play it) by a teammate or played in any manner by an opponent. (b) This portion of the Law was written to help referees cope with timewasting tactics by teams, not to punish players who are playing within the Spirit of the Game.

A goalkeeper infringes Law 12 by touching the ball with the hands after receiving it directly from a throw-in taken by a teammate. The goalkeeper is considered to have received the ball directly by playing it in any way (for example, by dribbling the ball with the feet) before touching it with the hands. Referees should take care not to consider as trickery any sequence of play that offers a fair chance for opponents to challenge for the ball before it is handled by the goalkeeper from a throw-in.

NOTE: The goalkeeper may always handle the ball inside his own penalty area unless he/she: – Takes more than 6 seconds while controlling the ball with his/her hands before releasing it from possession
– Regains hand control prior to a touch by another player
– Touches ball with the hands after it comes directly from a throw-in or deliberate kick to the ‘keeper by a teammate

3. They must all remain on the field of play. No one is allowed to go to the bench area other than for medical attention. The ball is certainly not in play.


There has been a great deal of debate on some web forums regarding the Red Bull New York v. Houston Dynamo game last Saturday. (4/21/07)From the wing, a player crossed the ball square into the area clearly on target to 2, unmarked, wide open strikers about 7-8 yards from goal. A player on Houston jumped up, while in the area, and grabbed the ball deliberately with 2 hands fouling up a certain goal scoring opportunity.

The debate has been whether or not he should have seen red, under UEFA standards he easily could have been, according to my understanding of USSF rules, he didn’t meet all of the so called “4 D’s” since the cross was definitively heading towards goal but rather square to goal.

Is this a proper reading of USSF standards or could the Houston player, in fact, have been shown red?

USSF answer (April 30, 2007):
We did not see the game and cannot tell from your description whether or not the conditions for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, and thus for sending off the evildoer, were met.

There is already a send-off offense for deliberate handling, number 4 under the seven send-off offenses: denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area). It does not require any particular alignment of players for either team, but simply the occurrence of the offense.

In your description of the incident, you appear to be applying criteria which are involved in a red card for offense #5, when in fact what occurred was offense #4. The “4 Ds” memo is specific in its terms — it is talking about offense #5 in connection with these conditions. The general rule of thumb in #4 violations is that the red card is justified only if (in the opinion of the referee), but for the handling offense (in this case, by the goalkeeper outside his PA), the ball would have gone into the net.

In addition, the terms of the USSF position paper of September 16, 2002, on “Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity Denied (The 4 Ds)” do not include any reason for a gratuitous caution for unsporting behavior where it is not merited. Nor is this true of any other document dealing with the correct application of the Laws of the Game.

The defender should have been cautioned for unsporting behavior (commission of a tactical foul that broke up attacking play), not for handling to prevent a goal, and play restarted with a penalty kick as the offense occurred inside the defender’s penalty area.

Please, let common sense prevail in the web fora.


During live play, a GK punts the ball straight up in the air. A strong wind blows the ball toward the goal. The GK touches the ball but it ends up in the goal. Is this a second touch violation or is advantage applied and a goal allowed? (I know this is covered in Advice to Referees in regard to goal kicks taken by a goalkeeper but I see no reference to this particular scenario.)USSF answer (February 21, 2007):
The correct restart would be a kick-off. In touching the ball again, the goalkeeper has violated Law 12 and the referee may apply the advantage. In the case of the goal kick, the goalkeeper would be violating Law 16, in which case the referee may not apply the advantage.


A defending player (red) kicks the ball away from the goal line past the goalkeeper (red) who has his back to the kicker and could not have seen how the ball was propelled past him. Goalkeeper sees the ball as it travels within 2-3 feet of him and, in the penalty area, picks it up with his hands. Same scenario but the ball initially goes no less than than 7-8 feet from the goalkeeper yet the goalkeeper chases the ball and in the penalty area picks it up with his hands.In either case should the referee stop play and award an indirect free kick to white? Is the determination of an infraction founded in the referee’s opinion of whether or not the kicker was deliberately kicking the ball to the goalkeeper or that the kicker deliberately kicked the ball and it happened to go close enough for the goalkeeper to handle it?

USSF answer (February 12, 2007):
As stated in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” the decision to punish this possible infringement of the Laws is always in the opinion of the referee.