Impeding Issues

Mario, a U-12 and under referee, asks:

This question is about the interpretation of impeding the progress of an opponent.  Let’s say player D (Defender) is shielding the ball legally, within playing distance away from player A (Attacker) inside the penalty area, parallel to the goal line but not within the goal. Before the ball is out of play, player D starts to back into player A.  At first they don’t make contact but then they do start making contact. Penalty or Indirect free kick for player A’s team?  My reaction would be to call an indirect free kick because the impeding is happening first?

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

Your assumption is incorrect as a matter of Law.  We quote from Law 12 (2016/2017 Laws of the Game): “A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences: … impedes an opponent with contact” followed by  the statement that an indirect free kick is awarded if a player “impedes the progress of an opponent without any contact being made.”  And then the 2016/2017 Laws included the following definition on page 83: “Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.”  To top it all off, the Board continued with “A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.”

In short, as USSF has long taught referees, impeding means no contact (other than purely accidental contact of contact as a result of simple inertia) and, if there is contact, the IFK offense is turned into a DFK offense equivalent to holding or an illegal charge.  The International Board simplified this history in 2016 when they clearly specified the distinction between impeding-without-contact and impeding-with-contact.

So, take another look at the scenario.  Was there any element of impeding here — with or without contact?  Did anyone move into an opponent’s path?  Were both “impeder” and “impedee” not within playing distance of the ball?  By the way, take a look at the International Board’s definition of “playing distance” (page 165).

What we have here is either ordinary contact between opposing players which does not rise to the level of a foul (or, arguably, is a foul but trifling) or, if it is a foul and neither doubtful or trifling, it is a DFK foul (converted by location into a PK).  The statement “the impeding came first” is not supported by the definitions noted above.  Before there was any contact, there was no impeding; after there was contact, it didn’t become “impeding-with-contact” but, rather simple holding (or nothing or doubtful or trifling).  A verbal warning about “backing into an opponent” might be warranted but, if there is anything more than this, the Referee has no choice but to signal for a PK — that is, of course, if it was the defender backing into the attacker rather than the attacker legally charging the defender.

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, askasoccerreferee.com would close up tomorrow.

Illegal Substitution Problems — Update

On January 26, 2017, we posted a question and answer on the topic of “Illegal Substitution Problems.”  After reviewing the Law issues, we offered a practical solution which, at the time, was not consistent with the letter of the Law but, to us, seemed acceptable and consistent with the “spirit” of the Law, and we warned that adopting this approach might be met with resistance by some officials.  We invite readers to locate this item, review the different options it discussed, and feel comforted in the fact that the International Board has now officially adopted the “practical” solution we offered as part of the Board’s newly-adopted 2017-2018 version of the Laws of the Game. 

Coach in Trouble

A Premier League coach from an Asian country asks:

[Revised and summarized]  I’m the Assistant Coach in a Premier League for one of the Asian countries. We had an eventful match last week. Around minute 65, an opposing player made a very harsh tackle against my team’s striker and created a very heated situation involving both teams. I felt the Referee did not control the situation and I ran onto the field to help him control things. The situation became more heated when the Referee only gave a yellow card for the tackle. After the game, I approached the Referee and said ” Hi Referee —  it should be a red card — come on Referee. I hope next time you can make a better decision.” I didn’t use any vulgar words. However, the Referee wrote in his match report that I pulled his hand and used vulgar words towards him. How can I defend myself when there was no video evidence showing either of these things? I was fined by my football federation. How can I defend myself?

Answer

We’re sorry that this occurred and that you feel the punishment you received was not justified.  Unfortunately, there is no way we can assist you either generally or in particular.  We cannot comment on what goes on in other countries, much less on what is essentially an internal administrative matter.  What punishments are assessed after a game is over are outside the scope of the Laws of the Game, particularly where it involves a coach.

What we can say, however, it that you should not have come onto the field “to help [the Referee] to control things” unless you were actually given permission by the Referee to do so.  This would be considered a violation of Law 3 if a player had done it and, if done by a team official (which, as an assistant coach, you are), could be the basis for a dismissal from the field for “irresponsible behavior.”  It is also the case that having any conversation with members of the officiating team after a match is over — particularly if the conversation goes beyond how nice the weather was — is not a good idea.  First, nothing you might say would likely educate the Referee.  Second, you might in fact be wrong.  Third, even if right, immediately following a difficult, heated match, is not a conducive time for “educating” anyone (I’m sure you would agree were the situations reversed and the Referee wanted to talk to you about your coaching strategy!).  We Referees have a saying, “if you don’t want the coach to referee, don’t try to coach the players” and it applies here as well.

Finally, coming onto the field as you did, with the conversation not being documented by film or sound recording, merely sets up a “he said/did, no I didn’t say/do” debate which, on balance, will usually be decided in favor of the Referee.  We cannot comment directly regarding your federation but our experience has been that there are almost always channels for filing complaints after the match using official forms and giving everyone a chance to cool down at least a bit.  Most such opportunities provide for responses and offers of proof or extenuating circumstances.

While we can’t help in your case, we hope that all team officials will take note of our advice here and respond to similar situations accordingly.

DETERMINING THE RESTART WHEN AN OUTSIDE AGENT ENTERS THE FIELD

Question:
Before the ball enters the goal from an attacking player’s shot, a spectator enters the field of play and slightly touches the ball with his hand but does not manage to stop the goal. What decision should the referee make?

Answer (November 15, 2015):
In such cases, the referee must follow the guidance on p. 66 of the Laws of the Game:

Outside agents
Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is deemed to be an outside agent, as is a player who has been sent off.
If an outside agent enters the field of play:
• the referee must stop play (although not immediately if the outside agent does not interfere with play)
• the referee must have him removed from the field of play and its immediate surroundings
• if the referee stops the match, he must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when the match was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped

In your situation, Law 3 requires that the referee determine whether or not the outside agent—here the spectator—has truly interfered with play. Only the referee on the game can determine this; not the players, not the team officials, no one but the referee, with advice from the ARs, if necessary.

CONTINUING FOULS AND MORE

Question:
I was curious about the free kick foul in last night’s USA-GER game in which the referee awarded the U.S. a penalty kick. Is there an interpretation of the German defender’s foul as “continuing” as Alex Morgan entered the penalty area? The defender certainly initiated contact outside the area and kept Alex Morgan from following her touch.

So was it clearly a correct call? An incorrect call? Or somewhere in between?

Question two relates to the caution on the U.S. back that resulted in the German penalty. Should she have been sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity, or was the goalkeeper’s proximity to the play enough to bring that within the referee’s discretion.

Answer (July 1, 2015):
All the pundits—the “soccer personalities” in broadcasting and some members of the soccer community, have it wrong: The referee’s award of the penalty kick was perfectly correct. This is based on the continuation principle, which has been implicit in the Laws of the Game for some years and was expressed in a paper issued by the U. S. Soccer Federation in 2007:

Subject: When Fouls Continue!
Date: April 30, 2007

Prompted by several recent situations in professional league play, a discussion has developed regarding the proper action to take when a foul continues over a distance on the field. Many fouls occur with the participants in motion, both the player committing the foul and the opponent being fouled, and it is not unusual for the offense to end far away from where the initial contact occurred.

Usually, the only problem this creates for the referee is the need to decide the proper location for the restart. Occasionally, however, an additional issue is created when the distance covered results in an entirely different area of the field becoming involved. A foul which starts outside the penalty area, for example, might continue into and finally end inside the offending playerеs penalty area. Or a foul might start inside the field but, due to momentum, end off the field. In these cases, the decision about where the foul occurred also affects what the correct restart must be.

In general, the referee should determine the location of the foul based on what gives the greater benefit to the player who was fouled. FIFA has specifically endorsed this principle in one of its “Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game” (12.31) which states that a penalty kick is the correct restart if a player begins holding an opponent outside the playerеs penalty area and continues this action inside his penalty area.

And yes, Julie Johnston should have been sent off for denying the obvious goalscoring opportunity for Germany.

CHARGING PROPERLY

Question:
Two players are going for the ball, and, within playing distance of the ball, one lowers shoulder and drives into other player. This is indeed a foul, but can you point to text in Fifa’s LOTG that would clarify this? It is a charge, of course, so is the only ground on which to blow the whistle that it was careless? I can’t find anything in Fifa’s LOTG about lowering the shoulder being illegal.

Answer (June 21, 2015):
P. 117 of the Laws of the Game:

Careless, reckless, using excessive force
“ Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.
• No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless

“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.
• A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned

“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.
• A player who uses excessive force must be sent off

Charging an opponent
The act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact within playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.
It is an offence to charge an opponent:
• in a careless manner
• in a reckless manner
• using excessive force

Note: Charging can occur only in the area of the shoulder, never in the center of the back; however, when working youth games, the referee must consider any disparity in height and honor the act if a player is making a “best effort” to follow those guidelines.

DEALING WITH ILLEGAL ENTRY OF A SUBSTITUTE AND ENSUING EVIL

INCIDENT ANALYSIS
An interesting question came up the other day about a recent game in Asia and what the referee should do when a substitute, warming up behind his team’s goal, sees that his goalkeeper is down and there are no defenders nearby to stop the ball, which is rolling quickly toward the goal. The substitute enters the field of play without the referee’s permission and prevents a goal from being scored by kicking the ball away.

Any debate as to what the referee should do must center around four issues:

1. What infringements of the Law have occurred?
• The substitute has entered the field without the permission of the referee and then interfered with play by kicking away the ball heading for the goal.

2. Where the infringement involves misconduct, what kind and what card?
• Substitutes entering the field of play without permission have committed unsporting behavior, a cautionable offense. In addition, a substitute can be sent off for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, a sending-off offense.

3. What did the referee actually do?
• He whistled play dead, sent off the substitute, and restarted with an indirect free kick from the place where the substitute kicked the ball. While effective in dealing with the greater offense, the referee’s action was not entirely correct. Nor did the referee caution the substitute for unsporting behavior (entering the field of play without his permission).

4. With play stopped, what actions should the referee have taken, and what should have been the restart and from where?
• According to Law 12, “A player [and this includes substitutes and substituted players] who commits a cautionable or sending-off offense, either on or off the field of play, whether directed towards an opponent, a team-mate, the referee, an assistant referee or any other person, is disciplined according to the nature of the offense committed.”
• In this situation, the referee must first caution the substitute for unsporting behavior for entering the field of play without permission; that is the infringement that governs the restart. Second, the referee must send off the substitute for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick; this infringement does not figure in the restart — although it did during the game in question.
• The restart must be an indirect free kick for the initial misconduct, entering the field of play without the referee’s permission. The correct place would have been the position of the ball at the time of the stoppage (see Law 13 – Position of free kick). It would seem that an otherwise well-intentioned referee simply didn’t understand what the Law requires of him.

The place where the ball was when play was stopped would be its location at the moment the referee makes the decision to stop play, not where the ball might have ended up after the whistle was blown.

GOALKEEPER POSITION ON PENALTY KICKS

Question:
Law- 14 penalty kicks.
The Defending Goalkeeper
As stated by the rules of Fifa
The defending goalkeeper:
• must remain on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.
My question is does the keeper have to keep a part of their body on the line until the ball is kicked? Or does the keeper have to keep both feet on the line until the ball is kicked? It is allowed for keepers to move side to side so the feet obviously do not have to be on the goal line. I would guess this question relates to the plane being broken. When watching any professional games it seems that the keeper is allowed to move forward as long as a part of the body is on the goal line in the plane between the goalposts. I am looking for some clarification on this rule because as I have gray areas of rules.

Answer (October 15, 2014):

As you note, the Law tells us that the defending goalkeeper must remain on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked. A later portion on Law 14, in the back of the Law book under Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, reiterates that the referee must confirm, before the penalty kick is taken, that the goalkeeper is on the goal line between the goalposts and facing the kicker. If the goalkeeper violates these instructions, the kick may be taken; however, if the ball enters the goal, the goal is awarded. If the ball does not enter the goal, the kick is retaken.

To answer your question specifically, the goalkeeper must remain on the line. No specific body part is mentioned, because it is traditional that the goalkeeper be upright, both feet on the line. He or she may move along the line, but must not move forward or backward.

Not sure where any grayness might enter the picture, unless you take into account poor work by lazy referees at all levels of the game, those who allow the ‘keeper to move forward (or sometimes backward), which is not permitted until AFTER the ball has been kicked.

And one correction: The Laws of the Game are not written by FIFA. They are written by the International Football Association Board, of which FIFA is a member. FIFA publishes the Laws for all.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT THE IFAB SAYS ABOUT HEADWEAR

Question:
An instructor asks: Before we start teaching the recert clinics this year, I want to make sure I understand the change in Law 4.
Am I to interpret “head cover” as meaning any type of hat (or other head covering) that the referee deems safe?
I just want to make sure that it is meant to include “hats and caps” – like a knit hat or skull type cap with no protrusions

Answer (September 5, 2014):
With one slight addition, we see no reason why you should need to state anything other than what is stated in FIFA Circular 1419 of May 2014 for Law 4:

Where head covers are worn, they must
* be black or of the same main color as the jersey (provided that the players of the same team wear the same color)
* be in keeping with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment
* not be attached to the jersey
* not pose any danger to the player wearing it or any other player (e.g. opening/closing mechanism around neck)
* not have any parts extending out from the surface (protruding elements)

Reason

After a two-year pilot, there is no indication as to why the wearing of head covers should be prohibited, as long as their design restrictions are respected as defined in the pilot. Furthermore, the male football community also raised the need for male players to be permitted to wear head covers, as it was considered discriminative.

Hats or soft caps that are safe for all participants would be permitted. Equipment not permitted still includes snoods (a net or fabric bag pinned or tied on at the back of a man’s or woman’s head for holding the hair)