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.


I always like to see Week in Review for certain examples of aspects of refereeing. In 2011, it started on 3/25/2011. When will it start this year?

USSF answer (March 29, 2012):
There will be no Referee WIR for the 2012 MLS season.

We are in the process of creating video content in a different manner.


Question 1:
In your report on Week 21, Colorado was not penalized [at least announced in the stadium], but I believe that the Union player was carded for dissent and then red carded for continuing the dissent. That does not match with your analysis. Why?

Question 2 –
In the 90th minute of the Colorado Rapids vs. Isidro Matapan [August 17]

There is a tug by the left hand of the defender from behind which impedes the striker from continuing his run toward the opposing goal.

Why is that not a foul?

USSF answer (August 22, 2011):
Answer 1:
You appear to have confused what may have happened in the Colorado-Philadelphia game with what the Week in Review is intended to cover: how referees should make their calls equate with what the players are doing on the field. The text in Week in Review 21 addresses what should have been done in the two situations involving foul tackles and how other referees can profit from that. Your situation was not covered.

Answer 2:
Our officials were not involved in the match between Colorado and Isidro Matapan. That is why we cannot make that judgment and why that matter was not covered in the Week in Review.


This week’s Week 23 USSF Week in Review features Brian Hall discussing the concept of advantage in the penalty area (referring to the 8 minute mark of the audio portion).

Mr. Hall states that advantage on a DFK foul by the defending team in its own PA can only occur if a goal is scored almost immediately; if not, the foul should be called an a penalty kick awarded.

Here is my theoretical situation. Let’s say a GK commits a DFK foul on an attacker, who releases the ball and the ball rolls to a teammate who now has a shot from 2 yards away on the 8-foot by 24-foot goal frame. It’s a “can’t miss” opportunity. But amazingly, the attacker somehow manages to mis-kick the ball and chips it wide of the post or over the crossbar (this is not impossible… a search of “Missed goals” on YouTube will turn a few of these up).

Clearly it behooves the referee to play advantage and give the golden scoring chance. But, according to Mr. Hall, once the shot misses the PK should be awarded. This is going to seem like double jeopardy for the defense, and will undoubtedly result in much angst and potential dissent from the defense.

The missed goal is not the fault of the foul or any play by the defending team; it is due to the technical inadequacy of the attacker.

I’m fine with following this directive, but I want to make sure that this is what is truly intended. I can sense situations developing in which we are following this direction and have to deal with subsequent dissent for the interpretation.

USSF answer (September 17, 2010):
For something over a year now, the Federation has espoused precisely the line expressed in the Week in Review. This line distinguishes between the concept of advantage anywhere else in the field and how the concept differs in the penalty area. What it comes down to is this:

As regards procedures, the mechanics of advantage in the penalty area would be to keep your mouth shut and the whistle down, no matter what. No referee should ever be caught on tape giving the non-PA advantage signal for something that occurred inside the penalty area.

As regards the substance of advantage, inside the penalty area advantage is defined solely in terms of scoring a goal “immediately” (i.e., within a play — roughly — a pinball-type carom off one player to another player and then into the goal would be included). If a goal is scored “immediately,” count the goal and card only if the original offense by the defender deserved it outside the context of S4 or S5 (Law 12 reasons for sending-off). If a goal is not scored, regardless of the reason, whistle and call for a penalty kick.


In Referee Week in Review – Week 15, the first video clip illustrates a deliberate handling foul (Colorado at Seattle, 32:00).

In the podcast discussion, the concept of “making oneself bigger” is emphasized. In the video, as the ball strikes the player, the player seems more to be making himself smaller, drawing his arms inward and slightly turning his body away from the ball.

I am not questioning the handling call itself, as it is easy enough to argue that the arms were deliberately moved into the path of the ball. But could you explain further how the concept of making oneself bigger applies to this particular incident?

The player taking away the kicker’s passing lane using hands/arms is also discussed. Prior to making contact with the ball, the player does leap with arms stretched upward–is this where making oneself bigger applies? And if so, how does this factor into the foul since no contact with the ball occurred while the arms were outstretched?

Thanks much.

USSF answer (July 8, 2009):
Referees at all levels must understand the criteria and the context in which terms are used and must analyze how the term, concept or criteria should be extended to use in a game. This is the case with the criterion “making yourself bigger.” Remember, not EVERY example or use of a criterion can be mentioned. For this reason, the ability to analyze and understand how it should be interpreted or applied is critical to an official’s success.

Here is the full definition of “making yourself bigger” found in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directives. The definition should answer your question.

This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender “deliberately” putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).

• Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?

• Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent?

• Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?

Nowhere in the definition does it state that “making yourself bigger” applies ONLY to the arms at your side. On the contrary, it merely covers “takes away space from the team with the ball…” and “deliberately putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent.” Notice, it does not mention only to the side nor how far from the body the arms/hands can be. The definition also says “LIKE spreading your arms wide….” Key is the word “like.” This means there are other reasonable answers.

So, in this case, think about what “bigger” means. When a person is said to be “bigger,” it does not mean only to the side. It means all around the body. This should include above the body as well. A player can clearly take away a passing lane or space from an opponent by extending his arm/hand directly in front of himself. This fits the definition of “making yourself bigger.” Think about the concept and draw a mental picture for yourself.

Concepts like “making yourself bigger” and “unnatural position” can overlap also. This is a case when both occur in the same action by the defender.


Often times in the MLS I see a very frustrating tactic and I have seen this in the matches I referee. Players stand in front of the ball at free kicks, especially in dangerous areas. Often times because of the unpunished nature of the offense it also happens at midfield. Players often times want a quick restart and this prevents this tactic. I feel frustrated as a biased fan. I can’t imagine how frustrated players get and parents get at youth matches. I imagine that both sides are getting frustrated.
Since I feel like the enforcement of the law is not very consistent with the 7+7 memorandum I want to know how to prevent the tactic and when does it become a cautionable offense. What are the criteria for it to become cautionable? I know what the memorandum says but what sort of advice do you have on enforcing this law?

One example (from a biased Seattle fan) would be the incident where Riley was sent off in the LA Galaxy match. Shouldn’t the player who clearly “provoked” the confrontation receive a caution. Under the 7+7 memorandum provoking a confrontation by touching the ball after the referee has stopped play is one of the offenses of special concern of FIFA. I was surprised to find it was not in the week in review.

USSF answer (June 11, 2009):
We are fortunate to have input from Brian Hall, U. S. Soccer’s Manager of Assessment and Training.

First, let us address your question regarding the Riley situation. You are correct, the player who withheld the ball from Riley and, therefore, prevented Riley from putting the ball into play quickly should have been cautioned for delaying the restart of play. This exact subject was covered in U.S. Soccer’s “Week In Review 8” which can be found at (select week 8).

Explanation and video review of the subject are covered coinciding with Video Clip 2: Los Angeles at Seattle.

Now, to your broader question. Referees have been instructed and continue to receive guidance relative to delaying the restart and not respecting the required distance. In fact, the overall management of free kick restarts is covered as one of U.S. Soccer Referee Program’s main directives for 2009.

These directives can be downloaded at: However, if you are watching the game worldwide, you will see referees elsewhere are facing the exact same challenges.

In the 2008-09 publication of the Laws of the Game, FIFA revised the wording relative to “distance” and free kicks. Check the new section FIFA has introduced to replace the old “Questions and Answers:” “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees.” In this section, the term “distance” is defined:

“If a player decides to take a free kick quickly and an opponent is less than 9.15 meters from the ball intercepts it, the referee must allow play to continue.” It also states….

“If a player decides to take a free kick quickly and an opponent who is near the ball deliberately prevents him taking the kick, the referee must caution the player for delaying the restart.”

Key terms are “intercepts,” and “deliberately prevents.” Upon reading U.S. Soccer’s directive on “Free Kick and Restart Management,” you will see that “deliberately prevents” is defined as “lunging or advancing forward or toward the ball.” So, if a defender is less than 10 yards and he/she lunges or advances forward toward the ball and then makes contact with the ball, this player must be cautioned for delaying the restart. On the other hand, if an attacker takes a free kick and the defender is less than 10 yards but in view of the attacker, then the attacker assumes the risk of the quick free kick and any defensive contact would not be punishable (the kicker knew the location of the defender at the time he/she took the free kick).

Finally, as the directive implores officials, preventative measures should be utilized. Upon seeing players who act as a “statue” in front of the ball or who are less than 10 yards, referees should use presence to move the defender back and prevent further occurrences.


Two questions about the Week in Review:

1. Last year I accessed the content at a link that looked like this: It was much easier to read, print and save than the content at the only link. Is there a similar link available this year?

2. Where are prior weeks archived? Surely they are not inaccessible?

3. Last year the videos could be easily downloaded and saved. Is this possible this year?

USSF answer (April 14, 2009):
1. Week In Review is at the referee page at
2. Prior weeks and last year’s summary are also at
3. Video download — they are available for viewing at — they will be set up for downloading on a monthly basis. The US Soccer webmaster is working on this now.