I have seen lately that referees are not calling charges on the keeper inside his/her penalty area when the keeper is either attempting to control the ball or is in control of the ball. I have always been taught (over 20 years of officiating experience) that the goalkeeper cannot be legally charged inside the penalty area while in control or possession of the ball unless the keeper is playing the ball with his/her feet. I have recently been told by senior ranked (State 5 or above) referees that this is no longer the case and that the keeper may be fairly charged just like any other player on the field and does not have special privellages inside their penalty area. In reading the Advice to Referees Section 12.16 I believe it says that “While the ball is in the possession of the keeper, it cannot be lawfully played by an opponent and any attempt to do so may be punished by a direct free kick.” I also believe I read in the Advice to Referees Section 12.23 that charging a keeper in possesion of the ball should be considered a violation of law 12 and a direct free kick awarded unless the keeper is playing the ball with his head, feet or etc… This would seem to me that nothing has changed and that charging a keeper who is not playing the ball is still illegal. Can you clarify this for me?If you have answered this previously I must have not been able to find it and would appreciate a reference where I can find this answer.

USSF answer (March 30, 2007):
No matter what you may hear from “senior ranked (State 5 or above) referees,” the facts are contained in the document you cite, the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball while bouncing it on the ground or while throwing it into the air. Possession is given up if, while throwing the ball into the air, it is allowed to strike the ground. As noted in Advice 12.10, handling extends from shoulder to tip of fingers. While the ball is in the possession of the keeper, it cannot be lawfully played by an opponent, and any attempt to do so may be punished by a direct free kick.

12.17 PREVENTING THE GOALKEEPER FROM RELEASING THE BALL INTO PLAY An opponent may not interfere with or block the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play. While players have a right to maintain a position achieved during the normal course of play, they may not try to block the goalkeeper’s movement while he or she is holding the ball or do anything which hinders, interferes with, or blocks the goalkeeper who is throwing or punting the ball back into play. An opponent does not violate the Law, however, if the player takes advantage of a ball released by the goalkeeper directly to him or her, in his or her direction, or deflecting off him or her nonviolently.

12.18 THE “SIX-SECOND” RULE The goalkeeper has six seconds to release the ball into play once he or she has taken possession of the ball with the hands. However, this restriction is not intended to include time taken by the goalkeeper while gaining control of the ball or as a natural result of momentum. The referee should not count the seconds aloud or with hand motions. If the goalkeeper is making a reasonable effort to release the ball into play, the referee should allow the “benefit of the doubt.” Before penalizing a goalkeeper for violating this time limit, the referee should warn the goalkeeper about such actions and then should penalize the violation only if the goalkeeper continues to waste time or commits a comparable infringement again later in the match. Opposing players should not be permitted to attempt to prevent the goalkeeper from moving to release the ball into play.

12.23 CHARGING THE GOALKEEPER Referees must carefully observe any charge against the goalkeeper and call as an infringement of Law 12 only those charges which are performed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force (direct free kick), are performed in a dangerous manner (indirect free kick), or prevent the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands (indirect free kick). Charging the keeper who is in possession of the ball must be considered an offense because, by definition, the charge cannot be for the purpose of challenging for control of the ball (see Advice 12.16). A goalkeeper can be otherwise legally charged if the ball is not in the goalkeeper’s possession (see Advice 12.16) but is being played by the goalkeeper in some other manner (e. g., dribbled at the feet, headed, etc.).

To sum it up: The goalkeeper in possession of the ball AND preparing to put it into play may NOT be charged or otherwise interfered with. However, the goalkeeper may be charged FAIRLY when both the ‘keeper and the opponent are striving for possession of the ball.

And could it be that this is what the senior referees were saying and that you might have misunderstood?

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