Clarifying a Goal Kick Puzzle

Reuben, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

I am confused by the following provison of Law 16: “If a player enters the penalty area before the ball is in play and fouls or is fouled by an opponent, the goal kick is retaken and the offender may be cautioned or sent off, depending on the offence.”

I understand from the reference to “fouls or is fouled” that the offending act happened after the ball was put in play, since otherwise it is not a foul.  If so, why is the restart a goal kick instead of the restart appropriate to the foul?


We would suggest that you read the language very closely.  Red team has the goalkick restart. Blue team is technically required by Law 16 to withdraw from Red’s penalty area.  Prior to this year, the ball on a goal kick restart is not in play until it leaves the Red penalty area but, as of this year, it is in play the moment it has been kicked and clearly moves.  Now, a Blue player enters (not fails to withdraw, but enters) the Red penalty area before the ball is put into play and that Red player fouls, or is fouled by, a Blue opponent inside the penalty area.  Although it is not specifically stated as to exactly when the GK was taken, it is clear that it was taken after the Blue opponent entered the penalty area.

It is also the case that, in various places in the Law, the International Board (IFAB) uses the term “foul” in circumstances that seem unusual.  The general explanation is that IFAB differentiates between “a foul” and “an offense.”  All fouls are offenses, but not all offenses are fouls.  We take the use of the term “foul” in this case to specifically refer to offenses defined in Law 12  rather than any non-foul offenses described elsewhere in the Law (e.g., offside, wearing illegal jewelry, or failing to exit the penalty area prior to the taking of a goal kick).

Accordingly, the fact situation is that, technically, the Blue team has committed a Law violation before the ball was put into play, even in terms of this year’s new definition.  It is also a fact, though not expressly stated in the Laws of the Game, that the referee can decide ex post facto that play was dead at that moment of entry and can act on that basis even though the whistle had not yet been blown.  So, this could result in the referee nullifying the goal kick that was taken and treat the Blue opponent’s offense as having occurred when the ball is not in play, which means in turn that, after dealing with the Blue violation, the goal kick would be retaken by Red (see p. 114, 2019-2020 Laws of the Game).

There is a certain symmetry with this solution because otherwise, if the intruding Blue player committed a foul against a Red player,  Red would get a direct or indirect free kick but, if Red committed a foul against the intruding Blue player, Blue would get an indirect free kick or a penalty kick against the Red team.  We think either result falls fairly easily into the mantra the Board has injected into the Law regarding “what does soccer want?” and we think the answer would be no free kicks (much less a penalty kick) for either Red or Blue out of this — hence, retake the goal kick.