As a spectator, coach, player and referee, one of my pet peeves is what I see as poor management of free kicks in the so-called “Danger Zone”, where referees in the competitions where I operate seem to immediately make all such free kicks ceremonial, denying dangerous quick free kick attacking opportunities for the offended team.

As a referee, I strive to be the absolutely best that I can be, so I spend hours each week studying all the official and unofficial material I can get my hands on. But looking at the February 10, 2009 directive on Free Kick and Restart Management, I walk away confused on this subject. The directive accurately quotes FIFA on this subject: “If a player decides to take a free kick and an opponent who is less than 10 yards from the ball intercepts it, the referee must allow play to continue”, and offers the clarifying point “If the kick is taken, it has not been prevented from being taken and play must be allowed to continue.”

But later it states “Intercepts the QFK after the kick is taken: The referee may exercise discretion depending upon whether he/she felt the defender deliberately prevented the ball from being put into play.”

The only way I have come up with to reconcile this in my mind apparent inconsistency within the directive is to say that, in the event of an intercepted kick, an infraction has been committed if the defender, previous to the actual kick, prevented the kick from being taken in some even slightly other direction, pace, angle, etc., at some point beforehand, and that the fact of the interception may rightly lead the referee to draw that conclusion (in particular based on the skill level of the players involved).

Does it sound as though I have this right?

USSF answer (October 20 2009):
We hope this response from Brian Hall, the USSF Manager of Assessment and Training, will help you.

Thank you for “striving to be the absolutely best that you can be” and for being a student of the game. Your dedication is very much appreciated.

Now, in terms of your question, there are two important terms:
“Deliberately prevents” and “intercepts.” Both are used in the Laws of the Game and have been used in the 2009 Directive “Free Kick and Restart Management” for this purpose.

“Deliberately prevents” is an action that must result in a caution. This is “moving/lunging/advancing toward the ball.”

“Intercepts” is a situation in which the attacking team knows the defender is in the area and still puts the ball into play (attacker assumes the risk of putting the ball into play). The defender does NOT move/lunge/advance toward the ball.

A situation that may result in a caution for intercepting is the “statue” that is mentioned in the Directive. A player may move within several feet of the ball/restart and NOT “deliberately prevent” because he does not lunge at the ball with his foot but the referee judges his actions are cautionable because the player’s actions were, in general terms, preventing the ball from being put into play quickly. For example, a player who has been warned on prior occasions from running directly in front of the ball (thereby becoming a “statue”) to slow the restart. These involve situations in which the referee has, most likely, tried preventative measures and the player(s) have not responded because they are using it as an unfair “tactic.”

The Directive also uses the example of a player running from behind the ball and makes contact thus denying the attacking team the chance to put the ball into play appropriately. This is not moving/lunging/advancing toward the ball but, nevertheless, cautionable.

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