The April 13 question about a possible foul committed by the keeper after failing to block a shot revealed a common confusion among inexperienced referees distinguishing dangerous play, careless play, reckless play, and serious foul play. Maybe you can help clarify this matter.

As I understand the rules, dangerous play is a separate offense defined in the laws. This foul is called if a player plays in a dangerous way that denies an opponent a fair chance to participate in play, but NO CONTACT has occurred. Examples could be high kicks,low headers, playing on the ground, or playing with the cleats up provided these actions do not make contact but cause an opponent to refrain from a legal challenge for the ball because of perceived danger to themselves or the opponent. Dangerous play is always an IFK because no contact is involved. What is dangerous for young inexperienced players may not be dangerous of advanced players – hence “high kicks” or “playing on the ground” is not automatically dangerous play.

Careless, reckless, and serious fouls refer to the degree a contact foul is committed. Careless contact fouls (a routine foul) are always a DFK (or PK). If the foul was also reckless (or tactical/deliberate) then a yellow card is required. If the foul was also serious (endangered opponent) then a red card is required.

The same contact distinction separates impeding (no contact – IFK) from holding (contact – DFK).

Am I understanding this correctly? Thanks.

USSF answer (April 15, 2010):
Far be it from us to pass up an opportunity for education and clarification. Thank you for asking.

Your concept of “dangerous play” is close, but not totally accurate. You will find the following in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” available for download from

Playing “in a dangerous manner” can be called only if the act, in the opinion of the referee, meets three criteria: the action must be dangerous to someone (including the player committing the action), it was committed with an opponent close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease active play for the ball or to be otherwise disadvantaged by the attempt not to participate in the dangerous play. Merely committing a dangerous act is not, by itself, an offense (e.g., kicking high enough that the cleats show or attempting to play the ball while on the ground). Committing a dangerous act while an opponent is nearby is not, by itself, an offense. The act becomes an offense only when an opponent is adversely and unfairly affected, usually by the opponent ceasing to challenge for the ball in order to avoid receiving or causing injury as a direct result of the player’s act. Playing in a manner considered to be dangerous when only a teammate is nearby is not a foul. Remember that fouls may be committed only against opponents or the opposing team.

In judging a dangerous play offense, the referee must take into account the experience and skill level of the players. Opponents who are experienced and skilled may be more likely to accept the danger and play through. Younger players have neither the experience nor skill to judge the danger adequately and, in such cases, the referee should intervene on behalf of their safety. For example, playing with cleats up in a threatening or intimidating manner is more likely to be judged a dangerous play offense in youth matches, without regard to the reaction of opponents.

You have the difference between impeding and holding (or pushing) down just right. And just so others will know the distinction between careless, reckless, and involving the use of excessive force, here is the appropriate information from the Advice on CRIEF:

“Careless” indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play.

“Reckless” means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.

“Involving excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.

If the foul was careless, simply a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player who committed it, then it is a normal foul, requiring only a direct free kick (and possibly a stern talking-to). If the foul was reckless, clearly outside the norm for fair play, then the referee must award the direct free kick and also caution the player for unsporting behavior, showing the yellow card. If the foul involved the use of excessive force, totally beyond the bounds of normal play, then the referee must send off the player for serious foul play or violent conduct, show the red card, and award the direct free kick to the opposing team.

And it is worth repeating — yet again — that the occurrence of contact between players does not necessarily mean that a foul was committed. Contact occurs and it is accepted and welcomed, as long as it is accomplished legally — and that includes most accidental contact.

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