The following situation has been a subject of debate among a few of us here in [our state]: At the kickoff, a player rests his foot on top of the ball and rolls it forward, but then without lifting his boot from the ball rolls it backward to a team-mate behind. The question is whether this is a valid restart. On the one hand, the ball is in play because it has been touched and moves forward into the opponents’ half, and is not played twice because the ball was never released. On the other hand, the ball changes direction 180 degrees, as it would do with a second touch, thus violating the spirit of the law.

This has been happening with more frequency here in amateur league games. The first time I saw it I made the players restart and told them to forget about the ‘trickery’. I’m not sure this was correct, but it was accepted. I then brought it up in a group of very senior referees, including a national referee of longstanding. Basically everyone stood around scratching their heads, so we agreed it should be presented to you for your opinion. As a final note, on Sunday, a kickoff was taken as above, but instead of releasing the ball backwards, the player, again without releasing it, or in any other way making a second touch, brought the ball forward again into the opponents’ half (thus, I suppose, complying with the spirit of the law as well as the letter, so I let it go).

It’s probably not a big deal, but we would appreciate some guidance.

Answer (September 27, 2007):
While the procedure you describe, rolling the ball forward, etc., is not what we would allow on a free kick (see below) and certainly not what is required by Law 8, it is commonly accepted practice for kick-offs at all levels of soccer. We have seen it allowed even at the current Women’s World Cup in China and in other high-level competitions throughout the world.

The kick-off, like the throw-in, is simply a way to get the game restarted when the ball has left the field. It is, and should be, regarded as a relaxed and less tense way of doing so. We allow trifling infringements of Law 15 in this regard, and we should do the same in the case of the kick-off.

What you describe does not meet the requirements of Law 8 for a kick-off. As always, however, the issue is indeed whether the action is a violation (it is), but we must consider whether the violation should/must/needs to be handled by a stoppage and a retake of the restart. Unless the player performing the kick-off incorrectly gains some unfair benefit, we are inclined to consider the violation trifling (on par with a teammate illegally standing just over the midfield line on a kick-off to “receive” the ball). As it occurs at the very highest levels on a routine basis, you might, at most, warn the kicker that what just happened was a technical violation of the Law. However, we would recommend that you consider it trifling and punish it only if the players begin to take even greater advantage of the referee’s kindness.

If we are dealing with a free kick, the requirements of Law 13 would apply completely: When the restart of play is based on the ball being kicked and moved, the referee must ensure that the ball is indeed kicked (touched with the foot in a kicking motion) and moved (caused to go from one place to another). Being “kicked” does not, for example, include an action in which the ball is dragged by continuous contact with the foot. Being “moved” does not, for example, include the ball simply quivering, trembling, or shaking as a result of light contact. The referee must make the final decision on what is and is not “kicked and moved” based on the spirit and flow of the match. In all events, the ball must be put into play properly.

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