Do indirect free kicks in the penalty box still exist? So often penalties are awarded for fouls in the area that do not deny goal-scoring opportunities (players going away from goal etc), this leaves the ref in a catch 22 as if it is either/or as the punishment will not fit the crime. It seems that in taking subjective judgement away from the ref the laws tie the hands of the official, who sometimes even yellow-card an attacker for simulation when they were in truth fouled, but rather than give a soft pen the ref cards the striker for diving. Using the indirect free-kick in the box would empower refs to deal with the pushing etc from set-pieces, instead of forcing them to turn a blind eye on defensive cheating unless it is really flagrant and can justify a near-certain goal.

USSF answer (December 30, 2008):
Wherever did you get the idea that the award of a penalty kick is limited to situations in which an obvious goalscoring opportunity is involved?!?!?! That is completely wrong!

The Laws of the Game have not changed in this regard for over one hundred years. There is no such thing as a “soft penalty.” If a direct free kick foul, in other words a “penal” foul, is committed on the field, it should be treated exactly the same in the penalty area as it would be at midfield. There is no “either / or,” there is only the correct call.

You will find a similar question and answer on the website now, dated December 17. The answer states:

“We always encourage referees to use their discretion in making any call, based on the factors that went into making the decision in the first place. However, too many referees blur the lines between the various fouls, particularly the clear difference between playing dangerously and committing a direct-free-kick foul. In most cases this is done because the referee doesn’t want to appear too harsh or, much worse, because the referee is afraid to call a foul a foul. How many referees have you seen who say that the same foul they would have called a direct-free-kick foul at midfield is not a penalty-kick-foul when committed in the penalty area? They then chicken out and call it dangerous play, depriving the offended team of a fully justified penalty kick.

“You have to make the decision and stick with it. The offense in this case is not simply against the Laws of the Game, but against the whole tradition and spirit of the game.”

Why is it so difficult for referees to understand that a penalty kick does not have to be “earned”? it is sufficient that a penal foul is committed in the penalty area against the attacking team.

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