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Law XII - Helpful Information


To be a foul, the action must be committed by a player while the ball is in play, against an opponent, and on the field of play. The only exception is deliberate handling of the ball, which is not committed against a particular opponent, but against the opposing team. Of any of these three requirements is not met, the action is not a foul; however, the action can still be a misconduct.

Under the terms of Law XII, the word "deliberate" in the sense of deliberately committing a foul does not mean that the player intentionally set out to kick, push, trip, hold or otherwise foul his opponent. If that were so, the referee would have to be capable of reading a player's mind. Under Law XII, "deliberate" means that the referee makes a judgment based upon what he sees the player do. The referee makes the decision based upon the player's action, not upon what he thinks is in the player's mind.

Ten offenses are described in Law XII for which, play is stopped as a result, the restart is a direct free kick (or a penalty kick if committed by a team within its own penalty area). These offenses are referred to as penal fouls. They are divided into two groups:

1. Six actions (kick, trip, jump at, charge, strike, or push, including the attempt to kick, trip or strike) for which the referee must evaluate how the act was committed; and

2. Four actions (making contact with an opponent during a tackle prior to contacting the ball, holding,spitting, deliberately handling the ball) for which the referee need only to decide if the act occurred.

Referees should not punish actions that are accidental or inadvertent. In the case of the first group, the action becomes an offense only if the referee decides that it was committed carelessly, recklessly, or with disproportionate force. In the case of the second group, the action alone is an offense, no matter how it was committed.


·"Careless" indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making his play.

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

·"Involving disproportionate force" means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed his 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 disproportionate force, totally beyond the bounds of normal play, then the referee must send off the player for serious foul play, show the red card, and award the direct free kick to the opposing team.


Tripping or attempting to trip an opponent includes situations in which the player moves under the opponent and uses his body to upset or upend the opponent. This is also known as "bridging." Referees must carefully distinguish an act of tripping from the fact of being tripped. Tripping or attempting to trip is an offense if it is clearly directed at an opponent and causes the opponent to falter or fall. Players, however, may trip over or fall over an opponent as a result of natural play and no infringement of the Law has been committed.

The act of charging an opponent can be performed without it being called as a foul. Although the fair charge is commonly defined as "shoulder to shoulder," this is not a requirement and, at certain age levels where heights may vary greatly, may not even be possible. Furthermore, under many circumstances, a charge may often result in the player against whom it is placed falling to the ground (a consequence, as before, of players differing in weight or strength). The Law does not require that the charge be directed toward the area of the shoulder and not toward the center of the opponent's back (the spinal area): in such a case, the referee should recognize that such a charge is at minimum reckless and potentially violent. It is a violation of Law XII to perform an otherwise fair charge against an opponent who is already being fairly charged by another player. Such an action is at minimum a careless challenge. It is also holding and is commonly referred to as a "sandwich."

Striking can include the use of any object (including the ball) as well as hands, arms, head, or knees (if feet are used, the offense would be called as kicking). In the special case of a player using an object (shoe, stone, etc.) to strike an opponent, the restart is located where the offense occurred. This is a recent change in interpretation. Thus, a goalkeeper has not committed a penal foul within his own penalty area and play is restarted with a free kick outside the area if he throws a ball with excessive force at an opponent standing outside the penalty area.

Holding an opponent includes the act of stretching the arms out to prevent an opponent from moving past or around. The more common violation of holding is gripping onto an opponent's arm, jersey or shorts.

Making contact with the opponent after touching the ball while performing a tackle does not necessarily mean that a foul has not been committed. The declaration by a player that he has in fact played the ball is irrelevant if, while tackling the ball, the player carelessly, recklessly, or with disproportionate force commits any of the prohibited actions.


The offense known as "handling the ball" involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player's hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). "Deliberate contact" means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player's arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball of direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shin-guard, etc.).


The rule of thumb for referees is that it is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player. The referee should punish only deliberate handling of the ball, meaning only those actions when the player (and not the goalkeeper within his own penalty area) strikes or propels the ball with his hand or arm (shoulder to tip of fingers).

Any use of the shoulder in playing the ball is considered as using the hand. This can mean that, even though the player leaves his hand/arm close to his body, he may have moved the body so as to strike or propel the ball with the arm or hand, and the referee must watch for actions of that sort. Propelling the ball forward using the front part of the should is considered handling even when the main area of contact between the ball and body is the chest.

A second group of offenses is described in Law XII for which the correct restart is an indirect free kick. These are referred to as "technical" fouls.

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 himself), it was committed with an opponent close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease his active play for the ball or to be otherwise disadvantaged by his 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 while on the ground to play the ball). Committing a dangerous act while an opponent is near by is not, by itself, an offense. The act becomes an offense 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 an 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.

"Impeding the progress of an opponent" means moving on the field so as to obstruct, interfere with, or block the path of an opponent. Impeding can include crossing directly in front of the opponent or running between him and the ball so as to form an obstacle with the aim of delaying his advance. There will be many occasions during a game when a player will come between an opponent and the ball, but in the majority of such instances, this is quite natural and fair. It is often possible for a player not playing the ball to be in the path of an opponent if, in the opinion of the referee, this contact was an unavoidable consequence of the impeding.

The offense requires that the ball not be within playing distance or not capable of being played, and the physical contact between the player and the opponent is normally absent. If physical contact occurs, the referee should, depending upon the circumstances, consider instead the possibility that a charging infringement has been committed (direct free kick) or that the opponent has been fairly charged off the ball (indirect free kick). However, nonviolent physical contact may occur while impeding the progress of an opponent if, in the opinion of the referee, this contact was an unavoidable consequence of the impeding (due, for example, to momentum).

A useable guideline for the concept of "playing distance" is the distance a player can cover in two strides at the speed he or she is moving at the time.

The goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball while bouncing it on the ground or while throwing it into the air. Possession is given up if, while throwing the ball into the air, it is allowed to strike the ground.

An opponent may not prevent the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands. While players have a right to maintain a position achieved during the normal course of play, they may not try to block the goalkeeper's movement while he is holding the ball or do anything which hinders, interferes with, or blocks the goalkeeper who is throwing or punting the ball back into play. An opponent does not violate the Law, however, if he takes advantage of a ball released by the goalkeeper directly to him, in his direction, or even deflecting off him nonviolently.


A goalkeeper who has taken hand control of the ball and then released it back into play may not handle the ball again until it has been played by an opponent anywhere on the field or by a teammate who is outside of the penalty area.

A goalkeeper infringes Law XII if he touches the ball with his hands directly after it has been deliberately kicked by a teammate. The requirement that the ball be kicked means only that it has been played with the foot. The requirement that the ball be "kicked to" the goalkeeper means only that the play is to or toward a place where the keeper can legally handle the ball. The requirement that the ball be "deliberately kicked" means that the play on the ball is deliberate and does not include situations in which the ball has been, in the opinion of the referee, accidentally deflected or misdirected. The goalkeeper has infringed the Law if he handles the ball after initially playing the ball in some other way (e.g., with his feet).

A goalkeeper infringes Law XII if he touches the ball with his hands after he receives it directly from a throw-in taken by a teammate. Referees should take care not to consider as trickery any sequence of play that offers a fair chance for the opponent to challenge for the ball before it is handled by the goalkeeper from a throw-in.

A player who charges an opponent in an otherwise legal manner (i.e., not carelessly, recklessly or with excessive force) but with the ball not within playing distance has infringed the Law. Such an "off the ball" charge is considered a form of impeding the progress of an opponent and is thus penalized with an indirect free kick restart for the opposing team.


A goalkeeper wastes time, within the meaning of Law XII, if he maintains hand control of the ball for longer than 5-6 seconds. This restriction is to be evaluated in a manner that this is not trifling. Referees must not measure this time with any obvious visual or verbal counting. Goalkeepers who hold the ball for longer than 5-6 seconds will normally be warned by the referee before any more serious action is taken.

Referees must carefully observe any charge against the goalkeeper and call as an infringement of Law XII only those charges which are performed carelessly, recklessly, or with disproportionate force (direct free kick), are performed in a dangerous manner (indirect free kick), or prevent the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands (indirect free kick).


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