Major Changes Coming to 2016/17 Laws of the Game

The Laws of the Game are set for a major overhaul in 2016/17.  They won’t be officially published until May, but I’ve been scouring the Internet for clues, and have been able to come up with a fairly clear picture of what’s ahead.


For the first time, the Laws of the Game will be published by IFAB, the International Football Association Board, the organization responsible for updating the Laws for many years.  This means the IFAB logo – and not the FIFA logo – will be featured on the cover. 

This is the result of IFAB being formed as a legal entity separate and apart from FIFA.  IFAB exists solely for the purpose of setting the Laws of the Game.

The Laws had not seen a comprehensive rewrite in many years.  IFAB selected retired English referee David Elleray (pictured above) to oversee the rewrite.  Among other goals, Elleray has said the rewrite should make the laws “clearer” and less subject to contradicting interpretation.

Administrative Changes

Until now, the Laws were actually two separate publications: the Laws “proper” and a separate section called “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees”, or simply “The Interpretations” to most referees.  Under the rewrite, these two separate sections are merged into a single publication.  Interpretations are discussed within each Law itself.

Referees in the USA may be familiar with this approach, as it has been utilized for years in the NCAA and the NFHS Soccer Rules publications (both of which vary to some extent from the LOTG).

The Laws will now be gender neutral.  Instead of using only masculine pronouns, the revised Laws use language that does not refer to one gender.

The Laws will be much briefer.  In the current edition of the Laws and Interpretations, the document clocks in at over 20,000 words.  The revised Laws will be about 10,000 words.

Law Changes

The most significant change to the Laws is the removal of the controversial “triple punishment” requirement.  In the current Laws, if a defender fouls an attacker in the defender’s own penalty area, and the referee determines that the defender should be sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, the defender (and their team) is subject to three punishments:

  1. The defender is sent-off (and the team must play with one less player)
  2. The attacking team is awarded a penalty kick.
  3. The defender is subject to a further suspension (which varies by league, but ranges from 1 to 3 games).

Under the revised Laws, if the defender is making a legitimate attempt to play the ball and simply mis-times a tackle, for example, the defender will be cautioned instead of sent off. This only applies to fouls committed inside the penalty area, and only when the referee determines there was a legitimate attempt to play the ball.  If the defender should, for example, grab the jersey of the attacker, the defender would still be subject to being sent off.

Further, if the foul occurs outside of the penalty area, the defender would continue to be subject to a send off, consistent with the current edition of the Laws.

Other changes to the Laws include:

  • A kick-off may now be kicked in any direction, including backwards
  • Players who are injured as the result of a reckless or excessive force challenge (resulting in a caution or send off to the offender) will not be required to leave the field of play to receive treatment, if treatment can be handled expeditiously
  • Goalkeepers who come off their line during a penalty kick will be cautioned if the kick fails, in addition to the kick being re-taken
  • If the kicker of the penalty kick violates the Laws, the kick will no longer be retaken and play will be restarted with an indirect free kick for the defending team
  • If opposing players are off the field of play (through the course of normal play) and one commits a foul, play will be restarted with the appropriate free kick, on the touchline or goal line.  Under the current Laws, play restarts with a dropped ball, as only misconduct and not fouls can be committed off the field of play.  The example given by Mr Elleray to illustrate is when a pair of opponents go off the field during the run of play, and one grabs the other to prevent him/her from re-entering the field of play.  The team of the player whose shirt was grabbed will now be awarded a free-kick on the appropriate boundary line.  Note that this could result in a penalty kick being awarded.
  • Offside restarts will be taken from the point on the field where the offending player was when they became offside.  Under the current Laws, the restart would be taken from the point where they were originally in an offside position.  (Editor’s note: it will be interesting to see how the Assistant Referee mechanics might be updated to handle a situation where a player starts a play from an offside position in the attacking half of the field and then becomes involved in active play on the defending half of the field)

There are other minor changes to the Laws, but I’ve attempted to list what I believe to be the most significant changes.  There’s certainly enough change to ensure 2017 recertification classes will be have plenty of discussion points.

iTOOTR In “Low Power Mode”

This website was very active from 2011-2015.  But, after doing it for four years straight, it’s hard to keep it fresh and entertaining.

So, all of the old content is still here, including Case Studies and Gear Reviews.  I just won’t be posting new content very often.

I hope you find the content helpful in your refereeing journey.

Case Study: Composed Player Management

In refereeing circles, we often discuss the importance of “player management”: influencing player behavior through verbal and non-verbal interaction, as well as the usual tools of foul selection and misconduct appropriation.

The referees in the Barclays Premier League are especially accomplished at this art; they need to be, given the egos of the multi-millionaire players whom they referee.

FIFA referee Mark Clattenburg provided (another) fine example of this in a recent match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

After whistling for an obvious foul – and possible misconduct – Clattenburg summoned the offending player over for a chat.  Clattenburg successfully employed facial expressions, verbal communication and gestures, all while remaining calm and composed.

Note that Clattenburg makes strong eye contact with the player, but his body language is not threatening or demeaning.  I would describe it as firm and professional.

I’m not a great lip reader to begin with, but add in a Geordie accent and I’m completely lost.  So, I can’t tell you every word Clattenburg says, but I’m fairly certain he begins the conversation with “That’s your first foul” and ends it with “I’m not having it”.  It’s pretty clear from the gestures that the middle part of the conversation is about making challenges when the ball is already gone.

Although there is a time and place for it, players generally don’t like being yelled at or treated with disrespect, even when they may deserve it.

Model the behavior you expect from players and good results will usually follow.  If your model is constantly telling off, using a raised voice, yelling, etc, you shouldn’t be at all surprised when players respond in-kind.


R.I.P. Advice to Referees

If you’ve visited the US Soccer referee downloads section lately, you might have noticed the absence of the “Advice to Referees” document.

I’ve been informed by Rick Eddy, Director of Referee Development at US Soccer, that publication of “Advice to Referees” has been discontinued. Going forward, says Rick, referees should depend solely on the FIFA publication “Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” (better known among referees as simply the “Interpretations”).

No further explanation was offered by Mr. Eddy (and to be fair, I didn’t ask).

The Interpretations can be found as the last section of the Laws of the Game document, which is available in the Downloads section of this website.  Exclusively on this site, you will find the LOTG in three formats: PDF, ePub (a popular eBook format), and Kindle.  You can also find the final edition of “Advice to Referees” on the Downloads page.  Use it at your own risk!

For those of you following from outside the USA, the “Advice to Referees” was very similar to the “Interpretations”, but with many more examples and explanations, published by the Referee Education department of the US Soccer Federation.

Case Study: Form and Fitness

CAUTION: The Laws of the Game have changed since this case study was written.  Action taken by the referee may be different under the current Laws.

In a recent Round of 16 Women’s World Cup match between Colombia and USA, referee Stephanie Frappart (FRA) demonstrated why fitness and athletic form are of such paramount importance to referees.

The Columbian players had received the benefit of a lot of foul decisions in the first half, so it was important for the referee to be close to play as the second half began.  This allowed her to be close to play and be in a better position not only to see fouls, but to sell a decision to give (or not give) a foul.

In this sequence, the referee is close to play as Columbia attacks in the USA defensive half.  She decides (correctly, I believe) not to give a foul for contact between the Columbia attacker and USA defender.  The USA defender then collected the ball, played it quickly to a midfielder, who in turn quickly played it to a sprinting striker who ran on to the ball in the Columbia penalty area.

That the Columbia goalkeeper fouled the USA attacker is not in question, and neither should be the decision for a send-off.  These two decisions should be obvious to even referees of far less experience.

What is noteworthy is the distance the referee had to cover to make the decision.  Recall that her run started just outside the USA penalty area and ended inside the Columbia penalty area.  This sprint covered a distance of about 80 yards (73 meters).  There are three observations worth noting:

  • The referee kept good position where she could see the space between players, allowing her to make the correct decision
  • The referee’s running form is excellent: head up, shoulders back, arms pumping
  • At the end of a long sprint, as she is showing the red card, the referee doesn’t appear to be breathing hard, which demonstrates a very high level of fitness

Our lessons:

  • Fitness is crucial, even at the “lower levels” of the game where we work.  18 year old players are much faster than this 50 year-old referee, so if I want to referee 18 year old players, I have to be fit.
  • Proper running form is essential (head up) so we can see what is happening
  • “Finishing a run” is essential.  The play in this case study could’ve easily turned out differently, i.e., the goalkeeper could’ve won the ball cleanly, but since we cannot predict the future we must be there.  This decision cannot be sold when made from the centre circle.

Case Study: Locked and Loaded

During a recent Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Chelsea, Burnley striker Ashley Barnes and Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic were involved in a controversial tackle in the Burnley attacking half of the field.

As Barnes passed the ball to a teammate, Matic came from a 90 degree angle and cut across Barnes, and deflected the pass.  Barnes studs then made full contact with Matic’s leg, which resulted in Matic falling to the ground.

After a delay of 1-2 seconds, Matic quickly got up, rushed over and pushed Barnes to the ground.  It was clear that Matic was upset about what he perceived to be a “leg breaker”:  a very dangerous tackle.

In the dust up that ensued, Matic was sent off for violent conduct by referee Martin Atkinson.  Chelsea fullback Branislav Ivanovic received a caution for dissent when he grabbed the arm of the referee in attempt to prevent him from showing the red card to Matic.  No misconduct punishment was given to Barnes.

Everyone should agree that, independent of other events, Matic must be sent off for his response to the incident.  Hopefully, this is plainly obvious, so I am not going to address it here.

What remains is whether or not Barnes should have been sanctioned by referee Atkinson for the tackle that initiated the incident.  On the iTOOTR Facebook Page, some have argued that the referee was correct in not sanctioning Barnes for misconduct because the latter was merely following through on his passing motion, and that the subsequent contact was quite accidental.

I believe a clear and sober analysis of the facts of the case, along with a revisitation of the Laws of the Game will lead us to a conclusion that is soundly grounded in the Laws.

Here are the facts:

  • Barnes makes contact with Matic after the ball has been played
  • Barnes’ studs make contact with the lower part of Matic’s leg.
  • Barnes’ knee is “locked”; that is, in a straight position whereby the energy of Barnes’ momentum will be fully transferred down his leg and into his opponent
  • Matic is at significant risk of serious injury as a result of this tackle

Following are the relevant sections of the Laws of the Game:

A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:

  • serious foul play

–from Law 12, “FIFA Laws of the Game

A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play. (emphasis added)

–from “Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees

It is also serious foul play if a player commits any tackle which endangers the safety of an opponent. In this case, the tackle may be from behind, from the side, or from the front. (emphasis added)

–from “Advice to Referees, 2013-2014“, published by the United States Soccer Federation

I stated earlier that Barnes’ tackle on Matic has put the latter at risk for serious (potentially leg-breaking) injury.  Given that fact, the guidance from all of the official publications point only to one outcome:  Barnes must be sent off for serious foul play.

There are no references in any of the official publications or position papers that stipulate a player may be excused of serious foul play for endangering the safety of an opponent if the referee believes the offending player didn’t intend to harm his/her opponent.

The Laws, Interpretations and ATRs (for those of us in the USA) are quite specific and very clear in this regard.

Why didn’t referee Atkinson punish Barnes accordingly?  We will never know for sure, but looking at this frame, I think is is possible that Matic himself is screening Atkinson so that the referee cannot see Barnes studs make contact with Matic.

Locked and Loaded FI

Case Study: Raise Your Hand

With all due apologies to Eddie Floyd, today we look at a case study where a player clearly raises a hand to the face of another player.  The fact that this is a sending off really shouldn’t be open for debate (the ignorant protests of commentator Danny Mills notwithstanding).  It’s what the US Soccer Federation refers to as “100% Misconduct” and must result in a send off.

What is more intriguing for those of us who referee (well) below the Premier League level to consider is whether a similar issue in one of our matches could be avoided.

You’ll have to wait until about half way through the clip to see a replay of the entire sequence of events, but one wonders whether this ugly incident might have been avoided by whistling for a foul.  There were several possibilities to choose from for referee Neil Swarbrick.

That said, at the Premier League level, players are expected to play through physical contact, and are further expected to control themselves, even when they feel aggrieved by the play of an opponent.  So, it is understandable that referee Swarbrick chose to allow play to continue.

At the lower levels, however, and especially in the youth game, raging hormones and still developing psychology can conspire to create opportunities for misconduct like this.  Given that play was at the halfway line, a foul given in either direction would be very unlikely to have any impact on the outcome of the match.

Referees should consider that “finding a foul” in a situation like this is an opportunity to settle the game and remove some of the ingredients found in a typical recipe for misconduct.