FOULS AND MISCONDUCT – LAW 12
In soccer, the largest set of rules regarding player behavior and how players might improperly interact with one another is contained in Law 12, “Fouls and Misconduct,” of the Laws of the Game. In addition to identifying the forms of improper behavior, Law 12 prescribes the penalties to be imposed on the individuals for their transgressions. These are “indirect free kicks,” “direct free kicks,” and disciplinary actions such as “cautions” (yellow cards), and “ejections” (red cards).
Indirect Free Kicks
Indirect free kicks are re-starts of play given to the opponent of the team that has committed any one of a number of “lesser” (“non-penal”) infractions as contained both in Law 12 and in other Laws of the Game. This type of re-start is called “indirect” because it requires that the ball be touched by at least one other player (of either team), after the kicker, before it can go into the goal and be counted as a score, i.e., the ball cannot go directly into the goal from the kick and count. When the referee determines that an infraction has occurred, play is halted. The ball is then placed at the spot of the infraction and it must be completely still before it is kicked. For additional information on Indirect Free Kicks, see “Free Kicks – Law 13.”
Awards of Indirect Free Kicks
An indirect free kick is awarded if a player:
- Plays in a dangerous manner.
Playing in a dangerous manner is any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including to the player himself) and includes preventing a nearby opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury.
A “scissors” or “bicycle” kick is permissible provided that it is not dangerous to an opponent.
- Impedes the progress of an opponent without any contact being made.
Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.
All players have a right to their position on the field of play; being in the way of an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent in order to block them.
A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.
- Is guilty of dissent, using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or actions or other verbal offenses.
- Prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands or kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it.
- Initiates a deliberate trick for the ball to be passed (including from a free kick or goal kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands; the goalkeeper is penalized if responsible for initiating the deliberate trick.
- Commits any other offense, not mentioned in the Laws, for which play is stopped to caution or send off a player.
An indirect free kick is awarded if a goalkeeper, inside their own penalty area, commits any of the following offenses:
- Controls the ball with the hand/arm for more than six seconds before releasing it.
- Touches the ball with the hand/arm afterreleasing it and before it has touched another player.
- Touches the ball with the hand/arm, unless the goalkeeper has clearly kicked or attempted to kick the ball to release it into play, after:
- It has been deliberately kicked to the goalkeeper by a teammate.
- Receiving it directly from a throw-in taken by a teammate.
A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball when:
- The ball is between the hands or between the hand and any surface (e.g., the ground or his own body) or by touching it with any part of the hands or arms except if the ball rebounds from the goalkeeper or the goalkeeper has made a save.
- Holding the ball in the outstretched open hand.
- Bouncing it on the ground or throwing it in the air.
A goalkeeper cannot be challenged (charged) by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hands.
Direct Free Kicks
Direct free kicks are re-starts of play given to the opponent of the team that has committed any one of a number of “major” or “penal” fouls identified in Law 12. (There are also direct-free-kick awards contained in Law 3.) This type of re-start is called “direct” because the ball does not have to be touched by another player, after the kicker, before it can go into the goal and be counted as a score, i.e., the ball can go directly into the goal from the kick and count. When the referee determines that an infraction has occurred, play is halted. The ball is then placed at the spot of the infraction and it must be completely still before it is kicked. For additional information on Direct Free Kicks, see “Free Kicks – Law 13.” A direct-free-kick foul that has been committed by the defenders within their own Penalty Area becomes a “Penalty Kick.” (See Law 14, “The Penalty Kick,” of the Laws of the Game.)
Awards of Direct Free Kicks
A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offenses against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:
- Charges [improperly].
- Jumps at.
- Kicks or attempts to kick.
- Strikes or attempts to strike (including head-butt).
- Tackles or challenges [improperly].
- Trips or attempts to trip.
“Careless” is when a player shows a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or acts without precaution. No disciplinary sanction is needed. [Just the direct free kick is awarded.] “Reckless” is when a player acts with disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, an opponent and must be cautioned [yellow carded]. “Using excessive force” is when a player exceeds the necessary use of force and/or endangers the safety of an opponent and must be sent off [red carded; ejected]. See “Soccer IS a Contact Sport” for a detailed explanation.
A direct free kick is also awarded if a player commits any of the following offenses:
- A handball offense (except for the goalkeeper within their penalty area).
- Holds an opponent.
- Impedes an opponent with contact.
- Bites or spits at someone on the team lists or a match official.
- Throws an object at the ball, opponent or match official, or makes contact with the ball with a held object.
Also see offenses in Law 3 of the Laws of the Game, “The Players.”
See CoachingAmericanSoccer.com®’s “Hand Ball!” for the detailed explanation of the handball offense.
The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. Inside their penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offense incurring a direct free kick or any related sanction, but can be guilty of handling offenses that incur an indirect free kick. This includes handling a deliberate pass or throw-in from a teammate or after having previously released the ball from their hands.
The referee has the authority to caution or eject players (take “disciplinary action”) from the moment he enters the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends (including penalty kicks after extra time). A yellow card is shown to communicate that a caution has been administered and a red card is shown to communicate that an ejection (sending-off) has been administered. Players, substitutes, substituted players, and coaches or technical staff may be shown yellow or red cards.
If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player commits a sending-off offense, the referee has the authority to prevent that player from taking part in the match (in accordance with Law 3). A player who commits a cautionable or sending-off offense, either on or off the field of play, against an opponent, a teammate, a match official or any other person in violation of the Laws of the Game, is disciplined according to the offense. Once the referee has decided to caution or send off a player, play must not be restarted until the sanction has been administered, unless the opponent chooses to take a “quick free kick,” then the card is issued at the next stoppage.
If the referee plays the “advantage” for an offense for which a caution or ejection would have been issued had play been stopped, the caution or ejection must be issued when the ball is next out of play, except for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO) when the player is cautioned for unsporting behavior. See “The Advantage Rule – Law 5” for a more detailed explanation of “advantage.”
Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play, violent conduct or a second cautionable offense, unless there is a clear opportunity to score a goal. The referee must send off the player when the ball is next out of play, but if the player plays the ball or challenges/interferes with an opponent, the referee will stop play, send off the player, and restart with an indirect free kick, unless the player committed a more serious offense.
If a defender starts holding an attacker outside the penalty area and continues holding inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick.
Cautions – Yellow Cards (Cautionable Offenses)
A player is shown a yellow card and cautioned if guilty of:
- Delaying the restart of play.
- Dissent by word or action.
- Entering, re-entering or deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission.
- Failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a dropped ball, corner kick, free kick or throw-in.
- Persistent offenses (no specific number or pattern of offenses constitutes “persistent”).
- Unsporting behavior.
- Entering the referee review area (RRA).
- Excessively using the ‘review’ (TV screen) signal.
A substitute or substituted player is shown a yellow card and cautioned if guilty of:
- Delaying the restart of play.
- Dissent by word or action.
- Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission.
- Unsporting behavior.
- Entering the referee review area (RRA).
- Excessively using the ‘review’ (TV screen) signal.
Delaying the restart of play includes if a player:
- Appears to take a throw-in but suddenly leaves the ball for a teammate to take it.
- Delays leaving the field of play when being substituted.
- Fails to take a restart in a timely manner.
- Kicks or carries the ball away, or provokes a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play.
- Takes a free kick from the wrong position in order to force a retake.
Unsporting behavior includes if a player:
- Attempts to deceive the referee e.g., by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation).
- Changes places with the goalkeeper during play or without the referee’s permission.
- Commits in a reckless manner a direct free kick offense.
- Handles the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack.
- Commits any other offense which interferes with or stops a promising attack except where the referee awards a penalty kick for an offense which was an attempt to play the ball.
- Denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by an offense which was an attempt to play the ball and the referee awards a penalty kick.
- Handles the ball in an attempt to score a goal (whether or not the attempt is successful) or in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a goal.
- Makes unauthorized marks on the field of play.
- Plays the ball when leaving the field of play after being given permission to leave.
- Shows a lack of respect for the game.
- Initiates a deliberate trick for the ball to be passed (including from a free kick or goal kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands; the goalkeeper is cautioned if responsible for initiating the deliberate trick.
- Verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart.
- Engages in excessive celebration of a goal (even if the goal is disallowed). This includes:
- Choreographed celebrations that cause excessive time-wasting.
o Climbing onto a perimeter fence and/or approaching the spectators in a manner which causes safety and/or security issues.
o Acting in a provocative, derisory or inflammatory way.
o Covering the head or face with a mask or other similar item.
- Removing the shirt (jersey) or covering the head with the shirt.
(Leaving the field of play to celebrate a goal is not a cautionable offense, but players should return as soon as possible.)
- Offenses where an object (or the ball) is thrown.
If reckless, the referee cautions the offender for unsporting behavior.
Where two separate cautionable offenses are committed (even in close proximity), they should result in two cautions. For example, if a player enters the field of play without the required permission and then commits a reckless tackle or stops a promising attack with a foul/handball, etc., a first yellow card is shown, then a second yellow card is shown (then a red card is shown).
Ejections – Red Cards (Sending-Off Offenses)
A player, substitute, or substituted player is shown a red card and ejected if guilty of any of the following (sending-off) offenses:
- Denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offense (except a goalkeeper within their penalty area).
- Denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is toward the offender’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick (unless as outlined below).
Denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity includes:
o Where a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offense, the player is ejected wherever the offense occurs (except a goalkeeper within their penalty area);
o Where a player commits an offense against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offender is cautioned if the offense was an attempt to play the ball – in all other circumstances (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball, etc.) the offending player is ejected; and,
o A player, ejected player, substitute, or substituted player, who enters the field of play without the required referee’s permission and interferes with play or an opponent and denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is ejected. The following must be considered by the referee: distance between the offense and the goal; general direction of the play; likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball; and/or the location and number of defenders.
- Serious foul play.
Serious foul play includes: A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality; and, any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side, or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent.
- Biting or spitting at someone.
- Violent conduct.
Violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a teammate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made. In addition, a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.
- Using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or action(s).
- Receiving a second caution in the same match.
- Entering the video operation room (VOR).
- Offenses where an object (or the ball) is thrown.
If excessive force is used, the referee ejects the offender for violent conduct.
A player, substitute, or substituted player who has been ejected must leave the vicinity of the field of play and the technical area.
Coaches and Team Officials Are Also Subject to Disciplinary Actions
Where an offense is committed and the offender cannot be identified, the senior team coach present in the technical area will receive the sanction.
Warnings: The following offenses should usually result in a [verbal] warning (repeated or blatant offenses should result in a caution or ejection): •entering the field of play in a respectful/non-confrontational manner •failing to cooperate with a match official, e.g. ignoring an instruction/request from assistant referee or the fourth official •minor/low-level disagreement (by word or action) with a decision •occasionally leaving the confines of the technical area without committing another offense.
Cautions: Caution offenses include (but are not limited to): •clearly/persistently not respecting the confines of their team’s technical area •delaying the restart of play by their team •deliberately entering the technical area of the opposing team (non-confrontational) •dissent by word or action including: •throwing/kicking drinks bottles or other objects •action(s) which show(s) a clear lack of respect for the match official(s), e.g. sarcastic clapping •entering the referee review area (RRA) •excessively/persistently gesturing for a red or yellow card •excessively showing the TV signal for a VAR ‘review’ •acting in a provocative or inflammatory manner •persistent unacceptable behavior (including repeated warning offenses) •showing a lack of respect for the game.
Ejections: Sending-off offenses include (but are not limited to): •delaying the restart of play by the opposing team e.g. holding onto the ball, kicking the ball away, obstructing the movement of a player •deliberately leaving the technical area to: •show dissent towards, or remonstrate with, a match official •act in a provocative or inflammatory manner •enter the opposing technical area in an aggressive or confrontational manner •deliberately throwing/kicking an object onto the field of play •entering the field of play to: •confront a match official (including at half-time and full-time) •interfere with play, an opposing player or match official •entering the video operation room (VOR) •physical or aggressive behavior (including spitting or biting) towards an opposing player, substitute, team official, match official, spectator or any other person (e.g. ball boy/girl, security or competition official etc.) •receiving a second caution in the same match •using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or action(s) •using unauthorized electronic or communication equipment and/or behaving in an inappropriate manner as the result of using electronic or communication equipment •violent conduct.
Notes About the Restart of Play After Fouls and Misconduct Have Been Committed
If the ball is out of play, play is restarted according to the previous decision. If the ball is in play and a player commits a physical offense inside the field of play against:
- an opponent – indirect or direct free kick or penalty kick;
- a teammate, substitute, substituted or sent off player, team official or a match official – direct free kick or penalty kick.
All verbal offenses are penalized with an indirect free kick.
If the referee stops play for an offense committed by a player, inside or outside the field of play, against an outside agent, play is restarted with a dropped ball, unless an indirect free kick is awarded for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission; the indirect free kick is taken from the point on the boundary line where the player left the field of play.
If, when the ball is in play, a player commits an offense against a match official or an opposing player, substitute, substituted or sent off player, or team official outside the field of play; or, a substitute, substituted or sent-off player, team official commits an offense against, or interferes with, an opposing player or match official outside the field of play, play is restarted with a free kick on the boundary line nearest to where the offense/interference occurred. A penalty kick is awarded if this is a direct free kick offense within the offender’s penalty area.
If a player who is on or off the field of play throws or kicks an object (other than the match ball) or throws or kicks an object (including a ball) at an opposing player, substitute, substituted or sent off player, team official, or a match official or the match ball, play is restarted with a direct free kick from the position where the object struck or would have struck the person or the ball. If this position is off the field of play, the free kick is taken on the nearest point on the boundary line. A penalty kick is awarded if this is within the offender’s penalty area.
If an offense is committed outside the field of play by a player against a player, substitute, substituted player or team official of their own team, play is restarted with an indirect free kick on the boundary line closest to where the offense occurred.
If a player makes contact with the ball with an object (shoe, shinguard etc.) held in the hand, play is restarted with a direct free kick (or penalty kick).
If a substitute, substituted or sent off player, player temporarily off the field of play or team official throws or kicks an object onto the field of play and it interferes with play, an opponent or match official, play is restarted with a direct free kick (or penalty kick) where the object interfered with play or struck or would have struck the opponent, match official or the ball.
Soccer Coaching Tips:
– The IFAB has stated, “A holding offense occurs only when a player’s contact with an opponent’s body or equipment impedes the opponent’s movement.”
– Direct and indirect free kicks and penalty kicks can be awarded for offenses which are committed only when the ball is in play.
– A goalkeeper is subject to all of the sanctions imposed on regular field players and those specifically applicable to goalkeepers within their own penalty area.
– “Playing in a dangerous manner” is more commonly called “dangerous play.” This usually consists of kicking too high (above the waist into an oncoming opponent); heading too low (below the waist into the foot of an oncoming opponent, who has the right to be playing the ball with his feet); and, failure to get up off the ground (as players around the ball have the right to kick it).
– “Impeding” used to be called “obstructing” or “obstruction.”
– A defensive “wall” may be built with players standing on the goal line between the goalposts if the spot of the ball for an indirect free kick is less than 10-yards away.
– The “scissors” or “bicycle” kick is generally not considered to be dangerous if the opponent is beside, behind, or reasonably away from the kicker.
– If an illegal offense involves contact, it is always penalized by a direct free kick or, if applicable, a penalty kick.
– Fouls resulting in Direct Free Kicks are often called the “penal fouls,” while those resulting in Indirect Free Kicks are often call the “non-penal fouls.”
– There are a number of acronyms, initialisms, and word devices that have been used to remember fouls that result in Direct Free Kicks, such as: “All Major Player-Contact Fouls and Handling,” and “Head-Hands-Body-Feet” (Head Butt, Spitting, Handling, Holding, Pushing, Striking, Charging, Jumping, Impeding with contact, Kicking, Tackling, Tripping).
– U.S. Soccer has come up with the term “FEDDD-UP” to remember the seven yellow card offenses for field players: Fails to respect required distance; Enters the field without permission; Deliberately leaves without permission; Dissent by word or action; Delays the restart of play; Unsporting Behavior; Persistent infringement of the Laws.
– U.S. Soccer has come up with the term “DUDE” to remember the four yellow card offenses for substitute players: Dissent by word or action; Unsporting Behavior; Delays the restart of play; Enters the field without permission.
– Teach players preparing for a throw-in not to take the ball behind their head if it is just going to be handed-off to a teammate to take.
– A player to whom a dropped ball is made may actually kick the ball a second time.
– Local rules may allow the use of “Temporary Dismissals” or “sin bins” for certain yellow-card offenses.
– Significant changes to Law 12 may be made in local rules for any given competition. See “Local Rules.”
– Referees have been instructed that particular attention is to be made for the requirement to show a red card to a team official who enters the field of play to confront a match official, including at half-time or full-time.
– Players need to be specifically told not to remove their shirts as a goal celebration. They may think it’s okay because they see it on television. What they don’t see is the yellow card given during replays of the goal or when the provider breaks for a commercial.
– “Submarining” an opponent or lifting a teammate on jump headers should be penalized as “unsporting conduct.”
– Per Wikipedia:
“Referee’s discretion –
The referee has a very large degree of discretion as to the enforcement of the 17 Laws, including determining which acts constitute cautionable offenses under the very broad categories. For this reason, refereeing decisions are sometimes controversial. Some Laws may specify circumstances under which a caution should or must be given, and numerous directives to referees also provide additional guidance. The encouragement for referees to use their common sense is known colloquially as ‘Law 18.’
Many football leagues and federations impose off-field penalties for players who accumulate a certain number of cautions in a season, tournament, or phase of a tournament. Typically, these take the form of suspending a player from playing in his team’s next game(s) after reaching a particular number of cautions. Such off-field penalties are determined by league rules, and not by the Laws of the Game.
Similarly, a direct red card usually also results in additional sanctions, most commonly in the form of suspensions from playing for a number of future games, although financial fines may also be imposed. The exact punishments are determined by tournament or competition rules, and not by the Laws of the Game. FIFA, in particular, has been adamant that a red card in any football competition must result in the guilty player being suspended for at least the next game, with the only grounds of appeal being mistaken identity.
For the 2010 FIFA World Cup, any player who received two yellow cards between the beginning of the tournament and the end of the quarterfinal round (instead of the end of the group stage matches) would serve a one-match suspension for the next game. As a result, only players that received two yellow cards or a straight red card in the semifinal game would not be able to play in the final.
In the UEFA Champions League, for instance, accumulating two yellow cards in a stage of the tournament will lead to a one-game suspension. Incidents have been recorded where players intentionally collected a second yellow card so as to “strategically” reset their tally of yellow cards to zero for the knockout round, but this is considered unsporting.
In some league/group competitions, a team’s fair play record, as measured by the (least) total number of yellow and red cards acquired by a team, may be used as a potential tie-breaking method to determine final table position.”
– DECISIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL F.A. BOARD
- “A player who commits a cautionable or sending-off offense, either on or off the field of play, whether directed towards an opponent, a teammate, the referee, an assistant referee or any other person, is disciplined according to the nature of the offense committed.
- The goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball by touching it with any part of his hand or arms. Possession of the ball includes the goalkeeper deliberately parrying the ball, but does not include the circumstances where, in the opinion of the referee, the ball rebounds accidentally from the goalkeeper, for example after he has made a save.
- Subject to the terms of Law 12, a player may pass the ball to his own goalkeeper using his head or chest or knee, etc. If, however, in the opinion of the referee, a player uses a deliberate trick while the ball is in play in order to circumvent the Law, the player is guilty of unsporting behavior. He is cautioned, shown the yellow card and an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team from the place where the infringement occurred. A player using a deliberate trick to circumvent the Law while he is taking a free kick, is cautioned for unsporting behavior and shown the yellow card. The free kick is retaken. In such circumstances, it is irrelevant whether the goalkeeper subsequently touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of Law 12.
- A tackle from behind, which endangers the safety of an opponent, must be sanctioned as serious foul play.
- Any simulating action anywhere on the field, which is intended to deceive the referee, must be sanctioned as unsporting behavior.”
NOTICE: This article is based on the soccer Laws of the Game as maintained by The International Football Association Board (IFAB). As represented in the article, the Laws may be paraphrased, edited for “American English” readability, or quoted in whole or in part. Supplemental wording presented by CoachingAmericanSoccer.com® should be provided in brackets. Every effort has been made to be faithful to the letter, spirit, and intent of the Laws however, since the Laws are subject to modification annually by the IFAB, recent changes may not be currently reflected. Although national associations are permitted to institute local rules changes to the Laws, particularly for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football,” the IFAB is the original source for the official English-language version of the Laws of the Game. If there is any question, the Laws of the Game may be found at TheIFAB.com.
© Copyright, John C. Harves