Goalkeeper’s endangered species status must end!

In no small part inspired by a discussion on our Referee Forum, we decided to write about one very particular aspect of the Laws of the Game that is rarely talked about and even less frequently seen enforced by referees. This article was also inspired by what we believe is a preferential treatment that is afforded to goalkeepers on the field of play. It seems to us that a lot of referees, players, commentators – and certainly goalkeepers – think that a goalkeeper is an “endangered species” on the field and should be “protected” at all cost. Like a Siberian Tiger, he must be protected for fear of extinction.

Thus, it is no surprise to see that whenever there is a challenge on a goalkeeper many referees almost instinctively reach for their whistle and call a foul. Or, for example, take the six second rule and answer this question: how many times did you see it violated but unenforced? Dare we say that the answer is too many to count? Anyway, goalkeepers are not on the endangered species list the last time we checked and are not afforded any special privileges under the Laws of the Game (save for being able to handle a ball inside their own penalty area) and referees should apply and enforce the Laws of the Game equally to them and their conduct. This selective enforcement must stop! Period!

So, what are we talking about here? Well, we are talking, of course, about the long forgotten and rarely enforced so-called “double touch” infraction of Law 12. Before we dive into the discussion of particulars, it is worth mentioning that the first attempts to curtail a goalkeeper’s freedom to handle the ball inside his own penalty area date to back to 1982. By placing limitations on a goalkeeper’s freedom to handle the ball inside his/her own penalty area, IFAB attempted to “speed up” the game and combat the time wasting that was seen as too prevalent and as destroying the entertainment value of the beautiful game. It appears, however, that the drafters of the Laws of the Game were unable to get the language of Law 12 quite right or to their complete satisfaction for a long period of time because we counted several revisions to the text of Law 12 dealing with the so-called “double-touch” infringement.

Eventually, the text of Law 12 was settled and it currently states that “an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area … touches the ball again with his hands after he has released it from his possession and before it has touched another player.” This provision of the Laws of the Game does not seem – and is not – complicated or difficult to understand and; therefore, should not present much controversy or difficulty in its application and enforcement.

Importantly too, under IFAB’s interpretations, “the goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball by touching it with any part of his hands or arms except if the ball rebounds accidentally from him, e.g. after he has made a save.” IFAB also stated that “possession of the ball includes the goalkeeper deliberately parrying the ball.” We concede here that these interpretations may cause some potential difficulty and controversy because it may be difficult to distinguish between accidental/uncontrolled saves and deliberate/controlled parries. As used definitionally by IFAB, when a goalkeeper parries the ball, he is considered to be in possession and control of the ball and he is (almost) instantaneously releasing it from his possession. Thus, any subsequent touch by the goalkeeper, without an intervening touch by another player, must be punished by an indirect free kick.

While it may be difficult sometimes to determine when the goalkeeper’s contact with the ball was controlled so as to be considered a parry and when it was accidental, we think that there are several things that referees can focus on to help them distinguish between the two, including the following:

Parry More Likely

Indirect Free Kick Awarded

Parry Less Likely

No Infringement

  • Ball kicked softly
  • Ball kicked hard
  • Ball traveling slowly
  • Ball traveling fast
  • Ball traveling in a straight path
  • Ball swerving
  • Ball kicked from a long distance away
  • Ball kicked from a short distance away
  • Goalkeeper’s vision unobstructed
  • Goalkeeper’s vision obstructed
  • Goalkeeper is not challenged for the ball and/or no opponents are present in close proximity
  • Goalkeeper is actively challenged for the ball and/or opponents are in close proximity
  • Goalkeeper makes contact with the ball while standing on his two feet with little or no movement towards the incoming ball
  • Goalkeeper dives for the ball or makes sudden and/or sharp movements towards the incoming ball
  • Ball bounces softly off the goalkeeper’s hands landing it within short distance
  • Ball bounces erratically/hard off the goalkeeper’s hands
  • Goalkeeper is a highly skilled player
  • Goalkeeper is lacking technical skills

Clearly, referees have little time to perform this kind of analysis. Indeed, these kinds of analysis are essentially almost instinctively made. But this should be no impediment for making quick and proper decisions because just about any referee decision on the field is made in this fashion. Referees learn how to train both their mind and body to make their decisions on the spot and seemingly effortlessly.

Yes, we know that it is not easy to make these types of calls. These are the types of calls that are rarely made by others, they are unpopular and controversial. Yes, we know, it takes guts and courage to make these calls. But enough with excuses! We must do what is required of us and enforce all of the Laws of the Game fairly and uniformly. After all, goalkeepers are just like any other players on the field and will “survive” and the game will be better for it.

Categories: Laws of the Game

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