We wanted to provide an important update to our recent blog on this subject matter because of the additional information that has been brought to our attention after our blog was published (If you have not read the blog, we strongly encourage you to read it first before continuing further). Namely, one of our regular readers and forum contributor, Alex Fletcher, pointed us to a quiz posted on this website containing one question that is directly relevant to the type of hypothetical situation that we analyzed in our blog. The questions is as follows:
A defender on his own goal line, between the goal posts, deliberately handles the ball which rebounds to an opponent who scores a goal directly. What decision should the referee make?
A. The referee sends off the defender for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball to prevent a goal and awards a penalty kick.
B. The referee applies advantage, allows the goal and cautions the defender for unsporting behaviour.
C. The referee applies advantage, awards the goal and sends off the defender for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball to prevent a goal.
D. The referee applies advantage and awards the goal without taking any disciplinary action.
According to the website that made the quiz available, the correct answer is “B.” This, of course, is directly in conflict with our analysis. While we were unable to confirm whether FIFA/IFAB authored the quiz and/or the question (although that appears to be the case) or, more importantly, whether the suggested correct answer “B” was in fact endorsed by FIFA or IFAB as such (although we don’t have any information to the contrary), we felt it was important for us to alert our readers about this alternate application of the DOGSO law (parenthetically, we note that answer “C” comports with our analysis).
Before we fully explore this apparent conflict, we feel compel to explain our research, methodology and thinking behind the ultimate conclusion that we originally reached. We also believe that careful students of the Laws of the Game will appreciate and find helpful our review of the DOGSO law from its inception, how it came about, how the text of the law changed and how it was interpreted by IFAB/FIFA.
We began our analysis by studying the DOGSO law. Our research uncovered that the first mention of the DOGSO law is found in the IFAB’s Mandatory Instruction that was issued and published in the FIFA Universal Guide for Referees before the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. The Mandatory Instruction stated, in its entirety, that:
If, in the opinion referee, a player who is moving towards his opponents’ goal with an obvious opportunity to score a goal is intentionally and physically impeded by unlawful means, i.e. an offence punishable by a free-kick (or a penalty-kick), thus denying the attacking player’s team the aforesaid goal-scoring opportunity, the offending player shall be sent off the field of play for serious foul play in accordance with Law XII (n).
Following the issuance of the Mandatory Instruction, during the IFAB’s annual general meeting held in Rome, Italy on June 28, 1990, IFAB accepted, as an item for discussion, the Discussion Paper submitted by the Football Association regarding “[t]he better punishment of the blatant or reckless act which eliminates an obvious goal scoring opportunity” and noted that “the Editorial Committee was requested to draft an appropriate text [for the new law] … for submission to the 1991 Board meeting.” Sure enough, at the annual general meeting held in Northern Ireland in June 1991, IFAB formally considered and adopted two decisions – Decision 15 and Decision 16 – regarding Law XII and the DOGSO offences. Specifically, IFAB’s Decisions 15 and 16 provided that:
(15) If, in the opinion of the referee, a player who is moving toward his opponents’ goal with an obvious opportunity to score a goal is intentionally impeded by an opponent, through unlawful means, i.e. an offence punishable by a free kick (or a penalty kick), thus denying the attacking player’s team the aforesaid goal-scoring opportunity, the offending player shall be sent off the field of play for serious foul play in accordance with Law XII (n).
(16) If, in the opinion of the referee, a player, other than the goalkeeper within his own penalty area, denies his opponents a goal, or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, by intentionally handling the ball, he shall be sent off the field of play for serious foul play in accordance with Law XII (n).
With respect to the Decision 16, IFAB further explained that the Decision 16 was “designed to encourage the elimination of those particular intentional handling of the ball situations … [because they are] contrary to FIFA’s ‘Fair Play, please’ campaign and  constitute an obvious affront to the spirit of the Laws of the Game.”
In 1996, while FIFA/IFAB was in the process of making major revisions to the Laws of the Game, the relevant IFAB Decisions were re-numbered (now Decisions 13 and 14, respectively) but otherwise the text of the DOGSO law remained unchanged. However, together with the revised Laws of the Game, IFAB published Additional Instructions Regarding the Laws of the Game and stated that these additional “instructions to referees conform with the Laws of the Game and the decisions of the International F.A. Board [and] are therefore regarded as authoritative.” In this document, in the section titled Diagrams Illustrating Serious Foul Play (recall that DOGSO was still defined as serious foul play at the time), IFAB provided several examples of situations presenting DOGSO offences. In one such example, shown in Diagram 7, IFAB described a situation where:
An attacker shoots for goal but an outfield player punches the ball over the bar, thus preventing a goal being scored.
According to Law XII, Decision 14, this player is guilty of serious foul play and must be sent off.
If the defender had intentionally punched or handled the ball and the ball had entered the goal, he would not have been guilty of serious foul play according to Law XII, Decision 14 but he should be cautioned for ungentlemanly conduct.
In another example, in Diagram 9, IFAB presented a situation where:
The attacker, number 11, is running on to a forward pass and has an obvious goal scoring opportunity. A defender jumps up and deliberately handles the ball thus preventing an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
According to Law XII, Decision 14, this player is guilty of serious foul play and must be sent off.
In 1997, when the work on the new Laws of the Game was completed, Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct listed seven sending-off offences, incorporating two DOGSO offences that were previously proscribed under IFAB’s Decisions 13 and 14. Under the new text of the DOGSO law, a player had to be sent-off when he:
(4) denies an opponent a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
(5) denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.
In early 2000s, IFAB made additional changes to the text of the DOGSO law. Specifically, IFAB clarified that, with respect to the handling offences, a player is sent off if he “(4) denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area.” No other changes were made to the DOGSO law.
In 2006, however, IFAB/FIFA published The Laws of the Game Questions and Answers 2006 where it provided the following two most relevant questions and answers regarding the DOGSO law:
Q. 6: A player, other than the goalkeeper, standing in his own penalty area holding a shinguard, hits the ball with his shinguard to prevent it entering the goal. What action does the referee take?
A. The referee awards a penalty kick and the player is sent off for preventing a goal. The shinguard is regarded as an extension of the player’s hand.
Q. 22: A player tries to prevent the ball from entering the goal by deliberately handling it. The ball, however, enters the goal. What action does the referee take?
A. He awards the goal and cautions the player for unsporting behavior.
Moreover, in the Additional Instructions for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials that were appended to the 2006 edition of the FIFA Laws of the Game, IFAB explained that:
A player is sent off, however, if he prevents a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball. This punishment arises not from the act of the player deliberately handling the ball but from the unacceptable and unfair intervention that prevented a goal being scored.
Finally, in the Additional Instructions and Guidelines for Referees issued by IFAB together with the 2007/08 edition of the FIFA Laws of the Game, IFAB provided the following explanation regarding DOGSO offences:
There are two sending-off offences that deal with denying an opponent an obvious opportunity to score a goal. It is not necessary for the offence to occur inside the penalty area.
If the referee applies advantage during an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and a goal is scored directly, despite the opponent’s handling the ball or fouling an opponent, the player cannot be sent off but he may still be cautioned.
As far as our research shows, the above excerpts are the only official and authoritative interpretations and guidelines regarding the DOGSO law and its application that were issued by IFAB/FIFA. While there were multiple attempts to alter the DOGSO law in recent years, particularly notable here are the efforts spearheaded by UEFA and Michele Platini to eliminate the so-called “triple punishment” under the DOGSO law, IFAB has thus far not adopted or acted on any of these proposals.
Now, with the full picture of the DOGSO law presented, we find no obvious fault in our original analysis. We believe that the proper interpretation and application of the DOGSO law to our hypothetical example hinges on a proper understanding of the term “directly.” After all, under IFAB’s most recent and current explanation, a player cannot be sent off for DOGSO “if the referee applies advantage during an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and a goal is scored directly, despite the opponent’s handling the ball…” As we noted in our blog, we understood the term directly to mean “without an intervening touch” or without touch by another player. As we explain below, our understanding of the term directly comports with how that term is interpreted in the Laws of the Game.
For example, under Law 13 – Free Kicks, “[i]f a direct free kick is kicked directly into the opponents’ goal, a goal is awarded” but “if a direct free kick is kicked directly into the team’s own goal, a corner kick is awarded to the opposing team.” Conversely, under Law 13, if an indirect free kick was awarded, “[a] goal can be scored only if the ball subsequently touches another player before it enters the goal.” Otherwise, “if an indirect free kick is kicked directly into the opponents’ goal, a goal kick is awarded” or “if an indirect free kick is kicked directly into the team’s own goal, a corner kick is awarded to the opposing team.” The Law 13 also provides that “if, when a free kick is taken by the defending team from inside its own penalty area, the ball is not kicked directly out of the penalty area  the kick is retaken.” These IFAB interpretations of the Law 13 make clear that the term directly means “without being touched by another player.”
Similarly, under Law 8 – The Start and Restart of Play, “if a dropped ball is kicked directly into the opponents’ goal, a goal kick is awarded” and “if a dropped ball is kicked directly into the team’s own goal, a corner kick is awarded to the opposing team.” In both instances, the term directly means without being touched by another player which is consistent with how we understood the term.
Likewise, under Law 11 – Offside, “[t]here is no offside offence if a player receives the ball directly from  a goal kick, a throw-in [or] a corner kick.” Again, the term directly here means without being touched by another player because, if the ball is touched by a teammate after the restart, then offside offence can occur.
Under Law 15 – Throw-in, “[a] goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in.” Under Law 16 – Goal-kick, “he ball is in play when it is kicked directly out of the penalty area.” Under Law 17 – The Corner Kick, “[a] goal may be scored directly from a corner kick, but only against the opposing team.” We don’t want to unnecessarily continue beating this dead horse but – just one more time – the term directly here means without a touch by another player.
All of these IFAB interpretations of the various provisions of the Laws of the Game point to an inescapable conclusion that the term directly, as it is used in the Laws of the Game or by IFAB, means “without subsequent touch by another player” or “without an intervening touch by another.” This meaning of “directly,” of course, is what we originally understood it to be and we remain convinced that this is the most proper way to understand/interpret it. Just as an aside, we also believe that this understanding of the term directly comports with common sense definition and/or understanding of the term.
Therefore, going back to our example or the quiz question, it is difficult for us reconcile the suggested answer “B” in the quiz above with this understanding of the term “directly.” After all, as the quiz question explains, the goal is scored after it is “being touched by defender” who “deliberately handles the ball which rebounds to an opponent who scores a goal.” Once the ball was touched by the defender and it bounced back to the attacker, the goal cannot be scored “directly.” The only plausible explanation for the answer “B” to be correct – even if it seems improbable or inconsistent with how the term directly was interpreted under all other provisions of the Laws of the Game – is that the term “directly” is interpreted differently under these very particular circumstances. This, of course, is possible and – assuming that the answer “B” was endorsed as correct one by IFAB/FIFA – IFAB has the power to make it so. We would prefer, and quite frankly expect, that any such seemingly different/inconsistent interpretations of the same term would be explained by IFAB/FIFA in an official publication and not in such off-hand way through an answer to a quiz question buried in an 800 question quiz.
Since we cannot neither conclusively confirm nor disprove that the answer “B” to the quiz question was officially endorsed as the correct one by IFAB or FIFA, we are left with a rather dissatisfying conclusion. First, aside for this singular question/answer found in this one quiz published in 2012, we don’t find any inconsistency between the Laws of the Game and IFAB’s interpretations, on one hand, and the conclusion that we originally reached that the defender should have been dismissed for DOGSO offence and the attacker’s goal allowed to stand. Secondly, however, allowing for a possibility that the question/answer were authored and endorsed by FIFA/IFAB, we caution our readers to follow the advice and/or instruction of their national, regional or local referee associations about how to apply the DOGSO law in this particular instance.
Please let us know what you think and what guidance, if any, your local and/or regional referee associations provide on this subject matter.
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