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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 34646

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 7/23/2022

RE: Adult

John Shannon of Macclesfield, Cheshire United Kingdom asks...

why is the offence of obstruction not recognised any more

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi John,
If we're taking about the terminology used in the law, in one sense obstruction has not been officially recognised since 1995. In that year, the term used was changed to impeding. However many if not most people still seem to refer to it as obstruction.

Looking at it from an historical perspective, I think one of the reasons for the relative scarcity of calls on obstruction/impeding was that until relatively recently, the law said that for this offence to occur, there had to be no physical contact. As I believe some of my colleagues have previously pointed out when replying to questions about this offence, when one opponent is trying to block another with their body, there is almost always contact at some point. And officially, under the laws as they were up till 2016, once there was contact, the offence changed - usually to one of holding (or perhaps pushing).

As mentioned, the law on impeding changed not so long ago, in 2016 when it was split into two types of offence - impeding without contact penalised by an indirect free kick and impeding with contact penalised by a direct free kick.

Impeding without contact still remains vanishingly rare but impeding with contact is still called - however it's fairly difficult to spot since referees do not annnounce what they're calling and the old tell-tale sign of a raised arm for an indirect free kick is not there (since it's being penalised with a direct free kick instead).

So I'm not sure that it's the case that impeding is not being recognised by referees any more, but it may be the case that it's no longer noticeable to the outsider.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi John
Thanks for the question.
Referee Grove has outlined the historical context. I suspect that the law makers increasingly saw obstruction as a holding foul which was always punished by a direct free kick. If players used their bodies to hold back opponents then really it was no different than players using their arms to do so.

IFAB expressed the view that punishment is a key part of the Laws and that the main purpose of punishment is its deterrent effect, to stop players from committing the offence in future.

So in many ways a defender who impedes progress on an opponent with contact can expect to be sanctioned for the offence with a direct free kick or penalty kick.

On the flip side of that I cannot really see many referee calling the IDFK of impeding with no contact offence as it is simply not perceived as an offence in the game. Moving into the way of an opponent who then moves to the side to avoid contact will be difficult to validate as an offence. Anyway my experience is that when this happens the opponent tends to use the positioning to make contact and therefore drawing the foul.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI John,
in truth I have only seen true- obstruction- impeding as it is now called in a match between Costa Rica versus Canada WC match many years ago where the through ball was being chased by the Canadian striker and the defender spread his arms and circled backwards shadowing the Canadians efforts to move wide left to the point the ball was literally 25 yards away and the Canadian came to a dead stop to avoid running the defender over! He hunched his shoulders palms up yelling at the referee as to what the heck was that! There was never a clearer obstruction/impeding without contact incident yet it went uncalled. It was MOST definitely an INDFK incident, however, much like PIADM, it rarely gets called or sanctioned.

Impeding contact is definitely now seen in the push, pull, hold, DFK realm if the defender clearly backs into the defender. What is missed is the basketball pick effort where the discreet step into the running path. As to who is at fault, remember the ball is supposed to be within playing distances to block/shield the ball from an opponent. While the back up by the defender with arms wide might be unfair so is the arm or hand over the shoulder pull back.

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