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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 35518

Other 5/18/2024

RE: Adult

Damien of London, UK asks...

If holding an opponent is an absolute offence resulting in a DFK, how comes in the professional game we now see shirt pulling as normalised - and not punished?

We also see defenders holding attackers arms and shoulders and vice versa, again unpunished.

Surely the law bars any use of the hands to grip an opponnent in any way?

Why are referees ignoring holding?

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Damien,
Referees are often told to ignore the trifling or doubtful fouls. Yet I think you are seeing them more of ignoring a real foul but not thinking in context of just how much of it is actually going on at the elite level as acceptable by those playing, I think an exaggerated foul where the player is sail boated and visibly restrained does not get ignored but the side by side, holding grabbing & pushing actions where attacker and defender are both engaged in such actions, it is hard to fault just one and thus tend to get filtered as mutual aggression and cancels out. An arm across the chest is not much different than an arm from behind over the stomach both with death grips on one another jersey.


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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Damian
Thanks for the question.

The stakeholders in the Premier League Pro game as an attempt to allow the game to flow better and reduce stoppages, a higher threshold was to be applied to "contact" between players - meaning that referees were tasked to award fewer free-kicks for incidents which might well should have been penalised for being overly physical. That then becomes a judgement call for the referee to enforce.

Referees are still expected to enforce the Laws of the Game. The question arises as to whether the contact was sufficient enough to have impacted negatively on the player for a foul to be called.

For example I watched the Southampton v Leeds 2nd leg game and there was an incident in the first half where a Leeds defender had a grasp of an opponents arm inside the penalty area. At the last moment it looked to me that the Southampton player threw himself forward to the ground. The referee waved the appeal for a foul away.
Was it holding? I would say Yes. Did it merit a penalty award? Maybe yet I felt that the contact was not sufficient enough to impact on the player in a manner that brought him to ground. The player in my opinion exaggerated the contact to try to win a penalty. That is why the referee did not award the penalty kick.

Players at the Pro level are strong, fit individuals who are well capable of managing a higher level of physical contact.
At free kicks and corner kicks we see a lot of shenanigans that are not punished. As a result it has become common place to see pulling and dragging by all players both defenders and attackers with only truly egregious fouls getting penalised. Those calls tend to be rare certainly with penalty awards.
Interestingly the same type of contact tends to get called as fouls out the field.
Howard Webb head of PGMOL said recently that referees have been set quite a high threshold for penalising contact all over the field and in the penalty area. He went on to say that this was arrived at through consultation with everyone in the Pro game.
He is also quoted as saying when talking about a particular example of a kick on a player where no penalty was awarded** Not every single contact is a foul and this was one where there was quite minimal contact, consistent with other situations that we've waved away this season. The VAR quite rightly checked that one.**

So there you have it. Pro referees have been advised to be more lenient on physical challenges.
Personally I dont agree with it as there is a danger that the level of physicality used moves into reckless territory leading to all sorts of problems for the game. The grassroots game is still somewhat removed from that with referees making calls in line with the LotG as that is what players expect.

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