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Question Number: 22108

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 9/29/2009

RE: Select Under 13

Sarah K of San Antonio, TX USA asks...

A question about Impeding: An attacker and a defender are both chasing a ball as it heads toward the goal. The defender gets a step or so ahead and then just STOPS to prevent the attacker from proceeding to the ball as it rolls the next several yards to the keeper. He has, imo, stopped playing the ball. The attacker, who was not expecting the sudden stop, crashes into the defender. Is this impeding or, because there was contact, should it be something else?

Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

If refereeing was all black or white, it would be no fun! It's the gray areas that show a referee's knowledge and skill. My colleagues give great advice. There is a saying I can never reproduce or remember exactly (HELP!) which has something to do with 'finger....' which means you just have to be able to put your finger on the pulse and feel what needs to be done. I wish I could remember the phrase, but it's true. The more experience and/or knowledge one possesses, the finer the nuances of the calls you can make.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Sarah
Thank you for your question and these are always tough calls for the referee to make and no two incidents will be the same and opinions differ greatly on these.
Shielding the ball is permitted. A player who places himself between an opponent and the ball for tactical reasons has not committed an offence as long as the ball is kept within playing distance and the player does not hold off the opponent with his arms or body.
The key here is playing distance which typically is one to two paces from the ball and this is always to difficult to judge at speed. The defender in the situation described is also allowed to stop within a reasonable distance so as to prevent a collision with the goalkeeper. The chances of the attacker playing the ball is also a consideration.
Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the opponent to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction by an opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player. The sanction is the award of an indirect free kick. Again playing distance is the key. However when there is contact in the impeding foul it then becomes a holding offence which includes the act of preventing him/her from moving past or around using the hands, the arms or the body. Holding is penalised by the award of a direct free kick.
In Europe over the years the practise of shielding the ball over a greater playing distance has generally been accepted by the players so we as referees have gone along with it. The Referee will have to decide whether the shielding is part of the acceptable physical contact allowed in a game of football, or whether the shielding with contact is a cunningly disguised act of holding.

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Answer provided by Referee Debbie Hoelscher

As Ref McHugh mentioned, distance is a key factor in determining impeding the progress of an opponent. Integrated into that key factor is timing: did the action taken by the player (the defender in your scenario) truly keep the opponent from being able to play the ball? In other words, if you judged the timing of it, could the opponent have gotten to the ball regardless of whether the defender ever inserted himself or not? If the attacker (in your scenario) was racing to get to the ball, but would not have been able to get to it prior to the keeper collecting it, then the action of defender did not impede his progress. That doesn't mean there may or may not be a foul, but not necessarily that one. As you say, the attacker crashed into the defender. Of course, the defender may well try to cry foul against him for getting crashed into. My response is usually something to the effect of you put yourself there, so don't ask me for a foul.

US Soccer has just released the 2009 version of Advice to Referees (ATR -2009) for US Referees and I encourage you to get yourself a copy. Whether you are a referee, player, coach or interested parent, it is a very useful tool for understanding what the referee is doing and why.

The following has been copied and pasted directly from the ATR, Law 12.14:

'Impeding the progress of an opponent' means moving on the field so as to obstruct, interfere with, or block the path of an opponent. Impeding can include crossing directly in front of the opponent or
running between the opponent and the ball so as to form an obstacle with the aim of delaying progress.

There will be many occasions during a game when a player will come between an opponent and the ball, but in the majority of such instances, this is quite natural and fair. It is often possible for a player
not playing the ball to be in the path of an opponent and still not be guilty of impeding.

The offense of impeding an opponent requires that the ball not be within playing distance and that physical contact between the player and the opponent is normally absent. If physical contact occurs,
the referee should, depending on the circumstances, consider instead the possibility that a charging infringement has been committed (direct free kick) or that the opponent has been fairly charged off the
ball (indirect free kick, see Advice 12.22). However, nonviolent physical contact may occur while impeding the progress of an opponent if, in the opinion of the referee, this contact was an unavoidable consequence of the impeding (due, for example, to momentum).

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Answer provided by Referee Keith Contarino

This doesn't sound like the defender was legally shielding the ball and then just stopped. Rather, it sound as if 2 opponents are chasing after the ball and one stops as he sees his keeper will collect the ball. It could be considered impeding as the contact was caused by momentum or it could even be considered charging or holding which would, due to where the action took place, result in a penalty kick. To me, it sounds as if no foul was committed. Rather, the actions taken were normal given the proximity of the keeper to the ball. Definitely would have to see it to properly judge it

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