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Question Number: 22507

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 11/13/2009

RE: Rec Adult

Simon Rhodes of Indianapolis, IN USA asks...

There is a trend in the modern game for defenders to shepherd a ball last kicked by the opposition out of bounds so that their team is then awarded a goal kick. In my opinion when the bulk of the defender's effort is on pressing back on the attacker, rather than following the track of the ball, this is obstruction. I have not seen this called. What gives? thanks

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Simon
The modern game has taken the legal tactic of shielding the ball to its limit and beyond. As you know 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. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.
The key is 'as long as the ball is kept within playing distance'. Playing distance is roughly about a pace to a pace and a half away, but this obviously differs depending on the size of the player. The speed that the ball and the players travel would make it very difficult to make a slide-rule judgement each time, so many times we give players the benefit of doubt.
Now in recent time this questionable shielding that you refer to over a longer distance has become acceptable by the players so we as referees have gone along with it. If referees were to try and penalise players every time for this, they would soon let you know about it! Nevertheless, when the ball really is a long way away from the player, then it's easy to justify a decision to penalise.
Also the change in law to remove the IDFK for contact obstruction also had an effect on this. As it is now a contact foul if it happens inside the penalty area it is a penalty. It now cannot be the IDFK which means very few are awarded. In a game it usually happens at both ends of the field of play so teams might have a moan about it but play usually continues without dwelling on it. If you notice player as well accept it by and large as they don't expect to get anything and the challenge many times is in the token category

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Answer provided by Referee Nathan Lacy

Another aspect you might consider is - if someone were pushing at your back what would YOU do? Wouldn't you 'lean back' in response? When you start doing that the dynamic now becomes them pushing on you and you leaning back on them. Sooooo, just what do you call now? The push? Remember, the ball is no longer in playing distance. Or the impeding - which isn't really impeding because there is contact occurring. Like so many things at the upper levels of play the players accept the nature of this contact and go with it - even though it might not be exactly in accordance with the LOTG. Don't we see lots of grabs and small pushes that we don't call? I think what one needs to consider in these cases is the level of play and the acceptance of the players to the level and type of contact occurring. Their level of tolerance can be a major source of information for a referee in terms of what to call and what to allow during the course of play. All the best,

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Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham

One of the myths of the game is that players are guilty of impeding (formerly called obstruction) if they are not trying to play the ball.

As Refs Lacy and McHugh note, however, the defender is not required to touch or play the ball. It is lawful to shield the ball as long as the ball remains within playing distance (in the opinion of the referee).

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