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Question Number: 24564

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 2/7/2011

RE: Select Under 17

James Davis of Shreveport, LA USA asks...

In our select and High School girls soccer, substantial contact is being permitted into the back of the attacking players. For some reason it seems to be much more prevalent in the girls game as compared to the boys game. Some of the contact is resulting from shielding but much of the contact is simply being used as a defensive tactic. Occasionally the contact involves the arm or elbows but most often the chest, hips and thighs are used to push the attacker. I do not understand how such contact does not constitute a foul. While most of this contact is not dangerous by itself, I believe that such 'play in the back' leads to more serious tackling and tripping fouls from behind the attacking players. Inevitably, when playing teams that employ such defensive tactics, the second half play becomes much more physical although that may simply reflect the more physical style of play of those teams. So, what practical guidelines do you employ to determine when contact becomes a foul and justifies a penalty?

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi James
If I had a euro for every time I heard 'In the back Ref' I would be pretty rich right now. Soccer is a contact sport and there will be many times when challenging for the ball there will be contact between players either on the ground and in the air. Some of that contact will be clear fouls while other times it is just contact or indeed the foul has little impact and play just continues. Also strength plays a part in the game and stronger player deal with play contact better.
I refereed a game yesterday and the centre forward was a big strong player. The aerial duel betwen him and the centre half was strong and I did not have to award one free kick and there was plenty of contact between both. Replace the big centre forward with a smaller lighter forward and I will spend most of the game dealing with calls for a foul on even the slightest of contact, many of which will not be fouls but simply players coming together.
As regards foul recognition referee spend many years understanding and training in this area. The one foul that refs are strong on is the use of the raised hands/arms in the back. When the referee is well positioned to view that it will be seen as a clear foul and called accordingly.

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Answer provided by Referee Keith Contarino

Often, we watch the players and how they react to each other when such contact occurs. A foul at one level of play is fair play at another. That said, a clear push in the back with the hands is going to be called almost every time

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Answer provided by Referee Gary Voshol

Contact using the body (including so-called 'shoulder-to-shoulder') is called charging. Some is legal and some is not. Law 12 lists direct free kick fouls:
A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:
charges an opponent

The USSF publication 'Advice to Referees' has these definitions:
'Careless' indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play. 'Reckless' means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage. 'Involving excessive force' means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.

Until a charge escalates from normal contact to careless, there is nothing to call.

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Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham

Most referees permit about the same level of contact above the waist in a men's and in a women's matches. IMO, that is a mistake.

My experience is that most men will tolerate much greater contact with the arms and shoulders - they use their upper body strength to use such contact to advance. They dislike contact below the waist. They can be very loud and obvious that they have had enough. Not all, of course.

My experience is that most women will tolerate much greater contact below the waist - - they use their lower center of balance to advance after a hip check. They dislike contact with arms and shoulders, but show their dissatisfaction differently. The 'hard glare' may be the only sign that the player has had enough - - the next shove is likely to see an elbow in retaliation. Not all, of course.

Most parents hate all contact against their children, and cannot understand why the referees tolerate them.

Referees, however are called to ignore trifling offenses, calling only fouls that affect an opponent. They should not call the "minor" contact that the players appear willing to tolerate. It increases the flow and their enjoyment of the game.

The trick, as Ref Contarino notes, is to observe the players. Each match is different.

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