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Question Number: 29085

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 1/6/2015

RE: Rec Adult

Lerk of Bangkok, Thailand asks...

In the league I'm playing in, there's one defender on opponent's team who regularly gets in the way of a forward who's trying to get open. He wouldn't physically obstruct but would just conveniently walk/jog into the path of the forward (usually about a few yards ahead). Can we call impeding (or any penalty) for this kind of play?

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Lerk,
movement off the ball is difficult for the referee even if he can back check over the shoulder at a possible site of contention. An attentive AR might catch such abuse and report it to the referee. Although you could hear the coach or even the player being impeded screaming about the injustice when they feel it has occurred..

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. Playing distance is not an exact distance more like two paces at the speed of play which can be close 2 meters to plus 6 meters at a full out stride
All players have a right to their position on the field of play, although being in the way of an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent. This defender sounds like he is aware of how far away he can be without drawing official scrutiny

Often impeding can result in a holding by the defender or incur a charging foul by the attacker! As you say this defender is sly about not being too close to start his movement. It is his duty to defend just not unfairly. If the attackers' run is say towards the ball and the defender turns into the running path but is also in pursuit of the ball impeding is less likely to be seen as an opponent has a right to pursue the ball. It is when the movement forces a definite change of direction to avoid a collision where the referee could view the angles to recognize an impeding is occurring. This is easier to for a referee or AR to spot when the attacker is running into space in behind but off to one side of the defender. The defender mirrors the run path but not the ball flight.

While a referee is not going to change or alter decisions based on what non neutral players or coaches or fans scream. As a coach or as a player I will attempt to remind the referee hopefully without appearing to be abusive or too dissenting of such shenanigans off the ball. A form of low level grumbling. Although a wise referee does have selective hearing, he is not unaware that he could miss certain things. The level of foul recognition and situational awareness is the experience component where a referees' current level of knowledge and understanding of the LOTG reflects His Match! His Decision! His Reputation!

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Answer provided by Referee Gene Nagy


What you describe is exactly how a defender should mark an opponent. Why would he NOT be in the forward's face? Surely if he allows the forward free rein, eventually a goal would be scored against him! Gosh, that is how I coach: am I doing it wrong?

To impede an opponent, you must be close to an opponent, not playing the ball and impeding him and the ball is not within playing distance. If he is several yards away from the opponent, he is not close enough to impede. There is no long distance impeding in the book...

As a referee, I look at the INTENT of the player. If he is not looking at the ball and goes for the opponent, that usually is impeding or worse if contact is made. But he has to be a lot closer then 'a few yards'.

Remember Lerk, none of the players own any of the real estate on the field of play, and all are free to roam wherever they like, including goalies. What they cannot do is impede an opponent when not within playing distance of the ball and that is about a yard or maybe even two but certainly no more.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Lerk
Good referees should always pay heed to what is also happening off the ball. If a defender is deliberately moving into the path of an opponent to prevent him running or getting to the ball as distinct from running with the opponent in a marking sense and there is contact then that is a holding foul punished by a direct free kick or a penalty kick. It can also be called as impeding if there is no contact however that is a very rare foul and rarely called.
So as described I would penalise the defender for holding with the appropriate restart as his only intention is to stop an opponent getting to the ball.
Have a look at this video. Green player prevents the movement of Red and the referee awards a penalty kick
Everyone felt it was harsh yet the Green player committed what was a penal foul inside the penalty area. The player had only one intention which was to stop the opponent getting to the ball.

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Lerk,

'Impedes the progress of an opponent' covers the scenario where a player deliberately moves to block the path of an opponent. Crossing the player's path in order to interrupt their run could certainly fall into that category.

It's difficult to say from your description whether an offence is actually occurring - after all, defenders should also keep positioning themselves between the attacker and where they probably want to get to. As a rule of thumb, if the defender puts himself in the likely path of the attacker before the attacker makes a run, there's no problem - but if the attacker is starting his movement and then the defender steps in the way to block or interrupt the run, then that's impeding, which is an indirect free kick offence. If he's using contact then this becomes charging (or holding if he uses the arms).

It can also be difficult for referees to spot these off-the-ball incidents. As a referee, I don't mind it when a player quietly advises me of an issue like this before the game or at a break - it can draw the referee's attention to an off-the-ball scenario he may be missing.

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