Ahead of the SPFL season kicking off, and the return of the SWPL, there are a number of updates to the laws of the game from IFAB (International Football Association Board) that will be implemented in the upcoming season.

Free Kicks – Law 13

Changes
When there is a ‘wall’ of three or more defenders, the attackers are not allowed within 1m (1 yd) of the wall; an attacker less than 1m (1yd) from the ‘wall’ when the kick is taken will be penalised with an indirect free kick.

When the defending team takes a free kick in their own penalty area, the ball is in play once the kick is taken; it does not have to leave the penalty area before it can be played.

Explanation
Attackers standing very close to, or in, the defensive ‘wall’ at a free kick often cause management problems and waste time. There is no legitimate tactical justification for attackers to be in the ‘wall’ and their presence is against the ‘spirit of the game’ and often damages the image of the game.

The experiment where, at a defending team free kick in the penalty area, the ball is in play once it is kicked and does not have to leave the penalty area, has produced a faster and more constructive restart. Opponents must remain outside the penalty area and at least 9.15m away until the ball is in play. The same change has been made to the goal kick (see Law 16).

Goal Celebrations – Law 12

Changes
A yellow card for an ‘illegal’ celebration (e.g. removing the shirt) remains even if the goal is disallowed.

Explanation
Cautions for inappropriate goal celebrations apply even if the goal is disallowed as the impact (safety, image of the game etc.) is the same as if the goal was awarded.

Goal Kick – Law 16

Changes
The ball is in play once the kick is taken; it can be played before leaving the penalty area.

Explanation
The experiment that at a goal kick the ball is in play once it is kicked, and does not have to leave the penalty area, has created a faster and more dynamic/constructive restart to the game. It has reduced the time ‘lost/wasted’ including stopping the tactic of ‘wasting’ time when a defender deliberately plays the ball before it leaves the penalty area knowing that all that will happen is the goal kick will be retaken. Opponents must remain outside the penalty area until the ball is in play.

Handball – Law 12

Changes
Deliberate handball remains an offence.

The following ‘handball’ situations, even if accidental, will be a free kick:

  • The ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand/arm.
  • A player gains control/possession of the ball after it has touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunity.
  • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger.
  • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm).

The following will not usually be a free kick, unless they are one of the above situations:

  • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/near.
  • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally bigger.
  • If a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground to support the body (but not extended to make the body bigger)
  • If the goalkeeper attempts to ‘clear’ (release into play) a throw-in or deliberate kick from a team-mate but the ‘clearance’ fails, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball

Explanation
Greater clarity is needed for handball, especially on those occasions when ‘non deliberate’ handball is an offence. The re-wording follows a number of principles:

  • Football does not accept a goal being scored by a hand/arm (even if accidental).
  • Football expects a player to be penalised for handball if they gain possession/control of the ball from their hand/arm and gain a major advantage e.g. score or create a goal-scoring opportunity.
  • It is natural for a player to put their arm between their body and the ground for support when falling.
  • Having the hand/arm above shoulder height is rarely a ‘natural’ position and a player is ‘taking a risk’ by having the hand/arm in that position, including when sliding.
  • If the ball comes off the player’s body, or off another player (of either team) who is close by, onto the hands/arms it is often impossible to avoid contact with the ball.
  • When the goalkeeper clearly kicks or tries to kick the ball into play, this shows no intention to handle the ball so, if the ‘clearance’ attempt is unsuccessful, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball without committing an offence.

Kick-off – Law 8

Changes
The team that wins the toss can now choose to take the kick-off or which goal to attack (previously they only had the choice of which goal to attack).

Explanation
Recent Law changes have made the kick-off more dynamic (e.g. a goal can be scored directly from the kick-off) so captains winning the toss often ask to take the kick-off.

Medical breaks – Law 7

Changes
Difference between ‘cooling’ breaks (90 secs – 3 mins) and ‘drinks’ breaks (max 1 min).

Explanation
In the interests of player safety, competition rules may allow, in certain weather conditions (e.g. high humidity and temperatures), ‘cooling’ breaks (from ninety seconds to three minutes) to allow the body’s temperature to fall; they are different from ‘drinks’ breaks (maximum one minute) which are for rehydration.

Penalty Kick – Law 14

Changes
The team’s penalty taker can have (quick) treatment/assessment and then take the kick.

The goalkeeper must not be touching the goalposts/crossbar/nets; they must not be moving.

The goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is taken; cannot stand behind the line.

Explanation
It is unfair if the kicker needs assessment/treatment and then has to leave the field and cannot take the penalty kick.

The referee must not signal for the penalty kick to be taken if the goalkeeper is touching the goalposts, crossbar or net, or if they are moving e.g. the goalkeeper has kicked/shaken them.

Goalkeepers are not permitted to stand in front of or behind the line. Allowing the goalkeeper to have only one foot touching the goal line (or, if jumping, in line with the goal line) when the penalty kick is taken is a more practical approach as it is easier to identify if both feet are not on the line. As the kicker can ‘stutter’ in the run, it is reasonable that the goalkeeper can take one step in anticipation of the kick.

Players’ Equipment – Law 4

Changes
Multi-coloured/patterned undershirts are allowed if they are the same as the sleeve of the main shirt

Explanation
Manufacturers now make patterned undershirts whose sleeves are the same as the main shirt sleeve; these should be allowed as they help match officials’ decision-making.

Quick free kick and yellow/red card – Law 12

Changes
If the referee is about to issue a yellow card/red card but the non-offending team takes the free kick quickly and creates a goal-scoring opportunity, the referee can delay the yellow/red card until the next stoppage if the offending team was not distracted by the referee.

Explanation
Occasionally, an attack is stopped by a caution-able (yellow card) or sending-off (red card) offence and the attacking team takes a quick free kick which restores the ‘lost’ attack; it is clearly ‘unfair’ if this ‘new’ attack is stopped to issue the yellow/red card. However, if the referee has distracted the offending team by starting the yellow card/red card procedure, the quick free kick is not allowed. For a DOGSO offence, the player will be cautioned (yellow card) and not sent-off (red card) because the attack was re-started (as when advantage is applied for a DOGSO offence).

Substitutes – Law 3

Changes
A player who is being substituted must leave the field by the nearest point on the touchline/goal line (unless the referee indicates the player can leave quickly/ immediately at the halfway line or a different point because of safety, injury etc.)

Explanation
To stop a player who is being substituted ‘wasting’ time by leaving slowly at the halfway line (which is not a Law requirement) the player must leave at the nearest point (as with an injury) unless the referee indicates otherwise, e.g. if the player can leave quickly at the halfway line, there is a safety/security issue or the player leaves on a stretcher. The player must go immediately to the technical area or dressing room to avoid problems with substitutes, spectators, or the match officials. A player who infringes the spirit of this Law should be sanctioned for unsporting behaviour i.e. delaying the restart of play.

Team Officials – Laws 5 & 12

Changes
A team official guilty of misconduct will be shown a yellow card (caution) or red card; if the offender cannot be identified, the senior coach who is in the technical area at the time will receive the yellow card/red card.

Explanation
The experiment with yellow card/red card for misconduct by team officials has been successful and has revealed many benefits at all levels, including for young referees dealing with ‘difficult’ adult coaches. If the offender cannot be identified, the senior team official (usually the main coach) in the technical area will receive the yellow card/red card (as the person responsible for the other team officials).

Laws via IFAB