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New rules, same game? FIFA rules updated to protect integrity of soccer

Photo by Jonathan Rodriguez

Beginning this summer, the game of soccer as we know it evolved under new laws of the game. 

The significance of the rule changes introduced by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) has yet to be fully witnessed. Implemented on June 1, 2019, the changes to soccer’s Laws of the Game sparked commentary from fans, players, coaches and referees around the globe. 

Examining the IFAB’s reasoning helps clear up the commotion. 

  1. Penalties – During a penalty kick, the goalkeeper must have at least one foot either touching or in line with the goal line. Just as an attacker can “stutter” his run, it is reasonable to allow the goalkeeper to anticipate the shot. 
  2. Free Kick – Before a free kick, if the defense forms a wall of three or more players, no attacking players may be in the wall or within one yard of the defensive wall. Attacking players in or near the wall often creates “management problems and waste[s] time,” according to IFAB.
  3. Goal Kick – The ball is in play as soon as the kick is taken; it is not required to leave the penalty area. This allows for a quicker, more dynamic restart of play.
  4. Substitutions – A player coming off the pitch must exit at the nearest point rather than the halfway line, unless the halfway line allows for a quick exit. This change was implemented to cut down on the prevalent slow exits of players leaving the pitch at the halfway mark.
  5. Coaches – Yellow and red cards will now be issued to coaches guilty of misconduct. If an offending player or team official cannot be identified, the senior coach in the technical area will receive the yellow or red card. The experiment of booking coaches has proven successful and beneficial to referees attempting to deal with difficult coaches and staff.
  6. Handball – When the ball strikes an attacker’s hand or arm and enters the goal, no goal will be awarded. “Football does not accept a goal being scored by a hand/arm (even if accidental),” stated IFAB.
  7. Dropped Ball – Dropped balls will no longer be competitive. If play is stopped in the penalty area, it will be restarted with a dropped ball to the goalkeeper. Anywhere else, the ball will be dropped for one player from the team that last touched the ball at the location of the last touch while all other players must be at least 4.5 yards away. This will prevent teams from gaining an unfair advantage and reduce aggressive confrontations.

IFAB enacted several other relatively minor changes to the Laws of the Game.

“I count 12 significant law changes. They had a major overhaul three years ago when they took out 10,000 words from the Laws of the Game, so this is the biggest overhaul since then,” commented Mark Geiger, director of senior match officials for the Professional Referee Organization (PRO).

While the rules of the game have changed, it remains to be seen exactly how the game of soccer will change from match to match under the new laws.