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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 35361

Law 18 - Common Sense 2/28/2024

Petr of Prague, Czech Republic Czech Republic asks...

This question is a follow up to question 35359

One additional question please.

The goalkeeper has the ball in his hands, the ball accidentally falls out, touches his leg and falls to the ground (or the ball bounces back into the air). Or the ball falls straight to the ground without touching his foot. It's just a classic fumble. :-)

Can goalkeeper touch it with his hand again?


Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Petr,

Thanks for your question.

By the Laws of the Game, a GK cannot handle the ball again after they have released it, and there's no specific exception made for fumbling. So, technically speaking, a referee could award an indirect free kick,

However, I've had this situation a number of times and I have never awarded an IFK. The key, as you say, is that the GK has picked it straight up. In that case, we can consider it to be a trifling infringement and not worth penalising.

As referees, we need to remember the spirit of the law. This law was introduced to prevent GKs from putting the ball at their feet then picking it up again once challenged, or to prevent them from getting an additional 6 seconds and running the clock down.

In your situation, it's clear the GK isn't trying to do either of these things. We also consider the recent change where if a GK miskicks it, they are allowed to handle it. So while that's not applicable here, there's a clear intent to help protect the GK from their mistakes. So it doesn't make sense to punish the GK in your scenario.

If they left the ball on the ground and then a couple of seconds later decided to pick it up, that's different.

A second question is whether this is a continuation of the original 6 seconds. I've always treated it as such and let the keepers know, but that's just my personal approach.

Functionally, I just don't see it as significanly different to the GK bouncing the ball. Although given it is technically out of possession, I would allow an opponent to safely challenge the ball before they pick it back up.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Petr
I’m with my good colleagues Referee Wright on this. I too have not penalised the odd fumble with an immediate pick up with a shout that * It was not released into play* as there will be appeals.
The second one may be a tad more difficult as it could look like a clear release to the ground. I suspect many goalkeepers may just kick it away rather than running the risk of a pick up and IDFK.

At underage I would be particularly lenient. I once had a U12 stand-in goalkeeper place the ball at his feet at the edge of the penalty area while he pulled up his sock! I just chuckled to myself and on we went with the punt.

I never adopted a Gotcha type approach yet officiated in the spirit of the game and always asked was it a deliberate breach of the Laws or doubtful or trifling.
I know plenty of referees that will adopt zero benefit of the doubt in these questionable situations. The ball is released through poor handling so pay the price with the IDFK.

I also think context will have a part to play. In a game that is being played in a good spirit it is easier to adopt a generous approach. In a mean spirited tetchy game where everyone is on the referee’s case not calling what looks like an offence will draw the ire of many.
I watched a game recently where the referee had an excellent game yet the home team and supporters were on his case regularly about every little matter. At one point he correctly cautioned a home player for a reckless challenge and a few minutes later on a tug at half way they were shouting about where is the card now. I could imagine the pick up of a fumble being treated with howls of derision and disdain. Not that should make a difference yet we know it can be a factor.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Petr,
While technically such an occurrence could be penalised, I'm with both my colleagues on this one. As ref Wright points out, we already have one recent amendment that, although it refers to a different scenario, shows that the IFAB does not consider that goalkeepers should be penalised for what would otherwise be considered a handling-related infraction when it involves a genuine error and where it's clear the keeper did not mean to violate the intent of the law.

Ref McHugh is also on point when he refers to the general principle (now unwritten but once contained in the laws document itself) that referees should not penalise trifling or dubious offences. And I would argue that this offence is (to all appearances) both those things.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Petr,
as always we welcome your inquiries.

You could look hard and find a technical response to award the INDFK but why?
There is a precedent of sorts already enshrined in law as FIFA/IFAB have already stated that on a deliberate kick of the ball by a team mate the keeper if he attempts to do the right thing by kicking or heading it away as a clearance but it goes bad, be it a deflection off the body, a miskick, a slip, high winds, even though he is NOT permuted to use his hands he would not be punished if he did to stop the ball or recover it to prevent a goal or a scoring opportunity. In essence because we can opine this was not his intent and he had tried to kick it away but failed we refrain from awarding an easy unearned INDFK goal scoring opportunity to the opposition for a mistake. He was not wasting time or seeking to be unfair.

You can likely tell from my colleagues' responses we all are rather lenient in these situations as playing gotcha is rarely a good tact for a referee to pursue The 6 seconds of uncontested possession allows the keeper the opportunity to release the ball while not under duress. The LOTG stipulate that once a keeper releases the ball from the hands it is not to be rehandled until certain conditions are met. Generally an opposing player or team mate touch of some sort. Even with the limitations of the 6 seconds we rarely count it out as an exact figure but more of a guideline. We often wait a bit after a save to allow the keeper a bit of time to recover particularly after a difficult diving save or upon noticing opposing players kind of in his grill so to speak creating nuances and interfering slightly with the keeper 's release plan.

The LOTG reference the concept of trifling or doubtful in whether the need to react to a match condition that really has no impact on the match itself. can be over looked on occasion. That said the opposition if they are not interfering to create such a circumstance can take advantage of a mistake should the keeper accidently release or dr-op the ball A keeper recovering a fumbled ball with no opposition nearby and immediately recovers who cares .. Just punt the ball down the FOP quickly as that 6 seconds is getting long in the tooth to be ignored never mind the regrab. Mind you accidental or not, should there be opposition in the vicinity they have the right to challenge given they did nothing to interfere with the release. So expect some resistance if you see the fumble as just a bounce versus a stop the attack sequence thwarted by a second touch.

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