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April 22, 2012

Soccer rules: origin, revision, IFAB, and law groups

Afscheid van Feyenoord-voetballer Coen Moulijn tijdens een wedstrijd tegen Uruguay. Image: Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo | Peters, Hans / Anefo

Modern association football emerged out of ancient forms of ball games because the confusion of different interpretations spelt out the need for a common formula. The original laws, adopted in 1863, comprised just forteen short paragraphs and eight definitions. The basic text of modern association football law was devised by Sir Stanley Rous in 1938, The Laws of the Game were completely re-modelled. They were still numbered from 1 to 17, but they followed a different sequence. The revision was adopted by The Football Association ((FA) and the new form was accepted by the International Board (see below on IFAB/IB) for universal use (cf., Sir Stanley Rous C.B.E. and Donald Ford M.A., “A History of the Laws of Association Football”, Published by FIFA, Zurich, Switzerland, 1974). For nearly 60 years the fundamentals remained intact but amendments and additions, mostly in the form of explanations and instructions to cover practical situations, made the law book into a forbidding document.

A new approach was overdue when in 1997, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) adopted a much reduced text. It dispensed with some of the superfluous and repetitive wordage and put basic law into a more presentable format. However, the revised text still includes unnecessary repetition and leaves much to be read between the lines. For longtime students of association football this is no big problem but for future generations of association football players, coaches, match officials and other participants, separate edicts are needed to answer questions of practical interpretation, as Stanley Lover, a top FIFA lecturer for referees, observes in “Soccer Rules Explained” (2005) (pp. 22, 26)

International Football Association Board

A law is a rule prescribed by authority. In this sense the rules of association football may be mentioned the laws of the game. The laws are prescribed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB or IB).The historical Britisch contribution to modern football is recognised in the composition of this body which controls “football law”, that is the rules of the game. The four British associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, are partners with the world governing body FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) in forming the Board. FIFA is the worldwide, global, universal federation of over 200 national football associations. The formation of IFAB took place in 1886 by the four British associations who were joined in 1913 by FIFA.The current version of the Rules of the IFAB were approved in February 1993. According to these Rules, each, that is the four British associations on one hand and FIFA on the other, is entitled to be represented by four delegates.

The objects of the Board which meets annually, are to discuss and decide proposed alterations to the Laws of the Game and such other matters affecting association football as required to be referred to the Board after consideration by its constituent associations, continental confederations (the European, regional governing body UEFA and the African, Asian, South American, North & Cental American, and Oceanian confederations) or other national member associations of FIFA. Alterations shall be made to the Laws of the Game only if agreed by at least three-quarters of those present and entitled to vote. Since the total of eight votes is held in the proportion of one each for the four Britrish associations and four votes for FIFA (on behalf of all its affiliated national member associations), effectively there can be no change of the Laws of the Game without the support of FIFA representing its global membership.

Next to suggestions or proposed alterations to the Laws of the Game, other matters affecting association football may be requests for experimentation regarding the Laws of the Game and other items for discussion. The decisions of the IFAB regarding changes to the Laws of the Game shall be binding on continental confederations and national member associations. Deliberations of the IFAB are notified to all national associations in the form of an amendment to law, a decision which clarifies a certain aspect of a law, instructions, or advice, together with reasons. Much care is taken to compile announcements in formal English capable of accurate translation into all world languages. Interpretations and clarifications of the laws are published in the form of questions and answers (Q & A). These deal with official queries submitted by national associations and represent “association football case law”.On behalf of the IB, FIFA publishes the Laws of the Game in English, French, German, and Spanish. If there is any divergence in the wording of these authentic texts, the English version is aurthoriative, shall prevail.

According to Stanley Lover (op.cit., at p. 19) the IB has been extremely conservative when considering the many suggestions received each year. Its policy is to make changes only when there is positive evidence that change is necessary.

Construction of football association law: law groups

It helps to look at the Laws of the Game thematically rather than taking them in strict order from one to seventeen. According to Lover’s handbook for the football referee entitled “Association Football Match Control” (London 1978, pp. 26-27), the Laws fall naturally into the four following groups: Components, Authority, Rules of play, and Technical. Grouping the laws in this manner underlines the functions of each law and its logical relationship with others in the same group.The laws in the first group specify the components required before any organized football match can be played; they comprise the following: the field of play, the ball, the number of players, and players’ equipment (Laws 1-4). Until these laws have been observed the other thirteen remain inoperative. So, they represent absolutely conditional requirements of a physical nature for a legally valid match to be started and played. Secondly, there are laws which deal with authority within the game: Laws 5 and 6 concern match officials (referee and linesmen, who nowadays are called assistant referees). Thirdly, there are several laws which are, in effect, the “rules of play”. These deal with the method of play. After preparing or assembling the components (including the referees) come these rules which explain the mechanics of the game, how to start, how to a score, when a game is won or lost, and so on (Laws 7-10 and 13-17: duration of the game, the start of play, ball in and out of play, method of scoring, free kick (this law does not say why a free kick is awarded, for that see below under “Technical”: fouls and misconduct; it simply explains the mechanics of putting the ball into play), penalty kick (this does not state either the reason for the penalty kick, only the procedure of restarting play, for that see below under “Technical”: fouls and misconduct), throw-in, goal kick, and corner kick (the last three laws deal with the method of restarting play after the ball has crossed a boundary line)). The remaing two laws deal with situations which occur when the ball is in play and may be conveniently described as “technical” laws, namely off-side (Law 11) and fouls and misconduct (Law 12). In his 2005 “Soccer Rules Explained”, Lover distinguishes between six law groups: components (Laws 1-4), control (cf., authority) (Laws 5-6), game rules (duration, start and restart of play, ball in and out of play, scoring) (Laws 7-10), technical (offside) ((Law 11), discipline (fouls and misconduct) (Law 12), and restarts (free kicks [direct and indirect; RS], penalty kick, throw-in, goal kick, and corner kick) (Laws 13-17). So, the restarts (Lover 2005) were removed from the previous “rules of play” (Lover 1978) (now, for the remaining part called “game rules”), and the two “technical” laws (Lover 1978) were separated into “technical” (offside) and “discipline” (Lover 2005).