Laws of the Game (association football)

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The Laws of the Game are the codified rules of association football. The laws mention the number of players a team should have, the game length, the size of the field and ball, the type and nature of fouls that referees may penalize, the offside law, and many other laws that define the sport. During a match, it is the task of the referee to interpret and enforce the Laws of the Game.


There were various attempts to codify rules among the various types of football in the mid-19th century. The extant Laws date back to 1863 where a ruleset was formally adopted by the newly formed Football Association. Over time, the Laws have been amended, and since 1886 they have been maintained by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

The Laws are the only rules of association football FIFA permits its members to use. [1] The Laws currently allow some minor optional variations which can be implemented by national football associations, including some for play at the lowest levels, but otherwise almost all organized football worldwide is played under the same ruleset. Within the United States, Major League Soccer used a distinct ruleset during the 1990s [2] and the National Federation of State High School Associations and National Collegiate Athletic Association still use rulesets that are comparable to, but different from, the IFAB Laws. [3]

Laws of the Game

The Laws of the Game consist of seventeen individual laws, each law containing several rules and directions: [4]

Permitted variations

All high-level association football is played according to the same laws. The Laws permit some variation for youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football, such as shortening the length of the game and the use of temporary dismissals. [4]

Presentation and interpretation

In 1997, a major revision dropped whole paragraphs and clarified many sections to simplify and strengthen the principles. These laws are written in English Common Law style and are meant to be guidelines and goals of principle that are then clarified through practice, tradition, and enforcement by the referees.

The actual law book had long contained 50 pages more of material, organized in numerous sections, that included many diagrams but were not officially part of the main 17 laws. In 2007, many of these additional sections along with much of the material from the FIFA Questions and Answers (Q&A), were restructured and put into a new "Additional Instructions and Guidelines for the Referee" section. In the 2016/2017 revision of the Laws, the material from this section was folded into the Laws themselves.

Referees are expected to use their judgement and common sense in applying the laws; this is colloquially known as "Law 18". [5]

Jurisdiction and change management

The laws are administered by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). They meet at least once a year to debate and decide any changes to the text as it exists at that time. The meeting in winter generally leads to an update to the laws on 1 July of each year that take effect immediately. The laws govern all international matches and national matches of member organizations. [6] A minimum of six of the eight seat IFAB board needs to vote to accept a rule change. Four seats are held by FIFA to represent their 200+ member Nations, with the other four going to each of the British associations (the FA representing England, the SFA representing Scotland, FAW representing Wales and the IFA representing Northern Ireland), meaning that no change can be made without FIFA's approval, but FIFA cannot change the Laws without the approval of at least two of the British governing bodies. [6]



In the nineteenth century, the word "football" could signify a wide variety of games in which players attempted to move a ball into an opponent's goal. The first published rules of "football" were those of Rugby School (1845), which permitted extensive handling, quickly followed by the Eton field game (1847), which was much more restrictive of handling the ball. Between the 1830s and 1850s, a number of sets of rules were created for use at Cambridge University — but they were generally not published at the time, and many have subsequently been lost. The first detailed sets of rules published by football clubs (rather than a school or university) were those of Sheffield FC (written 1858, published 1859) which codified a game played for 20 years until being discontinued in favour of the Football Association code, and those of Melbourne FC (1859) which are the origins of Australian rules football. By the time the Football Association met in late 1863, many different sets of rules had been published, varying widely on such questions as the extent to which the ball could be handled, the treatment of offside, the amount of physical contact allowed with opponents, and the height at which a goal could be scored.

1863 rules

An early draft of the original hand-written 'Laws of the Game' drawn up on behalf of The Football Association by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863 on display at the National Football Museum, Manchester. Original laws of the game 1863.jpg
An early draft of the original hand-written 'Laws of the Game' drawn up on behalf of The Football Association by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863 on display at the National Football Museum, Manchester.

In 1863, some football clubs followed the example of Rugby School by allowing the ball to be carried in the hands, with players allowed to "hack" (kick in the shins) opponents who were carrying the ball. Other clubs forbade both practices. During the FA meetings to draw up the first version of the laws, there was an acrimonious division between the "hacking" and "non-hacking" clubs. An FA meeting of 17 November 1863 discussed this question, with the "hacking" clubs predominating. [7] The first draft of the Football Association's laws, drawn up by FA's secretary Ebenezer Cobb Morley, reflected this preference, containing many features that would today be considered closer to rugby than association football.[ original research? ]

A further meeting was scheduled in order to finalise ("settle") the laws. [8] At this crucial 24 November meeting, the "hackers" were again in a narrow majority. During the meeting, however, Morley brought the delegates' attention to a recently published set of football laws from Cambridge University which banned carrying and hacking. Discussion of the Cambridge rules, and suggestions for possible communication with Cambridge on the subject, served to delay the final "settlement" of the laws to a further meeting, on 1 December. [9] [10] A number of representatives who supported rugby-style football did not attend this additional meeting, [11] resulting in hacking and carrying being banned. [10]

Francis Campbell of Blackheath, the most prominent "hacking" club, accused FA President Arthur Pember, Morley, and their allies of managing the 24 November meeting improperly in order to prevent the "pro-hacking" laws from being adopted. [12] Pember strongly denied such an "accusation of ungentlemanly conduct". The verdicts of later historians have been mixed: Young accuses Campbell of "arrogance", [13] while Harvey supports Campbell's allegations, accusing the non-hackers of a "coup" against the pro-hacking clubs. [14] Blackheath, along with the other "hacking" clubs, would leave the FA as a result of this dispute.

The final version of the FA's laws was formally adopted and published in December 1863. Some notable differences from the modern game are listed below:

At its meeting on 8 December 1863, the FA agreed that, as reported in Bell's Life in London, John Lillywhite would publish the Laws. [15] The first game to be played under the new rules was a 0–0 draw between Barnes and Richmond. [15] Adoption of the laws was not universal among English football clubs. The Sheffield Rules continued to be used by many. Additionally, in preference of a more physical game with greater emphasis on handling of the ball, several decided against being part of the FA in its early years and would later form the Rugby Football Union in 1871. [16]

IFAB created

Minor variations between the rules used in England (the jurisdiction of the Football Association) and the other Home Nations of the United KingdomScotland, Wales and Ireland – led to the creation of the International Football Association Board to oversee the rules for all the home nations. Their first meeting was in 1886. [17] Before this, teams from different countries had to agree to which country's rules were used before playing.

FIFA adoption

When the international football body on the continent FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, it immediately declared that FIFA would adhere to the rules laid down by the IFAB. The growing popularity of the international game led to the admittance of FIFA representatives to the IFAB in 1913. Up until 1958, it was still possible for the British associations to vote together to impose changes against the wishes of FIFA. This changed with the adoption of the current voting system whereby FIFA's support is necessary, but not sufficient, for any amendment to pass. [6]

Notable amendments

Notable amendments to the rules include: [16] [18]

From 1866 to 1883, the laws provided for a tape between the goalposts England v Scotland 1879.png
From 1866 to 1883, the laws provided for a tape between the goalposts
When first introduced in 1891, the penalty was awarded for offences within 12 yards of the goal-line. Association Football Pitch 1898.png
When first introduced in 1891, the penalty was awarded for offences within 12 yards of the goal-line.

Titles of the laws

The 1938 rewriting of the laws introduced the scheme of 17 named laws that has lasted until today, with only minor alterations. The history of the numbering and titles of the laws since 1938 is shown in the table below:

1The Field of Play
2The Ball
3Number of PlayersThe Number of PlayersThe Players
4Players' EquipmentThe Players' Equipment
5RefereesThe Referee
6LinesmenAssistant RefereesThe Assistant RefereesThe Other Match Officials
7Duration of the GameThe Duration of the Match
8The Start of PlayThe Start and Restart of Play
9Ball In and Out of PlayThe Ball In and Out of Play
10Method of ScoringThe Method of ScoringDetermining the Outcome of a Match
12Fouls and Misconduct
13Free-KickFree Kicks
14Penalty-KickThe Penalty Kick
15Throw-InThe Throw-In
16Goal-KickThe Goal Kick
17Corner-KickThe Corner Kick


Related Research Articles

Association football Team sport played with a spherical ball

Association football, more commonly known as simply football or soccer, is a team sport played between two teams of 11 players who primarily use their feet to propel the ball around a rectangular field called a pitch. The objective of the game is to score more goals than the opposition by moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing side's a rectangular framed goal. Traditionally the game has been played over two 45 minute halves, for a total match time of 90 minutes. With an estimated 250 million players active in over 200 countries it is considered the world's most popular sport.

Offside (association football) Law in association football

Offside is one of the laws of association football, codified in Law 11 of the Laws of the Game. The law states that a player is in an offside position if any of their body parts, except the hands and arms, are in the opponents' half of the pitch, and closer to the opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.

Futsal Team sport, variant of association football

Futsal is an association football-based game played on a hard court smaller than a football pitch, and mainly indoors. It has similarities to five-a-side football and indoor soccer.

Penalty kick (association football) Type of direct free kick in association football

A penalty kick is a method of restarting play in association football, in which a player is allowed to take a single shot at the goal while it is defended only by the opposing team's goalkeeper. It is awarded when an offence punishable by a direct free kick is committed by a player in their own penalty area. The shot is taken from the penalty mark, which is 11 m from the goal line and centred between the touch lines.

Referee (association football) Game administrator in association football

In association football, the referee is the person responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Laws of the Game during a match. The referee is the final decision-making authority on all facts connected with play, and is the match official with the authority to start and stop play and impose disciplinary action against players and coaches during a match.

Penalty shoot-out (association football) Procedure in association football to determine the winner of a drawn match

A penalty shoot-out is a tie-breaking method to determine which team is awarded victory in an association football match that cannot end in a draw, when the score is tied after the normal time as well as extra time have expired. In a penalty shoot-out, each team takes turns shooting at goal from the penalty mark, with the goal defended only by the opposing team's goalkeeper. Each team has five shots which must be taken by different kickers; the team that makes more successful kicks is declared the victor. Shoot-outs finish as soon as one team has an insurmountable lead. If scores are level after five pairs of shots, the shootout progresses into additional "sudden-death" rounds. Balls successfully kicked into the goal during a shoot-out do not count as goals for the individual kickers or the team, and are tallied separately from the goals scored during normal play. Although the procedure for each individual kick in the shoot-out resembles that of a penalty kick, there are some differences. Most notably, neither the kicker nor any player other than the goalkeeper may play the ball again once it has been kicked.

Corner kick Method of restarting play in association football

A corner kick is the method of restarting play in a game of association football when the ball goes out of play over the goal line, without a goal being scored and having last been touched by a member of the defending team. The kick is taken from the corner of the field of play nearest to the place where the ball crossed the goal line.

In various sports, a professional foul is a deliberate act of foul play intended to bring about an advantage for the perpetrator's team. Professional fouls are usually committed to prevent an opponent from scoring.

Goal kick

A goal kick is a method of restarting play in a game of association football. Its procedure is dictated by Law 16 of the Laws of the Game.

Throw-in Method of restarting play in association football

A throw-in is a method of restarting play in a game of association football when the ball has exited the side of the field of play. It is governed by Law 15 of The Laws Of The Game.

Kick-off (association football) Method of starting play in association football

A kick-off is the method of starting and, in some cases, restarting play in a game of association football. The rules concerning the kick-off are part of Law 8 of the Laws of the Game.

Sheffield Rules

The Sheffield Rules was a code of football devised and played in the English city of Sheffield between 1858 and 1877. The rules were initially created and revised by Sheffield Football Club, with responsibility for the laws passing to the Sheffield Football Association upon that body's creation in 1867. The rules spread beyond the city boundaries to other clubs and associations in the north and midlands of England, making them one of the most popular forms of football during the 1860s and 1870s.

Cambridge rules Early version of the rules of soccer

The Cambridge Rules were several formulations of the rules of football made at the University of Cambridge during the nineteenth century. One of these codes, dating from 1863, had a significant influence on the creation of the original Laws of the Game of the Football Association.

Fouls and misconduct (association football) Unfair act by a player in association football

In the sport of association football, fouls and misconduct are acts committed by players which are deemed by the referee to be unfair and are subsequently penalised. An offence may be a foul, misconduct or both depending on the nature of the offence and the circumstances in which it occurs. Fouls and misconduct are addressed in Law 12 of the Laws of the Game.

In association football, the back-pass rule prohibits the goalkeeper from handling the ball in most cases when it is passed to them by a team-mate. It is described in Law 12, Section 2 of the Laws of the Game.

Goalkeeper (association football) Position in association football

The goalkeeper is a position in association football. It is the most specialised position in the sport. The goalkeeper's main role is to stop the opposing team from scoring. This is accomplished by having the goalkeeper move into the trajectory of the ball to either catch it or direct it further from the vicinity of the goal line. Within the penalty area goalkeepers are allowed to use their hands, giving them the sole rights on the field to handle the ball. The goalkeeper is indicated by wearing a different coloured kit from their teammates and opposition.

Comparison of association football and rugby union

Comparison of association football (football/soccer) and rugby union (rugby/rugger) is possible because of the games' similarities and shared origins.

Scoring in association football

In games of association football teams compete to score the most goals during the match. A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over a goal line at either end of the field of play between two centrally positioned upright goal posts 24 feet (7.32 m) apart and underneath a horizontal crossbar at a height of 8 feet (2.44 m) — this frame is itself referred to as a goal. Each team aims to score at one end of the pitch, while preventing their opponents from scoring at the other side. Nets are usually attached to the goal frame to catch goalscoring balls, but the ball is not required to touch the net.

Comparison of association football and futsal

Futsal began in the 1930s in South America as a version of association football, taking elements of its parent game into an indoor format so players could still play during inclement weather. Over the years, both sports have developed, creating a situation where the two sports share common traits while also hosting various differences.

Free kick (association football) Method of restarting play in association football

A free kick is a method of restarting play in association football. It is awarded after an infringement of the laws by the opposing team.


  1. "FIFA Statutes - July 2012 edition" (PDF). FIFA. Each Member of FIFA shall play Association Football in compliance with the Laws of the Game issued by IFAB. Only IFAB may lay down and alter the Laws of the Game.
  2. Maurer, Pablo. "How U.S. soccer experimented with 10 changes to the game before launching MLS". The Athletic. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  3. "A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF RULES AND LAWS" (PDF). National Federation of State High School Associations.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. 1 2 "Laws of the Game 22/23" (PDF). International Football Association Board .
  5. United States Soccer Federation Inc.; Michael Lewis (2000). Soccer for dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide. ISBN   1118053575 . Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 "The IFAB: How it works". FIFA. Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  7. Harvey (2005), pp. 135–139
  8. "The Football Association". Bell's Life in London. 28 November 1863. p. 6.
  9. "The Football Association". Bell's Life in London. 28 November 1863. p. 6. The PRESIDENT pointed out that the vote just passed to all intents and purposes annulled the business of the evening, whereupon Mr. ALCOCK said it was too late to proceed further, and moved that the meeting do adjourn till Tuesday next, 1 Dec., and it was so resolved.
  10. 1 2 "The Football Association". Supplement to Bell's Life in London. 5 December 1863. p. 1.
  11. Harvey (2005), pp. 144-145
  12. "The Football Association". Supplement to Bell's Life in London. 5 December 1863. p. 1. MR CAMPBELL: [...] When the last meeting was held for the express purpose [...] of settling the proposed laws, they ought to have gone on with the rules as proposed by the association, and not taken the course they did as to the Cambridge rules, but the resolution and amendments had been proposed and passed in the way they had been without being properly put to the meeting, because it was found that the "hacking" party were too strong
  13. Young, Percy M. (1968). A History of British Football. London: Arrow Books. p. 136. ISBN   0-09-907490-7.
  14. Harvey (2005), p. 144
  15. 1 2 "The History of The FA". The Football Association. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
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  1. Selected historical laws of the game, hosted by IFAB
  2. 1863 to 1927, hosted by Wikisource
  3. 1933 [note 1]
  4. 1933 [note 2]
  5. 1939
  6. 1960
  7. 1968
  8. 1972
  9. 1996 and 1997 [note 3]
  10. 2001
  11. 2002
  12. 2003
  13. 2004
  14. 2005
  15. 2006
  16. 2007
  17. 2008
  18. 2009
  19. 2010
  20. 2011
  21. 2013
  22. 2014
  23. 2015
  24. 2016
  25. 2017
  26. 2018
  27. 2019
  28. 2020
  29. 2021
  1. pages 72-79 (pages 77-84 of the PDF)
  2. Does not include Decisions of the International Board
  3. Both laws are included in the minutes of the 1997 Annual General Meeting: 1996 laws are at pp. 7-105; 1997 laws are at pp. 106-146