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Laws of the Game (association football)

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Title: Laws of the Game (association football)  
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Subject: Dropped-ball, Association football, Ball in and out of play, The Start and Restart of Play (association football), Indirect free kick
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Laws of the Game (association football)

The Laws of the Game[1] are the codified rules that help define association football. They are the only rules of association football subscribed to by the sport's governing body FIFA. 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 penalise, the frequently misinterpreted 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 the rules of football in England in the mid-19th century. The extant Laws date back to 1863 where a ruleset was formally adopted by the newly formed Football Association. The original Laws were heavily influenced by the Cambridge rules and their early development saw substantial influence from the Sheffield Rules. Over time the Laws have been amended, and since 1886 they have been maintained by the International Football Association Board.

Current laws of the game

The current Laws of the Game (LOTG) consist of seventeen individual laws, each law containing several rules and directions:[1]

Today, the above 17 laws are less than 50 pages of a 140 by 215 mm (roughly A5-size) pamphlet. 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 has long contained 50 pages more of material, organized in numerous sections, that contain many diagrams but did not fit with 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. This section is organized under the same 17 law points, consists of concise paragraphs and phrases like the laws themselves, and adds much clarifying material that previously was only available from National organizations and word of mouth among referees.

Referees are expected to use their judgement and common sense in applying the laws, this is colloquially known as "Law 18".[2]

History and development


Games which could be described in the most general sense as 'football' had been popular in Britain since the Medieval period. Rules for these games, where they existed, were not universal nor codified. A significant step towards unification was the drafting of the Cambridge rules in 1848 – though these were not universally adopted outside Cambridge University. The first and still oldest Football Club was Sheffield FC (founded in 1857), who in 1858 codified the Sheffield rules of football. The Sheffield rules were popular and adopted by several Northern and Midlands clubs.

1863 rules

The original hand-written 'Laws of the Game' drafted for and on behalf of The Football Association by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863 on display at the National Football Museum, Manchester.

The Laws were first drawn up by Ebenezer Cobb Morley and approved at a meeting of the newly founded Football Association (FA) on 8 December 1863. These rules were heavily based on the Cambridge rules which were codified in 1848.[3]

The Football Association Laws of 1863 were published on 5 December in Bell's Life in London for approval. While the game described in the original Football Association Laws is substantially different from the modern game, 1863 is generally considered to be the beginning of modern association football,[4] and the point of divergence of the game from rugby football.

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 the FA in its early years and would later form the Rugby Football Union.

At its meeting on 8 December the FA agreed that, as reported in Bell's Life in London, John Lillywhite would publish the Laws.[5] The first game to be played under the new rules was a 0-0 draw between Barnes and Richmond.[5]

Evolution of the rules

The rules of the game changed over time. Variations between the rules used in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland led to the creation of the International Football Association Board (see below) which governs the rules.

Notable amendments to the rules include:[6][4][7]

  • 1866 – Forward passes are permitted, as long as there are three defending players between the receiver and the goal. This was the first step from a consideration of offside as seen in modern rugby towards the offside rule known in association football today. The fair catch (still seen in other football codes) is eliminated.
  • 1871 – Introduction of the specific position of goalkeeper.
  • 1877 – Full unity with the Sheffield Rules is established – several features of the northern code had been incorporated into the London-based association rulebook over the preceding 14 years.
  • 1891 – The penalty kick is introduced.
  • 1925 – The offside rule is reduced from three to two defending players between the player and the opponent's goal line.
  • 1958 – Introduction of substitutes.
  • 1970 – Introduction of red and yellow cards.
  • 1992 – Introduction of the back-pass rule.
  • 2012Goal-line technology is permitted, if the individual competition wishes to implement it.

Unlike in several other sports, in association football 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.[12]

International Football Association Board

The Laws of the Game are written by the [13]

The first meeting was in 1886, with representatives from the Scottish Football Association (SFA), the Football Association of Wales (FAW) and the Irish Football Association (IFA) (now the governing body in Northern Ireland and not to be confused with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) the governing body in the Republic of Ireland).[14] Previously games between teams from different countries had to agree to which country's rules were used before playing.

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. Today the IFAB is made up of four representatives from FIFA representing their over 200+ member Nations and one representative each from the four associations of the United Kingdom.[13] Because three-quarters' approval[13] (six votes) are required to make any changes to the Laws, no change can be made without FIFA's approval, but FIFA cannot change the Laws on its own.


  1. ^ a b Laws of the game at FIFA website, updated 2012
  2. ^ United States Soccer Federation Inc.,; Michael Lewis (2000). Soccer for dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide.  
  3. ^ "Cambridge... the birthplace of football?!". BBC. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "FIFA – History – the Laws – From 1863 to the Present Day". FIFA. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "The History of The FA". The Football Association. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "150 years of Association Football ~ How the Rules have changed". Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  8. ^ Van Buskirk, Eliot (30 November 2009). "Soccer Resists Instant Replay Despite Criticism".  
  9. ^ Borland, John (19 June 2006). "World Cup soccer loves to hate high tech".  
  10. ^ "FIFA halts instant replay experiment". CBC Sports. 8 March 2008. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  11. ^ "Instant replay may be a good idea, but it's a tricky one – Gabriele Marcotti". CNN. 25 September 2008. 
  12. ^ "Goal-line technology tested at Club World Cup match Sanfrecce Hiroshima v Auckland City". Mail Online. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c "The IFAB: How it works". FIFA. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  14. ^ "The International FA Board (IFAB)". FIFA. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  • The Rules of Association Football, 1863: The First FA Rule Book Bodleian Library (2006)

External links

  • The current Laws of the Game (FIFA Site)
  • Rules & Governance (The FA website)
  • The formation of the Football Association and the First FA Rules from the Association of Football Statisticians at the Wayback Machine (archived June 21, 2006)
  • Q&A Laws of the Game (
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