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The back-pass rule refers to two clauses within Law 12 of the Laws of the Game of association football. These clauses prohibit the goalkeeper from handling the ball when a team-mate has deliberately "kicked" the ball to him, or handling the ball directly from a team-mate's throw-in. The goalkeeper is still permitted to use his feet and other body parts to redirect the ball.
The actual offence committed is the handling of the ball by the goalkeeper, not the ball being passed back. An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team from the place where the offence occurred, i.e., where the goalkeeper handled the ball. In practice this offence is very rarely committed.
The offence rests on three events occurring in the following sequence:
- The ball is kicked (played with the foot, not the knee, thigh, or shin) by a team-mate of the goalkeeper,
- This action is deemed by the referee to be deliberate, rather than a deflection or a mis-kick which is not intended for goalkeepers direction,
- The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else). Handling the ball involves retrieving the ball or making a save with one or both hands.
As the rule specifically requires that the pass be deliberate and done and through a kick, an infraction would not occur if a player uses their head, chest or knee to make the pass nor would it be an infraction if a keeper recovers a ball that was merely last touched by a team mate. It would however be an infraction if a player was to use a trick to pass the ball to their goalkeeper, such as kicking the ball up and then using their head. If a player were to use such a trick then they must be issued a caution.
The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 to discourage time-wasting and overly defensive play after the 1990 World Cup was described as exceedingly dull, rife with back-passing and goalkeepers holding up the ball. Also, goalkeepers would frequently drop the ball and dribble it around, only to pick it up again once opponents came closer to put them under pressure, a typical time-stalling technique.
Therefore, another rule was introduced at the same time as the back-pass rule, with the same intentions. This rule prohibits the goalkeeper from handling the ball again once he has released it for play. This offence would also result in an indirect free kick to the opposition.
In 1997, the back-pass rule was extended to prevent goalkeepers handling the ball when received directly from a team-mate's throw in.
- fifa.com – Laws of the Game – 1 July 2009 – accessed 11 Jul 2010
- fifa.com – Laws of the Game – 2010/2011, p. 33; 112 – accessed 2 October 2010
- fifa.com – The Laws of the Game – accessed 17 March 2014
- fifa.com – The History of the Laws of the Game – From 1863 to the Present Day – accessed 2 October 2010
- "Goalkeepers are not above the Law". FIFA. 31 October 1997. Retrieved 8 June 2014.