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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 intentionally "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 and intentional, 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.
There are some very important exceptions to the back-pass rule. If a player uses his head, chest or knee to pass the ball back to his goalkeeper, the goalkeeper can pick up the ball. The goalkeeper can also pick up the ball if a team-mate passes it to him by accident. For example, a defender might slice or scuff his clearance, accidentally kicking the ball towards the goalkeeper. In this case, the goalkeeper can pick up the ball.
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.
After his team conceded a comical goal from a back-pass situation in November 2011, Stoke chairman Peter Coates said that "that part of the rule book is virtually not operated any more. I can't remember the last time I saw a free-kick given for a back-pass to the goalkeeper, it's that long ago. It's been ignored, quite rightly."
- 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 History of the Laws of the Game – From 1863 to the Present Day – accessed 2 October 2010
- "Peter Coates criticises Howard Webb's display at Bolton". BBC Sport. 9 November 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011.