Back-pass rule

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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 teammate. It is described in Law 12, Section 2 of the Laws of the Game.


Goalkeepers are normally allowed to handle the ball within their own penalty area, and once they have control of the ball in their hands opposition players may not challenge them for it. However the back-pass rule prohibits goalkeepers from handling the ball after it has been deliberately kicked to them by a team-mate, or after receiving it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate.[1] Back-passes with parts of the body other than the foot, such as headers, are allowed. Despite the popular name "back-pass rule", there is no requirement in the laws that the kick or throw-in must be backwards; handling by the goalkeeper is forbidden regardless of the direction the ball travels.

The penalty for the offence is an indirect free kick. This is awarded from the position where the handling occurred, unless it is within the 6-yard goal area, in which case the kick is taken from the point on the 6-yard line closest to the point of the offence.

Tricks to circumvent the rule[edit]

Goalkeepers are allowed to handle the ball if the ball is played back to them by an action other than a kick or throw-in (such as a header), but defenders are not permitted to attempt to use a deliberate trick to pass the ball to the goalkeeper with a part of the body other than the foot to circumvent the rule. This would include flicking the ball up with the foot and then heading the ball back to the goalkeeper, or heading a ball on the ground that would otherwise be regularly playable with the foot.[2][3]

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has provided the following guidance to goalies about when they cannot use their hands on the ball in the penalty area:

The offense 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 teammate of the goalkeeper,
  • This action is deemed to be deliberate, rather than a deflection or miskick, and
  • The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else)

When, in the opinion of the referee, these three conditions are met, the violation has occurred. It is not necessary for the ball to be "passed", it is not necessary for the ball to go "back", and it is not necessary for the deliberate play by the teammate to be "to" the goalkeeper.

— Jim Allen (USSF National Instructor and National Assessor), Ask A Soccer Referee[4]

History and impact[edit]

The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992[5] to discourage time-wasting and unduly defensive play after the 1990 World Cup was widely criticised as excessively dull, rife with back-passing and goalkeepers holding up the ball to waste time.[6] During that tournament, in the Republic of Ireland versus Egypt match, Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner held the ball for nearly six minutes. The last tournament prior to the back-pass rule was UEFA Euro 1992, a tournament where eventual winners Denmark made frequent use of outfield players passing to their goalkeeper who held the ball to waste time.[7]

The first games played with the new rule were at the 1992 Summer Olympics.[8] Early matches with the new rule resulted in some confusion in defences; indeed in the very first game Italy fell foul of the new rule and the United States were able to score after being awarded an indirect free kick 15 yards from goal.[9]

In 1997, the back-pass rule was extended to prevent goalkeepers handling the ball when received directly from a team-mate's throw in.[10]

A goal scored by FC Bayern Munich from an indirect free kick, awarded for a back-pass late in a game between them and Hamburger SV, was decisive in Bayern winning the 2000–01 Bundesliga.[11]

The back pass rule is considered one of the most popular and successful rule changes in the modern game.[6] As well as preventing dull play, it also required goalkeepers to become more proficient with playing the ball with their feet,[12] and has been cited as the start of the evolution of the play-making "sweeper-keeper".[3]


  1. ^ "Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct, Section 1 - Indirect Free Kick". IFAB Laws of the Game. 2016. Archived from the original on 22 November 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  2. ^ "Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct, Section 3 - Disciplinary Action". IFAB Laws of the Game. 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b "The early chaos of the backpass law". 9 August 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  4. ^ Allen, Jim (20 June 2011). "The Ball Deliberately Kicked to the Goalkeeper (Yet Again)". Ask a Soccer Referee. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  5. ^ Archived 19 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine – The History of the Laws of the Game – From 1863 to the Present Day – accessed 5 November 2017
  6. ^ a b Hall, Pete. "The back-pass rule 25 years on - how has the Premier League benefited?". Sky Sports. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  7. ^ "Packie Bonner, Anthony Nash And Others Who Helped Inspire Rule Changes In Their Sport". 2 January 2022. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  8. ^ Miller, Nick (18 February 2015). "Who was the last goalkeeper to legally pick up a backpass?". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  9. ^ Hurrey, Adam (9 August 2017). "The early chaos of the backpass law". Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  10. ^ "Goalkeepers are not above the Law". FIFA. 31 October 1997. Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Fußball-Bundesliga: Zweifel am Meister-Tor". Spiegel Online. 20 May 2001. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  12. ^ Roman Mars (15 October 2019). "Unsure Footing". 99% Invisible (Podcast). Retrieved 30 October 2019.