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.
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. Back-passes with parts of the body other than the foot, such as headers, are not prohibited. 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 the kick is taken from the point on the 6-yard line closest to the point of the offence.
Tricks to circumvent the rule
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.
If a player uses such a trick, they are cautioned for unsporting behaviour, and the opponents are awarded an indirect free kick from where the trick was performed. It is irrelevant as to whether the goalkeeper subsequently handles the ball or not.
The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has provided the following guidance on how this offence should be judged by referees:
— Jim Allen (USSF National Instructor and National Assessor), Ask A Soccer Referee
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.
The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 to discourage time-wasting and unduly defensive play after the 1990 World Cup was described as exceedingly dull, rife with back-passing and goalkeepers holding up the ball. The first games played with the new rule were at the 1992 Summer Olympics. 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 USA were able to score after being awarded an indirect free kick 15 yards from goal.
In 1997, the back-pass rule was extended to prevent goalkeepers handling the ball when received directly from a team-mate's throw in.
The back pass rule is considered one of the most popular and successful rule changes in the modern game.
- "Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct, Section 1 - Indirect Free Kick". IFAB Laws of the Game. 2016. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017.
- "Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct, Section 3 - Disciplinary Action". IFAB Laws of the Game. 2016. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017.
- Allen, Jim (20 June 2011). "The Ball Deliberately Kicked to the Goalkeeper (Yet Again)". Ask a Soccer Referee. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
- ifab.com – The History of the Laws of the Game – From 1863 to the Present Day – accessed 5 November 2017
- Hall, Pete. "The back-pass rule 25 years on - how has the Premier League benefited?". Sky Sports. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- Miller, Nick (18 February 2015). "Who was the last goalkeeper to legally pick up a backpass?". the Guardian. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- Hurrey, Adam (9 August 2017). "The early chaos of the backpass law". ESPN.com. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- "Goalkeepers are not above the Law". FIFA. 31 October 1997. Retrieved 8 June 2014.