Soccer needs two sets of Laws of the Game

I taught a re-certification referee course this weekend. My students were mostly teenagers who had been refereeing for at least one year. We covered the new changes to the Laws of the Game (LOTG). Since 1987, I have been mostly instructing top level referees in Turkey and around the world. Teaching young referees is exciting and also challenging. Especially, teaching a class of new referees whose ages range between 10 and 45 is very challenging pedagogically. I personally would prefer to have a minimum age limit of 13 or 14 for refereeing.

While teaching the re-certification course I noticed two things that I already had faced earlier. The vocabulary of the LOTG is too complicated for the teenagers. For example, nearly 90 percent of the students do not know the meaning of “dissent” or “trifling.” In the information age, they can easily look up the meaning of the words from their smart phones. Although IFAB has “simplified” the LOTG in the last few years, maybe they should reconsider the lexicon of the LOTG.

The other issue was the fact that a good percentage of the new changes to the LOTG were irrelevant for youth or even grassroots soccer.

Let us look at the history of the LOTG. LOTG were written at the end of the 19th century for the “gentlemen” who played the game. There were no youth or women's games then. As the game evolved, so did the LOTG. With more women playing the game, the terminology “ungentlemanly conduct” dropped and “unsporting behavior” emerged.  Even the refereeing attire has changed. We used to wear all black; now U.S. Soccer referees have the option five different colored uniforms. Technology broke into the LOTG. Now LOTG talks about and allows Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS). LOTG allows the referees to use:

• Equipment for communicating with other match officials -- buzzer/beep flags, headsets etc; and
• EPTS or other fitness monitoring equipment.

Why is the spray that is being used extensively in games not mentioned in the LOTG? I do not know. What is ironic, there's a picture preceding Law 5 that has a referee using the spray.

More and more, we see that IFAB is giving more autonomy to the national associations for implementing changes to various laws, especially at the lower echelons of the game.

But one thing is very clear: The current LOTG are written for the highest level of the game. With millions of young players, women players, veteran players and disabled players playing the game, IFAB had to make patches to the LOTG which was not intended for these players to start with.

If you look carefully at the LOTG, you will realize that the patches and LOTG that is intended for the highest level of the game sometimes conflict each other. For example, although LOTG allow return substitution -- for the American reader unlimited substitution -- for grassroots, youth, veteran and disabled soccer, the LOTG always refer to limited substitution. So little nuances of what happens under return substitution is often missed.

Let us look at one concrete example in the new LOTG (2017-2018):

“Goal scored with an extra person on the field of play. If, after a goal is scored, the referee realizes, before play restarts, an extra person was on the field of play when the goal was scored:

• The referee must disallow the goal if the extra person was: a player, substitute, substituted player, sent off player or team official of the team that scored the goal; play is restarted with a direct free kick from the position of the extra person” 

Finding out the extra person is very easy with limited substitution, since the records of the match officials will tell you who the extra person is. But with return substitutions records of substitutions are not kept, so how and who will decide the extra person? Where will the game be restarted? You have to ask this question to IFAB and learn that the restart will have to be at the halfway line where the substitutes enter.

I can bring up a few more other similar examples. The LOTG’s focal point is not the grassroots or youth soccer. Its focal point is the higher levels of the game, namely professional or semi-professional soccer.  I doubt that IFAB would have changed the triple punishment for DOGSO if the objection did not come from the professional leagues.

I personally have no objection to this focal point. Until I moved back to USA, I always dealt with the highest level of the game, and this focal point did not bother me. Dealing with young referees, “unlimited substitution” and small-sided games made me conscious of this situation.

There is a difference between the application of LOTG to the professional game or senior amateur game and youth games also. In youth games -- especially U16 and under -- most of the hand and ball contact is non-deliberate. The young players do not have too much coordination with their arms and hands, so they should not be accountable where their arms/hands should be. On the other hand, professional players should always be accountable for the position of their arms/hands.

Grassroots and youth soccer players will never play on fields which are both artificial and grass, those fields will rarely have commercial advertising on the ground, they will never wear EPTS devices, their undershirts and undershorts might not be the same color as their shirts/shorts, the match officials in such games will never utilize GLT, AAARs or VARs. The list might go on.

To cut the long story short, I believe we need two sets of LOTG: One for the youth and grassroots games and the other for the higher levels of games. (I am hoping that one day IFAB will stop categorizing women’s soccer with youth, grassroots, veterans and disabled soccer.) The first one can be a subset of the second one with an easier to understand language.  The governing bodies of each country can decide which LOTG to apply for their different leagues.

Those two LOTG should not only be different in the letter/content of the LOTG but also they should be different in their interpretations.

The conservatives might find this unnecessary. I would also have found it unnecessary if I were not involved in educating referees for grassroots and youth leagues.

We have to understand that the needs of these leagues and accommodate their needs not with patches but with genuine set of laws designed for those games.

Ahmet Guvener ( is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.
23 comments about "Soccer needs two sets of Laws of the Game".
  1. Bob Ashpole, September 21, 2017 at 11:40 p.m.

    Ahmet, just out of curiosity which language edition of the LOTG did you use in Turkey? I don't like the idea of two different sets of laws, but then I have essentially zero referee experience. (A few AYSO matches as a "recruit" and then even fewer unsanctioned adult matches.) My idea would be to have different presentations for the different audiences about the same LOTGs.

  2. Ahmet Guvener replied, September 22, 2017 at 8:12 a.m.

    The LOTG are taught in Turkish translated from the English edition.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, September 22, 2017 at 6:44 p.m.

    Thanks for the response Ahmet. Clearly you have long experience dealing with the language problems. The Laws are the only time I recall seeing "trifling" used. I had to look it up. I usually say "trivial" when discussing the concept with anyone.

  4. Ed M, September 22, 2017 at 1:12 a.m.

    The Laws are written for the highest level of play.That has been known since the beginning. Knowing and understanding the Laws plus, being trained in how to teach other than the top officials of the world is key. Knowing, for example, your example, what an extra player is and who would be considered an extra player would help any young or new official determine what comes next in a match. There are common sense approaches to much of the allowable modifications such as unlimited substitutions and how an extra player can be determined. Teaching young and new Referees game awareness has nothing to do with reciting the LOTG to them yet still is part of any coursework.
    I don't know any state that allows certification of 10-year-olds and most start at 12 or 14. The maturity level would matter in a course. I have several concerns in what you state both as an instructor and in approach.

  5. ROBERT BOND, September 22, 2017 at 8:44 a.m.

    do you not put it on a computer with circles and triangles?

  6. Jay Wall, September 22, 2017 at 8:57 a.m.

    How about having only one set of Laws of the Game and different levels of certification for progressively higher levels of play. Those sections that apply to a level of certification are taught and the certificate (badge) for that level awarded. As an individual referee moves up to a higher level it's the additional provisions for that level that are added and a new badge awarded. >> The problem with multiple sets of laws is confusion. Also a rush by some associations, leagues and clubs to create their own modified versions of the laws of the game and to teach their referees to use them, instead of a common LOTG that is the same for all. A referee certified to referee at a particular level should be able to referee any game at that level or below anywhere in the world.

  7. Chuck Locke replied, September 22, 2017 at 10:11 a.m.

    Jay, the US already has differing certification for various levels of competition. An entry-level referee, USSF Grade 8 is supposed to work youth games, a Grade 7 is for adult games plus youth. As you progress through the ranks, you work more competitive matches and become certified at the higher grade.
    I don't agree with a separate set of Laws for youth matches, but anyone who applies the LOTG the same way in youth versus high-level adult games is asking for trouble. The concept of trifling changes as the skill level increases as does the amount of dissent tolerated. I have to disagree with Ahmet about those words, they are a vital part of the Laws and taking a minute to explain them to new referees is well worth the time. Increasing their vocabulary as you introduce the concepts is a great way to tie the two together. As for localities modifying the LOTG for their own games, it's already happening and I don't believe IFAB has the time or inclination to stop the practice. The LOTG are written for the highest level and it is our responsibility as instructors to teach how the game is officiated at the various levels.

  8. Michael Canny, September 22, 2017 at 8:59 a.m.

    IF the students you are instructing on't know the meaning of "dissent" or trifling," I see that as a problem with their education, not with the LOTG or IFAB. By the time they can referee soccer, they should know these words.
    I also have found that, in many cases, players DO know what they are doing with their hands and arms. They are often being coached to take actions that are being questionable, or are attempting it themselves. In either case they are trying to see what they can get away with. It is our responsibility as referees to spot the deliberate actions and sanction them appropriately.
    I do NOT want to see "two sets of LOTG." That would be confusing and counterproductive. The US "build out lines" are bad enough.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, September 22, 2017 at 6:46 p.m.

    I have 8 years of higher education and 4 degrees, but I looked up trifling in the dictionary.

  10. Nick Daverese, September 22, 2017 at 9:41 a.m.

    Everything that we are playing to much with the terminology. I don't even like the spray the players know what they are doing. Ask them one to move back they don't book them it usually the same guy that does it,

    I think a big problem is they don't understand what the foul is when the foul happens. In the 1970s when you saw an official point in a direction with both arms pointing. You knew it was an indirect kick two touches. Then you had offside you did not want it to be called before the pass you got off the field and turned your back to the play

  11. Kent James, September 22, 2017 at 9:42 a.m.

    Ahmet, usually I find your articles interesting and inciteful, but this one is a brick. First, "trifling" and "dissent" while not common, are accurate and not difficult to learn. In the US, many referees already have to learn 3 sets of rules (FIFA, College & HS), so adding a 4th makes a bad situation worse. Nothing wrong with referees learning to apply them differently at different levels, since they do that already and changing the rules won't change that. Finally, the example you used, the difficulty of determining who the extra man is when a goal is scored while one team has too many players is not exactly a common occurrence.

  12. Chad Pontow, September 22, 2017 at 9:58 a.m.

    When you think of it, it is surprising that there really is just one set of laws governing all levels the game. I like the idea of a separate simplified version that could be used for amateur matches. Most referees will never work anything but amateur matches so defining a second “simple” version of the 17 rules would appear to benefit the masses. It would also help the coaches and casual fan understand the rules better. As referees move up in grade with experience, they can then learn the additional rules around the higher levels… I also agree that the minimum age should start at 13 or 14. My son and I took the ‘new referee’ course two years ago when he was 12 and I was 44. He barely knew the game as a player so it makes sense to have the minimum age around 13-14 when they have a few more seasons under their belt and can interpret the game better. As a coach taking the referee class was a great experience. Having now ref'd multiple seasons of games I have much more respect for my game referees and find that I am a lot quieter during the game...

  13. :: SilverRey :: replied, September 22, 2017 at 11:09 a.m.

    Honestly, it should be mandatory for all players to take a ref course at some point, to gain some perspective and respect.

  14. Forever Blue, September 22, 2017 at 2:33 p.m.

    Ahmet, a little off topic but what's your take on the goalie that crushed the players face with his knee.
    Curious to know your opinion.

  15. Ahmet Guvener replied, September 22, 2017 at 5:03 p.m.

    If you had asked me this question 20 years ago I would have said no foul, since there was no intention. Now it must be a fouland at leasy a yellow card. Let me make this analogy, if a player slide tackles and cleanly plays the ball with his right foot without touching the opponent but with his left foot he recklessley swings and makes contact with the opponent it is a foul. So...

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, September 22, 2017 at 6:50 p.m.

    Thanks Ahmet for your comment. I think you just made another point about the importance of the language.

  17. Forever Blue replied, September 23, 2017 at 9:38 a.m.

    Thanks Ahmet

  18. Nick Daverese, September 23, 2017 at 2:54 a.m.

    Ahmet on your comment on the slide tackle. There all kinds of slide tackles. If you play the ball with your near foot the foot closest to the dribbler when your chasing the ball towards your own goal, and get the ball and sweep it away to keep the ball on the field. Then get up and win the ball that is not a foul. Remember Bobby Convey he was a small guy that is how he would slide tackle against a bigger guy and he with draw level and sweep the ball with his near foot.

  19. Michael Canny, September 24, 2017 at 10:15 p.m.

    SilverRey, I'd like to make that a requirement for coaches...

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, September 24, 2017 at 11:42 p.m.

    A lot of coaches do have referee experience. It makes sense since a coach is the referee and instructor on the LOTG during training sessions. USSF used to require A license candidates to have at least a Grade 8 referee license and experience. I just checked the website and it is apparently no longer a requirement. I don't know when it changed.

  21. Scott Johnson, September 25, 2017 at 3:40 p.m.

    The Laws, IIRC, already permit all sorts of modifications for youth soccer. Are you suggesting that youth soccer rules should be standardized (as a second or accessory set of Laws, handed down from FIFA) rather than having individual leagues or competitions publish their deviations from the adult Laws? There wouldn't be just one set, there would be many--U9 soccer around here, for example, allows retries on throw-ins, and kids are not issued cards unless they really do something flagrant. OYSA league has unlimited substitutions, USSDA has limited substitions, at the same age levels. I've been to tournaments where the coaching staff had to remind the referees what the tournament rules were (one ref ended the half after 30 minutes even though the tourney called for 35 minute halves).

  22. Ric Fonseca, September 25, 2017 at 7:08 p.m.

    I would be very much against two sets of the LOG. Imagine, I saw my first NCAA championship played in San Jose State (I've completely forgotten who played, could've been Univ SF, or San Jose St, or even UCB, but I don't recall the opponent.) But wait, I digress. Imagine my consternation when I saw the game officials wear stripped shirts, with a beany of a cap, and I believe knickers (now I may be all wet here)and the game was played in quarters. Imagine even more my complete consternation when as a member of the coaching./managerial staff of UCLA Soccer when we went to SIU in Illinois and played in the final vs St. Louis Univ, the two officials wore.... wait, ready? Indeed, stripped jerseys, a cap, and oh Lordy lord, yes played quarters and used the two man system! There's yet another story here, but I will not digress. Imagine when I also refereed high school games in the greater LA area, using a two man system, and the quarter system; and then there was the mandated requirement if your child played ayso, giving the parents a couple of mimeographed sheets on the LOT, heavily abridged, mind you for the little kids who just wanted to be out there, some simply and because their well-heeled parents did not want them to play football, etc. There are some good comments on the current state of the LOT, and I appreciate Ahmet's article, but having two sets of LOT, is simply not warranted or needed, just some folks, men and women, to really understand them, with some or several years of playing experience in order to be able to actually know what it takes to be a player and be subject to rules and reg. Furthermore, as someone said above, I would make it absolutely mandatory that coaches and managers serve as game officials, as center and ARs, even as fourth official or as in Europe, play the end line or goal judges.

  23. Kenneth Goldman, September 28, 2017 at 8:49 a.m.

    I edit the Referees' magazine the "Normidian" and have for some years commented on the fact that the pro game through its business interests was taking the game away from grass roots and parks football where most of the refereeing takes place in England. I agree therefore that there should be two different sets of Laws but as the writer of the article has shown that the Law makers have taken several of the matters into consideration. therefore my agreement is on a limited basis because what I believe should happen is that the Law book should be divided into two with professional football retaining the Laws but at the back all of the modifications for grass roots etc should be in a different section and not muddled as they are now. Incidentally I agree about Women's football and I believe that could be changed as in England it is now proposed that all Women's professional football clubs must be full time.

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