The Laws of the Game are the codified rules of association football. The laws mention the number of players a team should have, the game length, the size of the field and ball, the type and nature of fouls that referees may penalize, the offside law, and many other laws that define the sport. During a match, it is the task of the referee to interpret and enforce the Laws of the Game.
There were various attempts to codify rules among the various types of football in the mid-19th century. The extant Laws date back to 1863 where a ruleset was formally adopted by the newly formed Football Association. Over time, the Laws have been amended, and since 1886 they have been maintained by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
The Laws are the only rules of association football FIFA permits its members to use. The Laws currently allow some minor optional variations which can be implemented by national football associations, including some for play at the lowest levels, but otherwise almost all organized football worldwide is played under the same ruleset. Within the United States, Major League Soccer used a distinct ruleset during the 1990s and the National Federation of State High School Associations and National Collegiate Athletic Association still use rulesets that are comparable to, but different from, the IFAB Laws.
The Laws of the Game consist of seventeen individual laws, each law containing several rules and directions:
All high-level association football is played according to the same laws. The Laws permit some variation for youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football, such as shortening the length of the game and the use of temporary dismissals.
In 1997, a major revision dropped whole paragraphs and clarified many sections to simplify and strengthen the principles. These laws are written in English Common Law style and are meant to be guidelines and goals of principle that are then clarified through practice, tradition, and enforcement by the referees.
The actual law book had long contained 50 pages more of material, organized in numerous sections, that included many diagrams but were not officially part of the main 17 laws. In 2007, many of these additional sections along with much of the material from the FIFA Questions and Answers (Q&A), were restructured and put into a new "Additional Instructions and Guidelines for the Referee" section. In the 2016/2017 revision of the Laws, the material from this section was folded into the Laws themselves.
Referees are expected to use their judgement and common sense in applying the laws; this is colloquially known as "Law 18".
The laws are administered by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). They meet at least once a year to debate and decide any changes to the text as it exists at that time. The meeting in winter generally leads to an update to the laws on 1 July of each year that take effect immediately. The laws govern all international matches and national matches of member organizations. A minimum of six of the eight seat IFAB board needs to vote to accept a rule change. Four seats are held by FIFA to represent their 200+ member Nations, with the other four going to each of the British associations (the FA representing England, the SFA representing Scotland, FAW representing Wales and the IFA representing Northern Ireland), meaning that no change can be made without FIFA's approval, but FIFA cannot change the Laws without the approval of at least two of the British governing bodies.
See also: History of association football
Further information: Kick-off (association football) § History, Dropped-ball § History, Scoring in association football § History, Determining the Outcome of a Match (association football) § History, Offside (association football) § History, Free kick (association football) § History, Penalty kick (association football) § History, Throw-in § History, Goal kick § History, and Corner kick § History
In the nineteenth century, the word "football" could signify a wide variety of games in which players attempted to move a ball into an opponent's goal. The first published rules of "football" were those of Rugby School (1845), which permitted extensive handling, quickly followed by the Eton field game (1847), which was much more restrictive of handling the ball. Between the 1830s and 1850s, a number of sets of rules were created for use at Cambridge University – but they were generally not published at the time, and many have subsequently been lost. The first detailed sets of rules published by football clubs (rather than a school or university) were those of Sheffield FC (written 1858, published 1859) which codified a game played for 20 years until being discontinued in favour of the Football Association code, and those of Melbourne FC (1859) which are the origins of Australian rules football. By the time the Football Association met in late 1863, many different sets of rules had been published, varying widely on such questions as the extent to which the ball could be handled, the treatment of offside, the amount of physical contact allowed with opponents, and the height at which a goal could be scored.
In 1863, some football clubs followed the example of Rugby School by allowing the ball to be carried in the hands, with players allowed to "hack" (kick in the shins) opponents who were carrying the ball. Other clubs forbade both practices. During the FA meetings to draw up the first version of the laws, there was an acrimonious division between the "hacking" and "non-hacking" clubs. An FA meeting of 17 November 1863 discussed this question, with the "hacking" clubs predominating. The first draft of the Football Association's laws, drawn up by FA's secretary Ebenezer Cobb Morley, reflected this preference, containing many features that would today be considered closer to rugby than association football.[original research?]
A further meeting was scheduled in order to finalise ("settle") the laws. At this crucial 24 November meeting, the "hackers" were again in a narrow majority. During the meeting, however, Morley brought the delegates' attention to a recently published set of football laws from Cambridge University which banned carrying and hacking. Discussion of the Cambridge rules, and suggestions for possible communication with Cambridge on the subject, served to delay the final "settlement" of the laws to a further meeting, on 1 December. A number of representatives who supported rugby-style football did not attend this additional meeting, resulting in hacking and carrying being banned.
Francis Campbell of Blackheath, the most prominent "hacking" club, accused FA President Arthur Pember, Morley, and their allies of managing 24 November meeting improperly in order to prevent the "pro-hacking" laws from being adopted. Pember strongly denied such an "accusation of ungentlemanly conduct". The verdicts of later historians have been mixed: Young accuses Campbell of "arrogance", while Harvey supports Campbell's allegations, accusing the non-hackers of a "coup" against the pro-hacking clubs. Blackheath, along with the other "hacking" clubs, would leave the FA as a result of this dispute.
The final version of the FA's laws was formally adopted and published in December 1863. Some notable differences from the modern game are listed below:
At its meeting on 8 December 1863, the FA agreed that, as reported in Bell's Life in London, John Lillywhite would publish the Laws. The first game to be played under the new rules was a 0–0 draw between Barnes and Richmond. Adoption of the laws was not universal among English football clubs. The Sheffield Rules continued to be used by many. Additionally, in preference of a more physical game with greater emphasis on handling of the ball, several decided against being part of the FA in its early years and would later form the Rugby Football Union in 1871.
Minor variations between the rules used in England (the jurisdiction of the Football Association) and the other Home Nations of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales and Ireland – led to the creation of the International Football Association Board to oversee the rules for all the home nations. Their first meeting was in 1886. Before this, teams from different countries had to agree to which country's rules were used before playing.
When the international football body on the continent FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, it immediately declared that FIFA would adhere to the rules laid down by the IFAB. The growing popularity of the international game led to the admittance of FIFA representatives to the IFAB in 1913. Up until 1958, it was still possible for the British associations to vote together to impose changes against the wishes of FIFA. This changed with the adoption of the current voting system whereby FIFA's support is necessary, but not sufficient, for any amendment to pass.
Notable amendments to the rules include:
The 1938 rewriting of the laws introduced the scheme of 17 named laws that has lasted until today, with only minor alterations. The history of the numbering and titles of the laws since 1938 is shown in the table below:
|1||The Field of Play|
|3||Number of Players||The Number of Players||The Players|
|4||Players' Equipment||The Players' Equipment|
|6||Linesmen||Assistant Referees||The Assistant Referees||The Other Match Officials|
|7||Duration of the Game||The Duration of the Match|
|8||The Start of Play||The Start and Restart of Play|
|9||Ball In and Out of Play||The Ball In and Out of Play|
|10||Method of Scoring||The Method of Scoring||Determining the Outcome of a Match|
|12||Fouls and Misconduct|
|14||Penalty-Kick||The Penalty Kick|
|16||Goal-Kick||The Goal Kick|
|17||Corner-Kick||The Corner Kick|
Each Member of FIFA shall play Association Football in compliance with the Laws of the Game issued by IFAB. Only IFAB may lay down and alter the Laws of the Game.
The PRESIDENT pointed out that the vote just passed to all intents and purposes annulled the business of the evening, whereupon Mr. ALCOCK said it was too late to proceed further, and moved that the meeting do adjourn till Tuesday next, 1 Dec., and it was so resolved.
MR CAMPBELL: [...] When the last meeting was held for the express purpose [...] of settling the proposed laws, they ought to have gone on with the rules as proposed by the association, and not taken the course they did as to the Cambridge rules, but the resolution and amendments had been proposed and passed in the way they had been without being properly put to the meeting, because it was found that the "hacking" party were too strong