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What are the rules and regulations of soccer?

The often-questioned offside rule is just one of the regulations that define how soccer is played, but what about the other laws that make up the world's most popular spot? We've got all you need to know to make sure you're never caught out…

How many rules does soccer have?

Firstly, soccer has no rules, they are called laws. The Laws of the Game were first drawn up in 1863, and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) was founded in 1886 to help apply them universally.

The IFAB was founded by the four British football associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and describes itself as "the worldwide body with sole responsibility for developing and preserving the Laws of the Game." FIFA, soccer's global governing body, joined IFAB in 1913, and has four representatives.

What are the Laws of the Game in soccer?

"The Laws of the Game are the same for all football throughout the world from the FIFA World Cup™ Final through to a game between young children in a remote village," states the IFAB, the guardians of the 17 Laws of the Game.

The IFAB insists that the Laws should:

  • make the game as safe as possible
  • make the game attractive and enjoyable for all, regardless of gender, age, race, religion etc.

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What do the 17 Laws of the Game cover?

*The list of subjects covered by each law is not exhaustive

Law 1: The Field of Play - pitch and goal dimensions, field markings, the type of surface, commercial advertising…
Law 2: The Ball - qualities and measurements, replacement of a defective ball, additional balls
Law 3: The Players - the number of players, substitutes, team captains…
Law 4: The Players' equipment - compulsory equipment, colours, other equipment…
Law 5: The Referee - powers and duties, Video Assistant Referee (VAR), referee's equipment, referee signals…
Law 6: The Other Match Officials - assistant referees, fourth official, assistant referee signals…
Law 7: The Duration of the Match - periods of play, half-time interval, allowance for time lost…
Law 8: The Start and Restart of play - kick-off…
Law 9: The Ball In and Out of Play - throw-ins...
Law 10: Determining the Outcome of a Match - goal scored, winning team, kicks from the penalty mark (penalty shoot-out)
Law 11: Offside - offside position, offside offence, no offence, sanctions
Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct - direct and indirect free-kick, disciplinary action…
Law 13: Free-kick - types of free-kick, procedure, offences and sanctions
Law 14: The Penalty Kick - procedure, offences and sanctions…
Law 15: The Throw-in - procedure, offences and sanctions
Law 16: The Goal Kick - procedure, offences and sanctions
Law 17: The Corner Kick - procedure, offences and sanctions

Is there a Law for every situation in soccer?

No. Though the Laws cover a lot of situations specifically, e.g. the penalty kick or throw-in procedure, others are open to interpretation, such as referees deciding what is "careless, reckless or using excessive force" when considering what is a foul.

As the IFAB themselves state: "Referees should apply the Laws within the 'spirit' of the game to help produce fair and safe matches." To explain the 'spirit' of the game, they add, "This often involves asking the question, 'What would football want/expect?'"

Do soccer rules ever change?

The IFAB have, traditionally, been resistant to major changes, but since the 2016/17 revision of the Laws of the Game, they have "started the most far-reaching and comprehensive period of Law changes in The IFAB's history."

The aim of the changes is to "make the Laws clearer, more accessible and reflect the needs of the modern game at all levels."

This has involved allowing changes to be made that do not fit the idea of the universal nature of the Laws, for example, introducing 'sin bins' in youth, veteran and disabled football, or shortening match durations and reducing pitch and goal sizes for young players.

The offside law, for example, has been changed a number of times, in 1925, 1990 and again in 2005. While the outlawing of goalkeepers handling back-passes (1992), the introduction of an automatic red card for a tackle from behind (1998) and the use of goal-line technology (2012) are all examples of significant innovations in the Laws of the Game.

The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in 2018 has been the most radical change to the Laws at the highest level of the game for many years, and - arguably - ever. This means on-pitch referees now benefit from the advice of a colleague, who can watch TV replays of incidents the officials in the stadium might have missed or got wrong.

Watch: How VAR works in the Bundesliga

How does IFAB change soccer rules?

Each of the four British football associations has a vote, while FIFA has four votes. A three-quarters majority is required for a motion to be passed. The IFAB meets annually.