It’s called impeding…not obstruction

Posted: November 30, 2013 by thirdblindmouse in Uncategorized
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There are quite a few things that happen in a football match that go uncalled.  For example, many times a goal keeper handles the ball for more than 6 seconds, or a throw in is not taken from the place where the ball left the field of play, etc.  One of the most misunderstood of these is impeding.  That’s right…impeding…not obstruction.  It drives me crazy when players start calling for obstruction.  In my view, every shoulder charge, incidental contact…everything can be considered obstruction which is why it’s called impeding; there is a big difference between the two.

What is impeding and why is it a foul?

FIFA Laws of the Game classify impeding as one of the 4 technical fouls that can be committed by a player, which results in the sanctioning of an indirect free kick:

An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player:

• impedes the progress of an opponent” (FIFA LOTG pp. 37)

But what does that mean?  How do we recognize impeding and when should we call it?

The LOTG go further to explain impeding in the Interpretations and Guidelines section of the law book:

Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the
opponent to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction by an
opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.
All players have a right to their position on the field of play, being in the way of
an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent.
Shielding the ball is permitted. A player who places himself between an
opponent and the ball for tactical reasons has not committed an offence as
long as the ball is kept within playing distance and the player does not hold off
the opponent with his arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the
player may be fairly charged by an opponent.”  (Interpretations and Guidelines, pp. 122)
As you can see, the most important parts to understanding impeding are in bold.  The key to impeding, and what us referee’s should be asking ourselves when we see something that could be impeding is “Was the ball within playing distance?”  Another thought that I like to use is whether the challenge, or impeding motion was similar to that of a “PIC” in basketball.
This is CLEARLY impeding by the green player at the very least (I might have even gone with an unfair charge).  Either way, this referee got it wrong, in my opinion.  The ball was no where near the green player, and he clearly impedes the progress of the white player by deliberately moving into the way of his opponent.
Here’s another example…
There are lots of times during a game where an impeding call can be made however, personally I don’t call it that much.  It has to be blatantly obvious and the  ball needs to be well out of playing distance.  Personally, I like to let the game flow as much as possible so this isn’t something I am much of a stickler for.  Don’t get me wrong, I have made the call and I make this call at least once or twice a season, but it’s not regular occurrence for me.  The most common time you will see this is when a player is shielding the ball from going out of play over the goal line, or when the ball is rolling towards their goal keeper and they don’t want an opponent getting to it.  If the ball is way out of playing distance, I will definitely make the call.  However, it’s close and a 50/50 borderline impeding call, I will warn the player about it first and tell him that it’s not basketball and that PIC’s are not allowed.  They usually get the message the first time.  If not…they will the second time when there’s an indirect free kick against them, within their own penalty area! 🙂
If you have any questions or thoughts about this, please leave them below.
Happy Whistling!
The Third Blind Mouse
  1. I’m not a football ref, just a fan watching the World Cup that had a question about the impeding rule that you didn’t touch on in your post. Further down from the bolded part it says, “A player who places himself between an opponent and the ball for tactical reasons has not committed an offence as long as the ball is kept within playing distance and the player does not hold off the opponent with his arms or body.” Doesn’t this part of the rule mean that impeding can happen inside playing distance? When a player uses his arms and body to prevent an opponent from getting to a ball going over the side or end lines (as most if not all players in the current World Cup have done) that, to me, is a clear impeding foul given the wording quoted above. Am I just reading it horribly wrong or is it called the way it is because that’s just the way it’s always been called?

    • larbitre says:

      You are correct, however the situation changes in a technical aspect. Once a player starts using his arms, it becomes a “holding” offence. This is penalised by a direct free kick, instead of an indirect free kick related to impeding.
      Doesn’t matter how close you are to the ball for holding; it’s still an offence. Impeding can only happen when the ball is not in playing distance.
      Referees at the top level may let a bit/lot of this go to allow the game to flow. Otherwise the entertainment value of the game may be lost a bit in the sense. It’s more about refereeing for the show and not to adhere to every clause in the Law.

  2. Well said L’arbitre!!!

    Jeremy, the part of the law that you are referring to has the word HOLD in it – “…does not HOLD off the opponent with his arms or body.” If a player does do this, and the referee decides to call the foul, then the call is not for impeding, but for holding, which my good friend L’arbitre has already pointed out that the restart would then be a direct free kick for holding, and not an indirect free kick (2-touch).

    The reason you don’t see holding being called very much (if at all) in this type of situation is because as referee’s we want the game to flow as much as possible. Most of the time when a holding like this happens, it’s referred to as a trifling foul (doubtful). This is where there might be a case for a foul but there is some doubt and we allow play to continue. If we didn’t do this, then there would be a whistle blown every 5 seconds and we wouldn’t be a football match. Also, players get really frustrated when every little tiny push and shove are called, which leads to other game management issues…but we will leave that for another day.

    I hope this helps answer your question. Please let us know if you need more clarity or if you have any other questions do not hesitate to ask.


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