Soccer Rules and Regulations: The Complete Guide

Soccer Rules and Regulations: The Complete Guide

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How many times do we see a coach being sent off from a soccer game after complaining to a referee? Sometimes the coach complains because the ref missed a foul, but other times, they disagree with the ref’s punishment for an infraction. The rules are written, and they are the same for every game; the difference is in interpreting those rules. To clear any doubts, here is a complete guide of soccer rules and regulations. 

Every year, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) publishes the new version of soccer rules. As the game evolves constantly, new rules are created, or the old ones are modified to adjust to its evolution. Technology is another factor that forces IFAB’s hand into change; new technologies require new rules sometimes. 

Soccer, the “beautiful sport” as it is known, likes to brag about its fairness. To do so, to keep the game fair, the unification of the rules is vital. Having the same rules for a game in a tiny village in Vietnam and in the World Cup final is IFAB’s ultimate goal, and it strengthens the spirit of soccer fairness. 

Soccer rules and regulations

The field

1. Surface

The surface must be either natural or artificial grass (it depends if the association accepts the use of artificial grass). If the team decides to use artificial grass, it must be green.

2. Field markings

The pitch must be rectangular shaped, delimited through continuous lines made out of innocuous material. The longest sides of the rectangle are the sidelines, the shorter ones are the goal lines. 

The field must be divided into two halves with a line parallel to the goal lines. The line’s width must be consistent. In the middle of the half field line goes the center mark. Around the center mark, it is drawn a 10 yards diameter circle. 

3. Dimensions 

The sidelines must be bigger than the goal line. The sideline must have a minimum of 100 yds and a maximum of 130 yds. The goal line, a minimum of 50 yds and a maximum of 100 yds. 

4. Goal and penalty area 

For the goal area, two lines parallel to the sidelines 6 yards inside the field. They start at 6 yards from the inside of each goal’s post. The two lines are united through a line parallel to the goal line. The penalty area is a bigger rectangle. 

Two lines parallel to the goal area’s side go 18 yards inside the field. They start at 18 yards from the inside of each post. The penalty spot is 12 yards in front of the middle of the goal. Outside the penalty area, an arc with a 10 yards radius is drawn next to the penalty spot. 

5. Goals 

The goal is placed in the middle of the goal line. A goal has two vertical poles and a crossbar uniting them. The posts can be either round, rectangular, or elliptical. The sole condition is they must be safe for the players and manufactured on an approved material. The poles must be separated by 8 yards, and from the floor to the crossbar shouldn’t be a distance bigger than 8 feet. They must be white. If a goal is broken or damaged, the game stops until the goal is repaired. If there is no possibility of fixing it, the game is stopped and suspended. A net must be attached to the goal and the floor behind the goal. 

6. Goal Line Technology 

GL technology acts as a support for the referee. It is a system that informs when the ball has crossed the goal line. The goal lines and the ball are equipped with a sensor that makes the ref’s watch vibrate if a goal is scored. Before a competition starts, the teams must be informed this technology is available. 

7. Video Assistant Referees (VARs) 

Every competition that utilizes VARs technology must have a video operation room (VOR) and a referee view area (RRA). The video operator room is where the video assistant referee (VAR) examines the game through monitors. Only the officials and authorized personnel are authorized to be in the VOR; any team member must be sent off and face disciplinary sanctions. The RRA must be well signalized outside of the field, on one of the sides. No one except the referee in the field can check the video displayed in the RRA.  

Soccer ball regulations

1. Quality and measurement 

Soccer balls must be spherical, made of proper material, and a circumference of 27 to 28 inches. They must weigh 14 to 16 ounces at the start of the match. Any ball used in a FIFA tournament must have the approval mark from either FIFA Quality Pro, FIFA Quality, or International Match Standard. In tournaments with GLT, the ball’s sensor system must also be approved by at least one of the three mentioned above, FQP, FQ, or IMS. 

2. Replacement of damaged ball

 If a ball turns defective, the match is stopped, and the ball is replaced. The ball can be replaced only after the ref’s authorization. 

The players 

1. A number of players 

A game is played by two squads of a maximum of eleven players per side: ten field players and a goalkeeper. If a soccer team has less than seven players before the match, the game is suspended. If a squad has less than seven players during the game after several red cards or injuries, it is stopped, and the other team gets the victory. 

2. A number of substitutions 

In this particular year, FIFA augmented the number of substitutions up to five per team for official competitions. The Federations of each country will decide if they include the five substitutes rule into their tournaments. Before the tournament starts, the Federation must inform the clubs how many substitutes they’ll allow in a match.

3. Substitution procedure 

The referee must know beforehand the names of the substitute players. A player not included on the list previously handed to the ref can’t be part of the game afterward. The referee must be notified before a substitution will be made; then, the referee indicates when the substitution will happen. Players can’t decide when to get in or out of the field. 

The player being substituted must leave the field through the nearest point on the sideline. The player getting in the game must enter through the line in the middle of the pitch. The substitute player must wait for a stoppage in the game; they can only get in once their teammate is out of the field and after the referee give them permission to get inside the field. 

4. Changing the goalkeeper 

Any field player can replace the goalie; the referee must be informed first. 

5. Players and substitutes being sent off

When a player is sent off before the team submits the list of players to the referee, that player can’t participate in the game. After the kick-off, if a substitute is sent off, they cannot be replaced, nor the number of substitutions is reduced. 

6. The team captain 

Captains don’t have any kind of privilege different from the rest of their teammates, but they are responsible for their teammates’ behavior. 

The players’ equipment

1. Safety 

Players can’t wear jewelry. Necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, rubber, and leather bands are forbidden. They can use tape to cover jewelry; otherwise, they must be removed before the game starts. If a referee detects that a player is wearing one of the forbidden items, they must leave the field and remove the object. The player will go back into the field in the next stoppage. 

2. Compulsory equipment 

A player’s required uniform is a shirt with sleeves, shorts, and socks. If the player applies tape or any other element to its socks, the material must match the socks’ color. Shinguards must be made out of proper material to protect the player’s shin, and they must be covered by socks. Goalkeepers can wear tracksuit pants.

3. Colors 

The teams must wear colors that distinguish them clearly. Goalkeepers’ colors must be different from their teammates. Tights must match the predominant color of the shorts or the lowest part of the short. The players of the same team must wear the same color of thighs. 

4. Offenses and sanctions

When a player commits an offense, the game is stopped, and the player is asked to leave the field and correct the equipment. A player who got out of the field to change their equipment must be checked by one of the officials outside the pitch before going inside it again. 

The referee

1. The referee’s authority and decisions 

A referee has full authority to enforce the game’s laws. The decisions will be made by the ref following the game’s spirit, according to their ability to judge the game situations. The ref has the final word in each decision to be made during the game, whether it is if a goal is valid or not, an offside, a foul, a yellow or red card, goal kick, and so forth. 

Their decisions must be respected and obeyed. If the referee realizes that they were wrong after sanctioning a foul, they may not go back in their judgment if the ball is already back into play. However, if the referee observes in the RRA that a red or yellow card was poorly applied after half time, the referee can change a decision about an event that happened before the end of the first half. If a referee gets injured, the game continues with the rest of the officials’ supervision until the ball goes out of play.  

2. Powers and duties 

The referee is the leading authority inside the field. They receive assistance from the rest of the officials. The ref is responsible for controlling the game time, writing down sanctioned players and goalscorers’ names. They are accountable for allowing advantage; this lets the game continue after an infraction that affects a player but not their team in an offensive movement. They must punish serious offenses and dictate the rhythm of the game. They must indicate to the players when to stop and when to start playing. 

Referees are responsible for checking the goals, the field’s condition, and the players’ availability inscribed in the list. They are also accountable to show red or yellow cards to players when they commit an infraction. After the game is over, the referee must send a report to the Association authorities with every game’s incident. If a substitute player or a staff member insults or offend someone in the field, the referee must either sent them off or show a yellow card. If the ref can’t identify the offender, the coach receives the sanction.

The other match officials  

In modern soccer, the match officials can be at least eight. Two assistant referees, the fourth official, two additional assistant referees, a reserve assistant referee, at least one video assistant referee, and one assistant for the video assistant referee. 

Assistants help the referee control the match, following the game’s rules. They can suggest or propose sanctions for the players, but the ref has the last word. In case the officials misbehave or interfere in the game with incorrect conduct, the ref can send them off the game. 

Match officials help the referee inspect the ball’s proper conditions, the field, the goals, the report of substitutions and goals scored, and disciplinary sanctions. If one of the officials need a replacement, the competition rules must be clear about who will replace them. 

The start and restart of the game

1. Kick-off 

Both halves of a soccer match and both halves of extra time are started with a kick-off. The kick-off also restarts the game after a goal. Before the game begins, the referee tosses a coin in the presence of both captains and decide who will have the first kick-off. The winner of the toss chooses whether to take the early kick-off or picks one side of the field to play. For a kick-off, every player, except the one taking the kick-off, must be in their own halves of the pitch. The rivals must be in their half, but outside the center circle of the field. 

2. Dropped ball 

A dropped ball is called by the ref when the game must be stopped for any reason other than a foul or an infraction. For instance, when a player is injured on the floor or when someone from the crowd invades the pitch. When the ball hits the referee, they must also call a dropped ball. In the dropped ball restart, the referee calls a player from each team, ask them to face each other, and drops the ball between them. When the ball touches the floor is on the play, and the players can claim it.  

Determining the outcome of a match

1. Goal scored 

A goal is perhaps the most known rule of soccer. The goal is scored when the ball crosses over (entirely) the goal line under the crossbar and between the poles. The ball must pass the goal line completely; just a fraction of the ball beyond the line is not a goal. If a referee calls a goal before the ball crosses the line completely, the goal is invalidated, and the game is restarted with a dropped ball. Imagine that happening with your favorite team. 

2. The winning team 

At the end of the game, the team who scored more goals is the match-winner. If both teams scored the same amount of goals or failed to score any goal, the game is called a tie. There are three ways to decide a winner in competitions where games can’t end in a tie: away goals, extra time, and penalty shootouts. When tournaments face teams two times in knockout stages, once in each team’s home stadium, the team that scores more goals playing away is the one that advances to the next stage. Extra time is two extra fifteen minutes halves to decide a winner after a tie. And the penalty shootout is 5 shots per team from the penalty spot; the team that scores more goals from the penalty spot is the winner. 


1. Offside position

When a player is in an offside position, the game stops, but the player is not punished. When a player is on the opponents’ half nearer than both the ball and the second-last opponent (the last is the goalkeeper) to the rivals’ goal line, the moment a pass is launched to them, that player is offside. If that player has a part of the head, the body, or the feet beyond that line, it is offside. If the player is beyond that line but behind the ball’s line, that player is not offside. If the player is on the defenders’ same line, it is also not offside.

2. Offside offense

When a player is in an offside position and decides to interfere in the game, an offside offense is called. Interfering in the match not necessarily means touching the ball, putting themselves in a rival’s way, or staying in front of the rival’s goalkeeper to block their vision is considered interfering. In those cases, the ref will call an offside offense. 

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