Philosophy and Spirit

Football is the greatest sport on earth. It is played on every continent, in every country and at many different levels. The fact that the Laws of the Game are the same for all football throughout the world, from the FIFA World Cup™ through to a game between young children in a remote village, is a considerable strength which must continue to be harnessed for the good of football everywhere.

Football must have Laws which keep the game fair – this is a crucial foundation of the ‘beautiful game’ and a vital feature of the ‘spirit’ of the game. The best matches are those where the referee is rarely needed because the players play with respect for each other, the match officials and the Laws.

Football’s Laws are relatively simple compared to most other team sports, but as many situations are subjective and match officials are human, some decisions will inevitably be wrong or cause debate and discussion. For some people, this discussion is part of the game’s enjoyment and attraction but, whether decisions are right or wrong, the ‘spirit’ of the game requires that referees’ decisions must always be respected. All those in authority, especially coaches and team captains, have a clear responsibility to the game to respect the match officials and their decisions.

Poor participant behaviour is an area of great concern, and it is essential that everyone involved in the game be treated with respect. The IFAB has approved the following trials with the aim of improving participant behaviour, which are available to competitions that do not involve teams from the top two domestic levels or senior ‘A’ international teams:

  • cooling-off periods after incidents of confrontation
  • referees being able to establish a captain-only zone to reduce/prevent incidents of players crowding and/or mobbing them

There are also trials:

  • to deal more effectively with goalkeepers who unfairly hold the ball for too long
  • in which the referee announces and explains the final decision after a video assistant referee (VAR) ‘review’ or lengthy VAR ‘check’

The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game and the Laws – this often involves asking the question, ‘what would football want/expect?’


The Laws must also contribute to the safety and welfare of players and it is The IFAB’s responsibility to react quickly and appropriately to support the game’s participants, through the Laws themselves, when the need arises.

Following successful trials, the use of ‘additional permanent concussion substitutions’ has now been incorporated as a competition option in the Laws. This will allow teams to prioritise the welfare of a player who has an actual or suspected concussion without suffering a numerical disadvantage.

Accidents inevitably occur, but the Laws aim to help make the game as safe as possible, balancing player welfare and sporting fairness. This requires referees to use the Laws to deal strongly with those players whose actions are too aggressive or dangerous. The Laws embody the unacceptability of unsafe play in their disciplinary phrases, such as ‘reckless challenge’ and ‘endangering the safety of an opponent’ or ‘using excessive force’.

To promote a greater understanding of the Laws, The IFAB has published ‘Football Rules – simplified Laws of the Game’, which have been written to make the Laws easier to understand, especially for young people, potential or newly qualified referees, adults who referee occasionally, players, coaches (including those working towards a coaching qualification), spectators and the media.

Visit www.footballrules.com to access or download Football Rules, which can be sorted alphabetically or by category.

The IFAB has also produced an audio version of the Laws of the Game, which can be accessed on our website.

Managing Changes

Football must remain attractive and enjoyable for players, match officials and coaches, as well as spectators, fans and administrators, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.

Therefore, for a Law to be changed, The IFAB and all its bodies that are involved in the decision-making process must be convinced that the change will benefit the game; this sometimes means that the potential change needs to be tested and/or trialled.

For every proposed change, the focus is on fairness, integrity, respect, safety, the enjoyment of participants and spectators and, where appropriate, using technology to enhance the game.

The IFAB will continue to engage with the global football community so that changes to the Laws benefit football at all levels and in every corner of the world, and so that the integrity of the game, the Laws and the match officials are respected, valued and protected.


The Future

The IFAB will carry on its work with its advisory panels and its extensive consultation efforts, with a continued focus on player welfare, improving participant behaviour and making the game fairer and more attractive to take part in and watch.

It is also important to maintain the ‘universality’ of the Laws so that young players can watch matches on television and then go out and try to recreate what they have seen.

The IFAB greatly enjoys engaging with people throughout the world and we are always very pleased to receive suggestions or questions relating to the Laws of the Game.

Please continue to send your suggestions, ideas and questions to: [email protected].