Ball touches match official and goes out of play

A ball touches match official and goes out of play. A referee in Mexican football accidentally blocks a goal-bound shot and then it crosses the goal line, but not between the goalposts. In this case study you’ll get the solution according to the Laws of the Game. Plus there’s an update with a Copa America 2021 situation where a goal is scored shortly after a touch by the referee.

Ball touches match official
Still from the Guardian video, that is embedded below.

Video of the incident

But firstly, I’d love to show you the video and watch the complete situation. Please make your own decision first, before you scroll down to the explanation. As a referee you have to make the right decision in a split-second, so some great practice with this video.

Laws of the Game

The Laws of the Game are clear when the ball is out of play. The law says that the ball is out of play “when it touches a match official, remains on the field of play and:

  • a team starts a promising attack or
  • the ball goes directly into the goal or
  • the team in possession of the ball changes

“In all these cases, play is restarted with a dropped ball.”

Criteria when a ball touches match official

So does this situation meet the criteria? There’s no promising attack after the touch, the ball does not go into the goal and the ball possession does not change. There’s three NO’s there.

And that’s because these things don’t happen when the ball goes out of play, but not into the goal. The first sentence says it only applies when the ball “remains on the field of play” in combination with one of the other criteria.

That means that the correct restart is a goal kick in this situation.

Creating a promising attack?

An incident from the 2021 Copa América where referee Néstor Pitana touches the match ball. Conmebol released the communication between VAR and referee. The outcome is that the touch by the referee did not directly create a promising attack, which therefore means that play should continue.

My question to you: how would you handle? How would you manage this situation?


  • Ref

    Quoting you here: “And that’s because these things don’t happen when the ball goes out of play.”
    Actually not true. When the ball goes into goal it does go out of play. While the intent of the law here is clear, the wording is conflicting.

  • Shem Nyondo

    Wow, learning has really taken place. These ar real game situations that require a quick interpretation of the lotg Within a split- second.
    Thanks so much.

  • Brian Scholz

    Ouch, unfortunate for blue that the referee exhibited poor positioning in this situation. He should be nowhere near the goal area let alone inside the penalty area in this situation.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      You feel so sorry after that. If you enter the penalty area, better from a different angle and not in front of the goal when the ball is still in play.

  • James Keenley

    I love how the announcers laugh when the shot caroms off the referee and across the goal line.

    While the referee was not properly positioned, most fault goes to the blue attacker whose initial shot was an uncontested shot at a wide open goal…and he missed.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Conmebol released VAR communication from that incident (search YouTube). Their reasoning is that the contact by the referee did not initiate a promising attack, as the ball went backwards. In law, a correct decision. Would you whistle in an incident like this to manage the situation?

      • CityGent

        Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when a ball ricochets and in one pass is with a winger in the final third, surely that has to be judged as initiating a promising attack?

        In law, you could justify both – it depends on your definition of initiating a promising attack. But for your match control and credibility. it’s easier to give the drop ball.

        • Alberto

          It’s simple. If Brazil, playing in Brazil, is attacking and the ball hits the ref, then the goal goes. It Colombia is attacking Brazil and the same happens, play is stopped and a ball drop is given to Brazil. You won’t find that in the rulebook, but as John oliver would say: I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it’s true.

  • Alex

    Jan, why this is not a promising attack (mexican game)? If the ref wasn’t there the goal would be scored. Why not dropped ball to blue?

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      The law says that a team “starts a promising attack” due to the touch. THis is clearly not the case, because the ball went out of play after the touch.

      You can clearly say the attacking team had a disadvantage by the referee touching the ball, but the law doesn’t require you to whistle for this. Plus: the law also states that the dropped balls in the penalty area are for the defending goalkeeper, so the attacking team would receive a dropped ball either in that situation.

  • Randall Reyes

    The Copa America situation was handled correctly under the Law by referee Pitana. After the ball hit him and remained on the field:
    * it did not change team possession
    * Brazil did no start a promising attack (the promising attack comes as a result of the next play)
    * the ball did not go into the goal after hitting the referee

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Technically correct, but non-verbal communication (putting whistle to mouth) wasn’t helping there to manage the situation. To avoid confusion, it might be smart to whistle when touching the ball. But then you need to whistle really quickly to prevent problems from the attacking team.

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