I love responding to comments from readers – it’s part of what makes writing a blog fun. But occasionally I find a comment and/or the response warrant a full blown post, so don’t be surprised if you ask an intriguing question and it ends up on Page 1 😀

Recently a parent posted a comment on an old post about slide tackling, wondering when a tackle from behind warranted a caution or sending off:

My daughter (u-12) had a break away and was tackled from behind resulting in a concussion. No foul was called and when I went to league officials they told me that it was not intentional, so it was not a foul. The league told me that there is no such rule stating tackling from behind was a foul. I thought that any tackle from behind was prohibited and normally a red card, am I wrong? Any thoughts on this rule?

This should be fun. Now remember that I am not a certified referee, so take my interpretations with a grain of salt and all of you Grade 8’s and above out there feel free to chime in. But a good reading of the laws provides a pretty clear answer. Clear as mud!

In short, the league officials were right and wrong. IAFB Decision 4 for Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct states the following:

A tackle, which endangers the safety of any opponent, must be sanctioned as serious foul play

There is no talk about intent. Read Law 12 in the FIFA Laws of the Game and advice to referees (Page 55 and beyond) Intent is not brought to bear when the safety of a player is involved. The section above used to be just for ‘tackles from behind’, but they removed it recently to emphasize that direction did not matter. Serious foul play is a sending off offense – period. So the trick is did the tackle endanger the player. The fact that your daughter hit her head so hard makes that pretty obvious. So your league was correct that there is no FIFA rule prohibiting a tackle from behind, but incorrect in saying that intent mattered. Besides – if you take someone down from behind trying to tackle the ball on a breakaway – of course there was intent :)

Now things get fun. In the 2007 Advice to Referees, US Soccer makes clear that committing a foul while tackling from behind is a cautionable offense, even if the ref felt it wasn’t a dangerous play. ANY direct kick foul when tackling from behind (say tripping) is cautionable (yellow). Section 12.28.1 makes it clear:

The following specific actions are considered cautionable as unsporting behavior: A player commits a direct free kick foul while tackling for the ball from behind without endangering the safety of an opponent.

Part C (Serious Foul Play and Violent Conduct) goes even farther:

Referees must be particularly vigilant regarding offenses which are too severe for a caution and which include one or more of the following additional elements: Tackling from behind during which a foul is committed.

But you didn’t mention one thing – when she was brought down, was it really a foul – i.e. did the defender trip her up or did she fall over the ball? If it was ‘all ball’, the current laws make it pretty clear that it’s OK, even if it was from behind. Over at AskTheRef, they seem to agree. But your league’s concern over intent makes it seem like a foul was committed and if so, there certainly seem to have been grounds for a foul or card, even if it was unintentional.

Even worse – if she had a breakaway and was likely to score, an argument could be made that she was denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity and the player should have been sent off for that. But the devil is in the details like was any foul committed or did the referee feel it was a clean tackle and your daughter just tripped over the ball.

So in short your league is right – tackling from behind is not a foul, but committing a foul while tackling from behind, at least in the US, is enough to show a yellow.

What do the rest of you think?