There have been many questions regarding the Laws of the Game, and in particular, Law 12—Fouls and Misconduct. We will continue to answer your questions but let’s discuss “charging”. The Laws of the Game really do not explain what a charge is. One has to remember that the FIFA Law book is written for those that play and referee at the highest level. US Soccer has a better in depth explanation of the individual fouls. Here we will try to outline the differences in what is a charge, how to recognize, when to whistle and what to look for.

What is a charging?

It is one of the 10 Direct Free Kick (DFK) offenses in the Laws of the Game. The laws continue to say that” the act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact within playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows. Soccer is a contact sport and players, coaches, spectators and referees must know this. The question is, what is too much physicality?

What to look for?

A charge can happen anytime there is a challenge for the ball. It can be from the front, the back or the side. Let’s examine each one separately.


A charge from the front is fairly easily recognized. In all of these charging examples we are looking for SPEED, CONTROL OF THE BODY AND DEGREE OF FORCE. A player charges from the front when these are present. The use of the arms is usually not involved in this type of charge but they could be. It is usually a player just running into another player.


A charge from the rear can be slightly different. Yes, we are still looking for SPEED, CONTROL OF THE BODY AND DEGREE OF FORCE, but because of today’s game and the attackers playing back to the goal allow for contact that is not considered a foul for charging. Again, we look at the DEGREE OF FORCE. The interpretation of the Law also states that the attacking player may be charged but not in a violent manner.


A charge form the side is one that most referees get confused about. Shoulder to shoulder contact is legal. Two players trying for the ball may use contact-shoulder to shoulder but not in a violent manner. Violent manner includes the use of arms and or elbows.

How to recognize it?

First we must be prepared—EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. Do not assume nothing will happen. Where is the ball? Where are the closest opponents? What part of the field is the ball located? The referee must be aware of all of these circumstances. When there is a loose ball, or a 50/50 ball, this is where referees must be on “high alert” and expect something may happen. Players will challenge using shoulder to shoulder in situations like this and referees must be aware of the illegal use of arms and elbows.

When to whistle and what to look for?

We have already determined to look for SPEED, CONTROL OF THE BODY AND DEGREE OF FORCE. We have also defined that the use of arms and elbows tell referees that is illegal. What makes the game different for referees is when there are a series of challenges that the referee feels are legal but the players do not. First there is one hard challenge, no whistle, then there is another, no whistle and then BOOM. Referees cannot let things escalate. It is the duty of the referee to control the game. Once there are a series of hard challenges, the referee must be aware AND ready for a harder challenge. Call the foul that has SPEED, CONTROL OF THE BODY AND DEGREE OF FORCE.