Here is what the Laws of the Games states regarding what constitutes a foul, what an official gives a yellow card for and what constitutes a sending off offence.
You will note that there is nothing that says contact has to be made when serious foul play is involved – and other offences when it comes to that.
What Constitutes a Free Kick Offence?
“A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:
• kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
• trips or attempts to trip an opponent
• jumps at an opponent
• charges an opponent
• strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
• pushes an opponent
• tackles an opponent”
What is a yellow card given for?
A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offences:
• unsporting behaviour
• dissent by word or action
• persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game
• delaying the restart of play
• failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick or throw-in
• entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
• deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission”
What is a red card offence?
A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
• serious foul play
• violent conduct
• spitting at an opponent or any other person
• denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
• denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
• using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
• receiving a second caution in the same match
A two footed tackle would be included under “jumping at an opponent.”
What constitutes serious foul play?
“A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play. A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.”
How does the referee judge whether he has witnessed serious foul play?
“Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play. Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play unless there is a clear subsequent opportunity to score a goal. The referee must send off the player guilty of serious foul play when the ball is next out of play.
A player who is guilty of serious foul play should be sent off and play is restarted with a direct free kick from the position where the offence occurred
(see Law 13 – Position of free kick) or a penalty kick (if the offence occurred inside the offender’s penalty area”
Note – Violent conduct comes into play when a player is not challenging for the ball.
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