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The back-pass rule refers to two clauses within Law 12 of the Laws of the Game of association football. These clauses prohibit the goalkeeper from intentionally handling the ball when a team-mate uses his feet to intentionally pass him the ball, or from intentionally handling the ball when receiving directly from a throw-in. The goalkeeper is still permitted to use his feet and other body parts to redirect the ball. Conversely, if an outfield player passes the ball back using any part of the body besides the feet, the keeper may pick up the ball. An unintentional pass or touch is not considered an offence.

The actual offence committed is the handling of the ball by the goalkeeper, not the ball being passed back. An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team from the place where the offence occurred, i.e., where the goalkeeper deliberately handled the ball. If the goalkeeper handles the ball outside the penalty area (whether receiving the ball from a team-mate or not), it is a hand ball rather than a back-pass, and a direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team where the offence occurred.

The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 to discourage time-wasting and overly defensive play, after the 1990 World Cup was described as exceedingly dull, rife with back-passing and goalkeepers holding up the ball. Also, goalkeepers would frequently drop the ball and dribble it around, only to pick it up again once opponents came closer to put them under pressure; a typical time-stalling technique. An example was when Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Pat Bonner kept the ball for over 6 minutes against Egypt, by dribbling it around his box and picking it up again. Therefore, another rule was introduced at the same time as the back-pass rule, with the same intentions. This rule prohibits the goalkeeper from handling the ball again once he has released it for play. This offence would also result in an indirect free kick to the opposition.

If the keeper picked up a back pass in the 6 yard area, it would be a penalty to the attacking side.

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