The IFAB, the eternal guardian of laws
© FIFA.com

FIFA.com explains the history behind the IFAB and reveals the role it has played in the development of the game from its foundation in the late 19th century through to the present day.

The IFAB is born
Comprising two representatives from each of the UK's four football associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the IFAB met for the first time on 2 June 1886. The brainchild of the English FA, the new body was created with a view to drawing up a uniform code at a time when each country applied different rules. Once established as the guardian of the Laws of the Game, the IFAB’s role was to preserve, monitor and study them, and amend them if necessary.

The game of football spread rapidly around the globe in the years that followed, and in 1904 seven nations came together in Paris to found the Federation Internationale de Football Associations (FIFA). In 1906 the former head of the English FA, Daniel Burley Woolfall, succeeded the Frenchman Robert Guerin as FIFA President. The English FA joined world football’s governing body that same year, with FIFA becoming a member of the IFAB in 1913.

Granted four votes, FIFA would enjoy the same voting rights as the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish associations combined, with a three-quarters majority being required in order for a motion to be accepted. 

The Laws of the Game
Offside has without doubt been the most controversial of all laws since the creation of the first set of official rules in 1863. At the time, any player positioned in front of the ball was deemed to be offside. At the end of the 1860s the FA drew up the so-called “three-player rule”, by virtue of which a player would only be ruled offside if there were less than three players situated between him and the goal, an innovation that allowed the game to develop. In 1925 the law was amended to the current two-player rule.

The six-yard box made its first appearance in 1869, followed by corner-kicks in 1872, and the first penalty kick was awarded in 1891. Up until 1902 spot-kicks could be taken from any point along a line 12 yards out from goal.

The decision to prohibit goalkeepers from handling the ball outside the penalty area, taken in 1912, led to an increase in the number of goals scored. And as of 1920 players could no longer be ruled offside from throw-ins.

Slowly but surely, the IFAB was changing both the game and the mindsets of the people who played and watched it. The rule change prohibiting goalkeepers from handling deliberate back-passes, introduced after the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, and the 1998 ruling that red cards be awarded for tackles from behind are good examples of that shift in attitude.

Now well into its second century of existence, the IFAB continues to protect and preserve the game of football, maintaining simplicity as its watchword despite the changing times.