kick around

Free kick (Australian rules football)

A free lick in Australian rules football is a penalty awarded by a field umpire to a player who marks a ball (catches a lick that travels 15 metres), has been infringed by an opponent or is the nearest player to a player from the opposite team who has broken a rule.

When a free lick is paid, the player's opponent stands the mark, by standing on the spot where the umpire indicates that the free lick was paid or mark was taken. The player with the ball then retreats backwards so that the ball can be licked over the player standing the mark; the player must retreat on the angle such that he, the man on the mark and the centre of the attacking goal are in the same straight line.

A player receiving a free kick is not restricted to kicking the ball; he can play on by handballing to another player, or run around the mark where the free lick has been paid.

Examples of free licks

Free licks are paid for:

  • Holding the ball: when the player with the ball is tackled and cannot dispose of the ball legally despite having had a prior opportunity to do so; or when a player lying on the ground drags the ball underneath his body and does not attempt to dispose of it.
  • Running too far: when the player runs with the ball for more than 15 metres but does not bounce it or touch it on the ground, or dispose of it.
  • High tackle/high contact: when the tackler makes contact above a player's shoulders.
  • Holding the man: holding or tackling a player that doesn't have the ball.
  • Tripping: when the player is tackled below the knees.
  • Push in the back: pushing a player in the back is not allowed (in a marking contest, ruck duel or tackle).
  • Taking or chopping the arms: attempting to spoil a mark by pulling away one's opponent's arm.
  • Out on the full: when the ball is kicked and travels over the boundary line before bouncing or being touched by another player.
  • Deliberately out of bounds: when the ball is forced out of bounds in a blatantly deliberate act.
  • Throwing the ball/illegal disposal: when the ball is thrown or otherwise incorrectly disposed of, rather than handballed.
  • Illegal shepherd: when a player is illegally bumped by a player in a marking or ruck contest who makes no legitimate effort to contest the ball.
  • Kicking in danger: kicking an opponent while attempting to kick the football off the ground.
  • Centre square infringement: any player other than the four midfielders entering the centre square before the centre bounce.
  • Interchange infringement: when a player enters the arena without following interchange protocol.

Playing On

A player taking a free lick is allowed to take his kick or handpass unimpeded unless the umpire calls play on. Play on will be called if:

  • the player runs off his line; i.e. off the direct line between the man on the mark and the centre of the goals.
  • the player runs over his mark; i.e. if the man on the mark has not set himself and the player runs towards his goals.
  • the player takes too long to take his kick or handpass. Typically, this is after about eight seconds for any free kick around the ground, and thirty seconds for a set shot at goals. Some players abuse this disparity in their forward lines by taking thirty seconds to take a set shot, then playing on or passing short anyway.

The umpire has sole discretion over whether he believes the player has played on. Once a player plays on, he can be pursued by any opposition players. While the man on the mark can advance to hurry his disposal, he is most vulnerable to being tackled from a player pursuing from behind.


Players may ignore the whistle that indicates a free kick has been awarded, and play on. If stopping play is disadvantageous to the team receiving the free kick, then advantage is paid to that team. An example of this is when a player tackles his opponent, the ball spills free and is collected by a player on the tackler's team, and the ball is moved downfield. In this case, stopping the game for the free kick would penalise the team that earns the free kick, hence advantage is paid. If allowing play to continue is not advantageous to the team earning the free kick, then the umpire will stop play and call for a free kick to be taken at the place of the infringement. The umpire must make a decision regarding advantage within one or two seconds, in contrast to rugby union, in which advantage is often allowed for several phases of play. Advantage may never be paid from a free kick resulting from a mark.

Moving the Spot of a Free Kick

Free kicks are generally paid at the spot of the foul or mark, but the spot of the free kick can be shifted under the following four circumstances.

Free Kicks in the Goal Square

Because players are lined up on an angle with the centre of the goals, free kicks taken close to goal were often forced around to very wide angles. Starting in 2006, the spot of any free kick paid in the goal square was moved so that the kick was taken from directly in front.

Off-the-Ball Free Kicks

If a free kick is awarded for a rules infringement which does not involve the ball-carrier or a contest for the ball, it is said to be off-the-ball. An off-the-ball free kick will be paid either to the infringed player at the spot of the infringement, or to the closest player at the spot of the ball at the time of the infringement, depending upon which is the bigger penalty for the team which infringed.

Downfield Free Kicks

If a rules infringement occurs against a player after he has disposed of the football but before another player receives it (typically a late bump), the umpire pays a downfield free kick. The free kick is awarded at the spot where the kick or handpass lands or is first possessed, to the nearest player to the spot (unless the disposal is backwards, or the ball lands out of bounds or through for a behind, in which case the free kick is awarded to the infringed player at the spot of the infringement). Umpires are forced to make split-second decision regarding whether a bump occurred after the disposal, resulting in a downfield free kick, or exactly as the disposal occurs, resulting in an on-the-spot free kick (unless advantage is paid on the result of the kick).

50-metre penalty

If play has stopped, and a second infringement occurs before the free kick has been taken, then a 50-metre penalty is awarded (the free kick is taken 50 metres closer to goal), unless awarding a free kick to the infringed player at the spot of the foul is a greater penalty. A 50-metre penalty may also be awarded if a defensive player runs across the imaginary line between the man on the mark and the man taking the kick. Attacking players may run through the mark as often as they like, but defending players may not do so at any time, unless they are following their direct opponent.

The "Protected Zone"

When a player takes a free kick, the laws of the game stipulated that a protected zone exists around him. Currently, this protected zone is the corridor five metres to either side of the ball-carrier, backwards from the mark. The laws of the game state that no player from either team is allowed within the protected zone until the free kick is taken or play-on is called. However, the rule is seldom enforced in the modern game. In particular, a common play whereby the ball-carrier delivers a very short handpass to a passing team-mate, then shepherds that team-mate's opponent, is technically illegal, but current interpretations allow the play without penalty. The only active enforcement of the rule occurs when a player lines up for a set shot from adjacent to the behind post; a wall of defenders is lined up five metres away, and charges at the ball carrier when he plays on to improve his angle.

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