This football language post from the languagecaster team explains the often used football phrase ‘by the letter of the law‘. If you have questions or comments, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Football Language: By the Letter of the Law
The game of football is governed by 17 laws published each year by the International Football Association Board, which cover areas such as fouls, free kicks, corner kicks, what players can wear and so on. Under each law, there are many examples and lots of advice on how referees should interpret the laws. Rules regarding offside, what is or isn’t a foul or a dive, what should or shouldn’t be a yellow or red card are often controversial, but players are taught to respect the referee and assistants’ judgements.
There some times when most fans, pundits, and commentators disagree with a decision, believing that the decision may be correct according to the rules written in the Laws of the Game, but appear to be against common sense or the spirit of the game – fair play, rewarding skillful play etc. In this case, you may hear ‘By the laws of the game it was correct, but...’. There is often a ‘but‘ with this phrase and it is used when there is disagreement about the decision. The speaker thinks the laws may say one thing, but common sense disagrees. If you read the rules very closely, letter by letter, word by word, you may find a reason for the decision, but you lose the big picture, what was happening in that game at that time.
Example: According to the letter of the law you can see why the decision was given …But what this incident showed us was the problem with VAR. (A disallowed goal for Ajax vs Real Madrid, Champions League last 16, The Independent February 14, 2019)
Example: Griezmann fell very easily when his heel was clipped. It is a very harsh penalty to give, but by the letter of the law, it is probably a penalty. (BBC June 16 2018 World Cup)