In sports, timewasting (or time-wasting) refers to the actions of one team which expend time, but do not otherwise have a tactical purpose. This is usually done by a team that is winning by a slim margin (or, occasionally, tied) near the end of a game, in order to reduce the time available for the opposing team to score. The term "timewasting" is generally reserved for varieties of football, though the practice exists in many other timed sports, including basketball, gridiron football, and hockey; timewasting in these sports is often referred to as running out the clock.[1][2]

This article refers to timewasting in a sporting context. For wasting time in a more general context, see Procrastination.

Association football

Timewasting in association football consists of two forms, extending the length of stoppages when the ball is out of play, and, while the ball is in play, playing in a way as to keep possession of the ball as long as possible rather than attempting to score. The former should, in theory, be negated by the addition of an equal amount of stoppage time, but teams nevertheless employ a variety of such methods.

Extending the length of stoppages

A common timewasting tactic is to make substitututions late in the game, lengthening the duration of stoppages while the change is made. Players may also feign injury, kick the ball away (now a mandatory yellow card offence), obstruct the taking of a quick free kick by an opposing player, or delay the taking of their own free kicks or throw ins. If the referee considers a delay to be unreasonable, the offending player may be given a yellow card.

Teams have also been accused of timewasting by instructing (or allowing) their ball boys to delay returning the ball for the away team to take a throw in or a corner kick.[3][4][5]

Maintaining possession

A common tactic often involves carrying the ball into the corner of the field and shielding it from the defender. This will commonly lead to a free kick if the frustrated defender budges the player out of the way, or it can also lead to a throw-in by the defender placing a tackle and managing to legally make contact with the ball so close to the line it often rolls out of play. This can be repeated to continue timewasting.

Laws of the Game

Both types of timewasting are generally viewed negatively. Referees are empowered to book players who they feel are delaying the restart of play and several amendments to the Laws of the Game have been made to prevent timewasting.

The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 in order to prevent timewasting by defenders repeatedly passing the ball back to their goalkeeper, who could then would pick it up.

Football referees, the governing body FIFA, and the International Football Association Board are trying to prevent "simulation" (such as diving and timewasting) with more powerful punishments as part of their ongoing target to stop all kinds of simulation in football.[6]

An amendment to the Laws attempting to mitigate timewasting substitutions was made in 2019 — players are now required to leave the pitch at the nearest boundary, rather than making an often long and slow walk back to their teams' technical area.[7]

Other types of football

Timewasting also occurs in other forms of football: In rugby union, it often takes place by one team deliberately collapsing a scrum. The penalty is a free kick, as it is considered a technical offence.

In the National Rugby League (rugby league), anti-time wasting measures include countdown clocks to achieve timely formations of the scrum and execution of line drop-outs,[8] calling of time-off during the last five minutes of the match when a try has been scored, or when a conversion attempt runs longer than 80 seconds.[9]

In Australian rules football, late in a close game players who have marked the ball will often attend to their uniforms such as tucking in jerseys or pulling their socks up along with over zealous stretching in an effort to milk the clock. Players kicking for goal are now given no more than 30 seconds to take their kicks, while in general play they are only given 7 seconds, after which "play-on" is called. According to the laws, wasting time is either (a) a free kick to the opposing team (15.10.1.a), (b) a 50-metre penalty (18.1.b), or (c) a reportable offence if it is judged to be intentional, reckless or negligent (19.2.2.g.iv).

In American Football, teams leading late in the game will often make low-risk rushing plays to keep the game clock counting down, as the clock stops on an incomplete pass or a run out of bounds. This can also force the trailing team to use up their timeouts. If the opposing team has no timeouts, a leading team needs to make one first down after the two-minute warning. The quarterback will then "take a knee" on three consecutive plays, wasting 40 seconds each time, to allow the clock to run out.

Ice hockey

In ice hockey, a leading team may pass the puck to the defense who will then retreat in his zone. During a power play, the shorthanded team will try to ice the puck in order to gain time until the penalty time ends.


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