Touch is a variation of rugby league with the tackling of opposing players replaced by a touch. As touches must be made with minimal force, touch is therefore a limited-contact sport. The basic rules of touch were established in the 1960s by the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club.
Distinctive features of touch football include the ease of learning it, minimal equipment requirements and the ability to play it without fear of major injury. While it is generally played with two teams of six on-field players, some social competitions allow different number of players per team on the field. It is played by both sexes, and in age divisions from primary school children to over-50s. The mixed version of the game (where both male and female players are on the field at the same time) is particularly popular with social players, and it is widely played in schools. There are other versions of Touch that informally are organised.
While it is often claimed that Touch started in Australia in 1963 as a social or "park" game and as a training technique for rugby league, at least as early as 1956, supervised Touch and Pass was already being played at several inner city schools in the North of England, where asphalt playgrounds made normal rugby league too dangerous. Although the rules were set out by the schools' sports teachers, it was not then viewed as a sport in its own right. It was formalised into a sport proper by the "Founders of Touch", Bob Dyke and Ray Vawdon of the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club. On 13 July 1968 the "South Sydney Touch Football Club" was formed and the sport of Touch Football was born. The first actual official game of Touch was played in late 1968 and the first official competition, organised by Dyke & Vawdon, was held at Rowland Park Sydney in 1968. From these humble beginnings the game quickly became a fully regulated and codified sport. It was first played in Brisbane in 1972 and by 1973 there were representative games. It had spread to New Zealand by 1975.
Touch shares many terms in common with rugby league (e.g. onside, offside, intercept). Below are some Touch-specific terms. The list is not meant to be comprehensive, and there are some regional variations.
- Acting Half, or just Half (also informally called Dummy or Dummy Half): the player who receives the ball from the ground following the rollball
- Dump or Quickie: a quick rollball to further attacking opportunities from the ensuing play. At levels above beginners these constitute a high proportion of all touches/roll balls.
- Fade or Drag: an angled run forwards and towards the wing/sideline in an attempt to drag the defenders sideways and potentially open up gaps on the open side.
- Link: The player position between the middles and the wings (the second player from the sideline).
- Mark: The location on the field where the attacking player is at the time of touch, or the position where a tap is awarded as a result of an infringement
- Middle: The player position in the middle of the players (the third player from either sideline).
- Open Side: the side of the ball carrier with the most players.
- Phantom: a defensive player claiming a touch when no touch had in fact been made. Frowned upon by the vast majority of players. A "yes/no" call is also regarded as a phantom. If spotted a phantom call results in a penalty, forced substitution, send off for period of time or most often a send off for the remainder of the game.
- Re-Align: when an attacker moves back into an onside position (behind the ball) after passing or making a touch.
- Rollball: must be performed once a player in possession is touched by the opposition or after a turnover. The rollball is performed by placing the ball on the mark, and either rolling the ball backwards, or stepping forward over it. The ball is picked up by another player on the attacking team (see acting-half). Above a beginner level, players usually never actually roll the ball along the ground.
- Ruck: any attacking move intended to promote the ball down the field rather than specifically result in a touchdown.
- Scoop or Scoot: an attacking move following the dump, whereby a player runs from the half position in an attempt to get past the defensive line.
- Short Side: the side to the ball carrier with the fewest players.
- Snap: to beat (i.e. run past) an opponent by changing direction suddenly.
- Squeeze: a type of zone defence used to force attacking players to move the ball to the wings to gain and/or take advantage of an overlap (by which time the defence should have had time to re-position itself).
- Switch or Cut: an attacking move where the ball player passes to a receiver in the direction that the receiver has come from, as they run angled lines that cross over with the receiver running behind the ball carrier.
- Touch: the main defensive tactic in the game of Touch, similar to a tackle in some other codes of football. It forces the attacking team to stop and restart play (see rollball). A touch is performed by the defensive team on any part of the body or clothing of the current ball carrier for the attacking team, or the ball itself. At the moment of a touch, it is customary (but not mandatory) for the defensive player who is performing the touch to shout "Touch", which alerts both the attacking and defensive teams and the referees that the player has been touched.
- Wing: The player position nearest to each sideline.
- Wrap or Loop: a variation on the switch move involving where the ball carrier passes after the receiver has run behind them to the side that the receiver is running to.
Rules The number of people on a field at one time is 6, but up to 14 people can be on the team. The aim is to get the ball into the touchdown zone and ground the ball, thereby scoring a touchdown.
- Touch balls are oval and slightly smaller than rugby league balls. The official size is 36 cm long and 55 cm in circumference, also sometimes known as rugby size 4.
- Players typically wear light clothing such as T-shirts or polo shirts and shorts. All shirts must be numbered. Women generally wear lycra bike shorts, athletic briefs or swimsuit-style lycra bodysuits.
- Touch must have at least one referee to rule the game but most major games feature one central referee and two sideline referees, who interchange roles repeatedly throughout the game.
- The referee must have a whistle to control the game. The Standard whistle in Australia is the Acme Thunderer 58.5.
Teams are generally split into three positions: two "wings" (the players on either edge of the field i.e. 'right wing' and 'left wing'); two "middles" (the central players); and two "links" (the players between the wings and middles, one on each side of the field i.e. 'right link' and 'left link'). The key roles of the two wings are to score touchdowns and defending so that players cannot score outside of them. The wings are usually the fastest runners in the team, must be reliable catchers and have good anticipation. The key roles of the two middles are to drive the ball down the field and to close down the defense. They are normally the fittest on the team and have fast response and reaction skills. The key roles of the two links are to set up scores and attack moves and to control the defense line. They are usually fast accelerators and must be evasive (fast and agile stepper).
A team normally retains possession for a set of six consecutive touches as in rugby league. Possession (or a Turnover) transfers to the opposing team:
- From the tap for the start of game, or from a penalty, the defending team must be at least 10 metres from point of the tap.
- After making a touch, the defending team must retreat the distance the referee marks, at least five metres from the mark where the touch occurred and stay there until the Half touches the ball, or until the referee says they can 'play on'.
- If a player does not retreat the entire distance the referee marked, they are considered offside. If a player makes an attempt to defend whilst still inside this distance, they will be penalised.
A try is awarded when an attacking player, who is not the acting-half places the ball on or over the opposition's score line. Each touchdown is worth one point.
The Half (or Acting-Half) is subject to a number of restrictions that do not apply to other players:
- If the Half is touched with the ball, the attacking team loses possession.
- The Half cannot score a touchdown. Attempting to do so (even grounding the ball not purposefully) results in a change of possession.
- If the Half takes too long to retrieve the ball the referee can call play on and defenders are allowed to move forward before the Half has touched the ball.
After 2 passes have been made, the restrictions on the Half are lifted.
Play is started by a tap at the beginning of each half, following a touchdown and when a penalty is awarded.
- The tap is performed by an attacking player placing the ball on the ground, touching the ball with their foot, then picking it up and playing. The ball must be released from the hands and come into contact with the ground or a change of possession occurs.
- The defensive team must stay where the referee marks, which is a minimum distance of 10 metres from the mark during the tap, unless they are positioned on their own scoreline.
- The defensive players can move after the ball carrier has touched the ball with his foot.
- The player who has performed the tap may be touched without losing possession.
- The attacking side must be positioned behind the ball when it is tapped.
- The attacking side may move the ball up to 10 metres directly behind the given mark when taking a penalty tap. In this case, the defending side must still remain 10-metres from the original mark, not the new mark.
A penalty is granted to the non-offending team if:
- The ball is passed forward.
- A "late pass" is committed (a pass after being touched). This is often called a "touch and pass"
- A player does not perform the rollball at the mark (overstepping).
- An obstruction is committed.
- A player is offside.
- A defending player does not retreat in a straight line (does not have to be perpendicular to the score line) to an onside position.
- A player acts contrary to the rules or spirit of the sport (e.g. time-wasting, using excessive force to make a touch, phantom touch (calling a touch when they clearly didn't make one), disputing decisions, etc.).
- Substitutions can be made any number of times throughout the match. However, the game remains continuous and does not stop to allow substitutions.
- Players coming onto the field must wait until the player they are substituting with has come off the field. Failing to do so may result in a penalty for an incorrect substitution.
- Players in a team who are not on the field must remain inside their allocated substitution box until they come onto the field.
- There is no limit on how many substitutions can be made per game.
Composition of the teams and replacements
- The teams can be male, female or mixed.
- Each team can consist of up to 14 players, of which 6 players can be on the field at any one time.
- Mixed teams typically comprise 3 females and 3 males on the field at one time. The rules state that no more than 4 and not less than 2 females may be on the field at any one time.
Mode of play
The ball can be passed or knocked (but not kicked) sideways or backwards between teammates who attempt to evade opposition defenders and score tries.
The standard duration is 40 minutes (two x 20 minute halves) with a 5-minute halftime, though other time frames are often used to suit local conditions and competitions.
Scores tied at full-time
In the event of a draw at full-time when a result is required, the teams enter a sudden death "drop-off" to find the winning team.
- A one-minute break occurs before the drop-off commences. Both teams reduce their on-field strength (players on the field) by one (1) player.
- Each team reduces the number of on-field players by one player every two minutes, until they are down to three (3).
- If a team scores from the tap off in sudden death, without the opposing team having had possession, the opposition have one set of six touches to score. If they don't score within those six touches, the game is won by the first team that scored.
- Alternatively, the drop-off will continue until each team is down to three players (in mixed competitions, teams are required to have at least one female still on the field).
- From this point, the game will continue until the next touchdown is scored and the winner is found.
World Rugby, world governing body of the rules of Rugby Union, published in November 2010 a draft of leisure rules of Touch Rugby IRB for developmental purposes. Those Laws were adapted from the FIT playing rules for the sport of Touch.
The document says literally: "Council agreed that these Leisure Rugby Laws are issued as a guide for developmental purposes and Unions are not bound to apply the Laws" and "IRB Leisure Rugby Laws have been designed so that Unions may develop non-Contact Rugby. These Laws have been produced so that there are some guidelines and principles in place for IRB Leisure Rugby. Unions having jurisdiction over their developmental processes, matches, competitions and festivals may need to vary these Laws as deemed appropriate. This allows domestic Rugby clubs to adapt to the FIT playing rules, provided domestic Touch Associations are in agreeance."
The inaugural Touch World Cup was held on the Gold Coast, Australia in 1988. Since then, the event has been hosted in Auckland (New Zealand)(1991), Waikiki Beach (Hawaii)(1995), Sydney (Australia)(1999), Kamagaya (Japan)(2003), Stellenbosch (South Africa) (2007), Edinburgh (Scotland) (2011), Coffs Harbour (Australia) (2015) and Putrajaya (Malaysia) (2019) .
There is a regular program of Test matches between Australia and New Zealand known as Trans-Tasman Tests. Tests are divided into separate events for each age category, being:
- Open (Unrestricted)
- Youth (Under 21)
- Senior (Over 30)
Touch has been played at the Pacific Games since 2003. It is an optional sport for the Pacific Games program and the tournaments include men's, women's and mixed competitions.
The Federation of International Touch (FIT) conducts the European Touch Championships, affectionately known as "The Euro's", biannually.
Touch is a very popular sport at the various Masters Games events.
World All Schools
The World All Schools event attracts hundreds of teams from schools around the world. It is held every 2 years. In 2006 the event was held in Singapore, prior to that it was held in Brisbane. The 2008 event (held in Brisbane after the event was cancelled in New Zealand) was by far the largest, hosting over 250 teams.
Touch is played in every Australian state and territory, and is particularly popular in the rugby league and rugby union strongholds of Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT. There are currently over 400,000 registered Touch players, 500,000 school children, and up to 100,000 casual players playing the sport. The peak governing body is Touch Football Australia.
Prior to 2018, Australia's main domestic competition was the National Touch League (NTL) and Elite 8 Series. Thirteen permits, representing all parts of Australia, compete in open-age, under-20 and over-age (Masters) divisions in men's, women's and mixed categories. The permits have been designed to equalise competition between the traditionally strong Touch states of ACT, Queensland and NSW and the remainder of the country.
School Sport Australia runs the National Championship Tournament and Exchange for Touch every year - the location moves from state to state. Most Australian States and Territories enter Boys and Girls teams in both the High School (15 and under) and Primary School (12 and under) divisions.
Touch Football Australia (TFA) and the National Rugby League (NRL) signed a memorandum of understanding In August 2013, bringing together the two entities under a partnership agreement to develop the sport across both codes. The agreement recognises the similarities between both Touch and Rugby league and that there are significant benefits to both through a dual-track pathway. The agreement resulted in the creation of a unified "NRL Touch Football" brand in Australia, which has since resulted in a major profile and funding boost for the sport within the country, including the signing of a commercial partnership agreement between the two entities and the principle "whole of game sponsor", Harvey Norman.
In May 2018, under the NRL Touch Football partnership, the organisation launched the NRL Touch Premiership, to be played alongside NRL matches by teams drawn from the Elite 8 Series and aligned to NRL clubs.
The Touch Austria Association became an associate member of F.I.T (Federation International Touch) in October 2009 with 3 official member clubs (Touch Rugby Vienna, ACC Touch, Touch Voralberg). 2009 saw the establishment of the Austrian Touch League (ATL) plus the first ever national Touch teams (Mixed and Men's) that competed in the 2009 Mainland Cup. Touch Austria also sends teams to contest regular events in other tournaments in Europe.
Touch has been played in Chile since 1998 by initiative of foreign residents in the country, where Chilean players and teams were added, giving way to the creation of the official body Touch Rugby Chile. Currently in Chile, touch is played in different cities: Santiago: Santiago Touch Rugby league, which brings together 16 teams and played in mixed category. Senior Touch league: which brings together 7 teams, it is played only by men over 40 years, once a month. The league adopted the official Touch rules in 2016, being supported by referees who belong to the Federation of Chile Touch. Schools: It is practiced in several schools where rugby is played. Touch is also developing in regions outside of Santiago like Rancagua and Paine. Chile participates in the following international tournaments: Torneo Trasandino: This tournament has been held since 2014 in the cities of Cordoba, Mendoza and Santiago (three tournaments a year), with the participation of teams from the cities mentioned, plus Rancagua and Paine. USA Touch Nationals & International Club Open. This league is held annually in the United States, with the participation of several states of that nation plus other countries like Chile, which is attending since 2012. Touch World Cup. The last edition was 2015 in Australia. Chile participated for the first time, achieving an outstanding participation: Bronze group winners and ranked No. 13 of the FIT Open Mixed Division.
Touch France is the national association in charge of the development of the Touch in France. The French Men's Over 30s is the first French team to win an international competition by winning the 2012 Euros in Treviso. In the very same category, France Men's Over 30s won a bronze medal in Putrajaya, Malaysia in the 9th Touch Football World Cup.
Touch is played in Germany since 2003 by round about 500 active players. In 2005 the official national governing body Touch Deutschland Sportverein (TDSV) was founded, which is a full member of the FIT and has sent teams to the European Cup and World Championships. Clubs now exist in Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Gießen, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Cologne (Köln), Leipzig, Munich, Osnabrück, Paderborn and Rüthen. The German Championships are held every year since 2005. Record title holder is the club from Munich.
Touch Rugby Italia (TRI) is the official body recognised by FIT for the development of the Touch in Italy. Currently there are 14 teams affiliated to TRI. TRI send regularly national teams to International Events in Europe
Japan Touch Association (JTA) is the official body recognised by FIT for the development of the Touch in Japan. In 2016, there are 32 clubs recognized by JTA, while 55 teams played for Tokyo Touch tournament. Assuming the recognition rate is 40%, it is estimated 2000 active players in 110 clubs.
Touch Malaysia (TM) is the official body for the sport in Malaysia and the Malaysian member of the Federation International Touch (FIT) - the International Federation. A number of touch football teams can be found in Malaysia including the Penang Panthers. The Panthers were founded in 2011 by Christopher Woodhams, a Birmingham born philanthropist and educator. Matt Lee, a star player in Australia, helps run the club. Matt took the Asian Club Championships, held in KL in June 2013, by storm and dominated the opposition with his pace and shrewd passing abilities. The Panthers were the best placed Malaysian team at the Asian Club Championship and were the Men's Masters runners up.
Touch has been played in Scotland since 1991 in informal leagues in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The sport soon spread to Aberdeen with a well established league forming soon afterwards.
In 2005, the Scottish Touch Association (STA) was formally constituted as the governing body to help develop the sport. By 2007 the association had welcomed new participants from Dundee, Perth and Stirling to join existing leagues, held its first formal national championships, trained over 150 referees and won the tender to host the 2011 World Cup in Edinburgh.
Touch Singapore (TSG) is the governing body recognised by FIT for Touch Football. Established in 2017, Touch Singapore hosts two league competitions every year with over 95 teams entering across 12 category divisions. Singapore has won bronze at two Touch World Cups in 2011 & 2015 in the Women's Open category. There are over 5,000 players playing competitively and socially in Singapore with 2,000 registered players in the league competitions. TSG also host the Singapore International Touch Knockout tournament which see clubs from all over Asia competing over a two-day competition.
Touch in South Africa is overseen by the [South African Touch Association, and is often known as 'Six Down'. South Africa has had national representation at all Touch World Cups since 1995. There are already over 6,000 registered players in South Africa.
Touch Switzerland (TS) is the official body recognised by FIT for the development of Touch in Switzerland. Switzerland has competed in all European Championships since 2006 and in the 2007 and 2011 World Cup. Switzerland sends teams to contest regular events in other tournaments in Europe. The biggest accomplishment so far is winning the Mainland Cup in Heidelberg in 2009 — coming third in the Women's Open and first in the Men's Open divisions. As of 2020, there are TS-affiliated clubs in Baden, Bagnes, Basel, Bern, Egg, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, Zug and Zurich.
There are touch communities in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Portland, OR, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, San Francisco, CA, Washington, DC, New York, NY, Chicago, IL, Houston, TX, Dallas, TX, San Diego, CA, West Palm Beach, FL, Boston, MA, and Sandy, UT. The current President of United States Federation of Touch is OJ Hawea.
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