Autumn Festivl _ Oct. 23, 2020 (1).png

Laws of the Game



Subbuteo is the greatest table football sport on earth. It is played in every country and at many different levels. The Laws of the Game are the same for all Subbuteo throughout the world from the FISA World Cup™ final through to a game between young children in a remote village.

That the same Laws apply in every match in every confederation, country, town and village throughout the world is a considerable strength which must be preserved. This is also an opportunity which must be harnessed for the good of Subbuteo everywhere.

Subbuteo must have Laws which keep the game ‘fair’ as a crucial foundation of the beauty of the ‘beautiful game’ is its fairness – this is a vital feature of the ‘spirit’ of the game. The best matches are those where the referee is rarely needed as the players play with respect for each other, the match officials and the Laws.

The integrity of the Laws, and the referees who apply them, must always be protected and respected. All those in authority, especially coaches and team captains, have a clear responsibility to the game to respect the match officials and their decisions.


The first ‘universal’ Subbuteo Laws were drawn up in 1947 and in 2017 The International Subbuteo Association Board (The ISAB) was founded by the four British Subbuteo associations (The SA, Scottish SA, SA of Wales and Irish SA) as the worldwide body with sole responsibility for developing and preserving the Laws of the Game. FISA joined The ISAB in 2017 as well.

For a Law to be changed, The ISAB must be convinced that the change will benefit the game. This means that the potential change will usually be tested. For every proposed change, the focus must be on: fairness, integrity, respect, safety, the enjoyment of the participants and how technology can benefit the game. The Laws must also encourage participation from everyone, regardless of background or ability.

The Laws should make the game as fair as possible. This requires players to show respect for their opponents and referees should create a constructive environment by dealing strongly with those whose play is too aggressive and disrespectful. The Laws embody the unacceptability of unsafe within figuring play in their disciplinary phrases, e.g. ‘reckless challenge’ (caution = yellow card/YC) and ‘endangering the safety of an opponent’ or ‘using excessive force’ (sending-off = red card/RC).

Subbuteo must be attractive and enjoyable for players, match officials, coaches, as well as spectators, fans, administrators etc. The Laws must help make the game attractive and enjoyable so people, regardless of age, race, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability etc. want to take part and enjoy their involvement with Subbuteo.

Subbuteo’s Laws are relatively simple, compared to other sports, but as many situations are ‘subjective’ and referees are human (and thus make mistakes) some decisions will inevitably cause debate and discussion.

For some people, this discussion is part of the game’s enjoyment and attraction but, whether decisions are right or wrong, the ‘spirit’ of the game requires that referees’ decisions are always respected.

The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The ISAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, “what would Subbuteo want/expect?”

The ISAB will continue to engage with the global Subbuteo family so changes to the Laws benefit Subbuteo at all levels and in every corner of the world, and so the integrity of the game, the Laws and the referees is respected, valued and protected.


The 2016/17 revision of the Laws of the Game started the most far-reaching and comprehensive period of Law changes in The ISAB’s history. The aim was to make the Laws clearer, more accessible and to ensure they reflect the needs of the modern game at all levels

Many of the changes were the result of suggestions from individuals, groups and national FAs from around the world which were then reviewed by The ISAB’s Subbuteo and Technical Advisory Panels to ensure that all areas of Subbuteo contribute to the evolution of the Laws, as the Laws are for everyone involved in the game, not just the referees.

The changes in recent years have extended many of the principles established in the 2016/17 revision and, as outlined in the ‘play fair!’ strategy, have tried to improve the game’s attractiveness and the levels of behaviour

In August 2018, The ISAB AGM approved use of video assistant referees (VARs). The introduction of VARs has been the biggest revolution in professional Subbuteo for more than seventy five years. Given that it took Subbuteo many years of debate before it took the tentative steps to see if technology could assist decision-making without destroying the game’s almost non-stop flow of action and emotion, it has been a remarkably fast ‘revolution’.

The first VAR match took place in Larisa, Thessalia, Hellas on 25th August 2017 and, remarkably, only 12 months later. VARs will never solve every ‘dispute’, as so many decisions are subjective, but their adoption by most of the world’s major countries demonstrates that Subbuteo believes that VARs bring greater fairness and improved player behaviour

The Law changes for 2019/20 have directly and positively affected the way the game is played and its image, e.g.:

  • there is more constructive play at goal kicks as the ball no longer has to leave the penalty area before it can be played;


  •         attacking players not being allowed into the defensive ‘wall’ has removed the disruption and conflict, which also delayed the kick being taken

  •    the new dropped ball procedure has speeded up this restart and removed the unfairness which used to occur.

The changes for 2020/21 are relatively few and are mostly clarifications, as the major revision of the Laws has been completed. The main changes are:

  • If a penalty kick misses the goal or rebounds from the goal, the goalkeeper is not penalised for encroachment unless it clearly affected the kicker.

  • The goalkeeper is warned for their first offence at the taking of a penalty kick, and then cautioned (yellow card) for any further offence(s)

  • Cautions are not carried forward into kicks from the penalty mark.

  • In VAR matches, there is an expectation that there will be an on-field review if the decision being reviewed is subjective, i.e. the referee will look at the replay footage in the referee review area.

  • The discontinued of “Back” in any form and its replacement with “Free-Flick”.

The ISAB will continue to experiment with significant Law changes and in the coming year, there will be trials of special substitution procedures for a player who has sustained a head injury and may have, or develop, concussion.


The ISAB’s ‘play fair!’ strategy for 2017-24 was established to examine and consider proposed changes to see if they will benefit the game. It has been well-received throughout the Subbuteo world and there has been strong approval of its focus on three important areas:

  • Fairness and integrity

    • will the proposed change strengthen the game’s fairness and integrity on the field of play?

  • Universality and inclusion

    • will the proposed change benefit Subbuteo at all levels throughout the world?

    • will the proposed change encourage more people from all backgrounds and abilities to take part in and enjoy Subbuteo?

  • The growth of technology

    • will the proposed change have a positive impact on the game?

During 2020/21, The ISAB, working with its expert panels, will continue to consult widely on a number of important Law-related topics, including player behaviour and potentially enhancing the role of the captain.

By focussing on fairness, universality and inclusion, and technology, The ISAB will continue to develop the Laws to promote a better game on every Subbuteo field in every part of the world.

The significant Law changes in recent years have begun to make a major contribution to increasing playing time, fairness and the attractiveness of the game. Along with the impact of VARs, player behaviour is also expected to continue to improve. All this will make the game even more enjoyable to play, watch and referee.

The ISAB greatly enjoys engaging with people throughout the world and we are always very pleased and interested to receive suggestions or questions relating to the Laws of the Game. Indeed, many of the recent Law changes have come from suggestions from people from many different parts of the world.

We hope to engage more easily and extensively in the future so please check for details on our website:

Please continue to send your suggestions, ideas and questions to: