If you’ve been to a youth soccer match, you may have heard the following yelled by a parent or coach after a goalkeeper is involved in physical play while attempting to gain possession of the ball:
Ref! You’ve got to protect the keeper!
No… actually, I don’t, at least not in this scenario. The keeper needs to learn to protect themselves within the rules of competition.
When it comes to “protection” of any sort, the goalkeeper is exactly like every other player on the pitch, with the only exception noted in the Laws of the Game being in Law 12, under “Indirect Free Kick” where the law states:
A goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hands.
Once the keeper has possession with their hands, then yes, they are free from being challenged, but when the keeper is in the process of challenging to gain posession they have no special protections. If they choose to dive to the ground and get inadvertantly kicked by an attacker playing the ball prior to the keeper gaining possession? That’s a risk of the position. Unless they have clear posession with their hands, the goalkeeper enjoys exactly the same foul protections as any other player on the field.
Soccer is a physical sport that often involves contact, and that is especially true for the goalkeepers. Skilled goalkeepers will learn how to play smart to help avoid injuries.