This is from rules of FIFA:

"The final list of the 14 players (two of whom shall be goalkeepers) selected to participate in the final competition shall be submitted to the FIFA general secretariat ...

The phrase in question is "two of whom shall be goalkeepers". What does it mean exactly? Two possible options and the difference is really crusial:

1) That there should be no less than 2 goalkeepers. 3 goalkeepers is possible (3+11). One goalkeeper is forbidden - Team needs at least another one in case that the first get injured.

2) That there should be exactly 2 goalkeepers on the team (2+12). It is forbidden if there are 3 goalkeepers on the team.

I personally think that 1) is correct but I'm not 100% sure to tell you the truth.

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    This isn't a question about shall. It's a question about two of whom. – Peter Shor Aug 18 '16 at 14:45
  • Since section 23.1 says "Each Participating Member Association shall submit a provisional list of players (a minimum of two of whom shall be goalkeepers)" and 23.2 says "The final team list of the 12 players (two of whom shall be goalkeepers)", it presumably means exactly two. Otherwise they would have said "a minimum of two". – Peter Shor Aug 18 '16 at 14:49
  • 1) or 2)? What would you choose ? – Neitrino Aug 18 '16 at 14:50
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    In this specific example, it is probably best to define what is meant by 'goalkeeper'. Since, as far as I'm aware, players may swap positions (obviously notifying the officials before they swap the goalkeeper with someone else), does 'two of whom shall be goalkeepers' have any legal meaning? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 18 '16 at 16:04
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    "Two" means "two". It does not mean "2 or more". When you said "Two possible options", did you mean "Two or more possible options?" – Hellion Aug 18 '16 at 16:11

As this is English Language and Usage:

"two of whom shall be goalkeepers" means that two of them must be goalkeepers. It doesn't, in terms of English grammar, say anything about whether or not the others may be goalkeepers.

If you would like to understand how FIFA's rules are applied, I suggest Sports.SE.

If you have a situation where you are being penalised for not meeting a rule which you believe you meet, and you are considering a formal complaint, I suggest Law.SE.

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While two of whom shall be goalkeepers might be ambiguous if it stood alone in a document, the FIFA rules make its meaning clear.

Consider this document (2016 world cup rules).

Section 27.1 says

Each Participating Member Association shall submit a provisional list of players (a minimum of two of whom shall be goalkeepers)

Section 27.3 says

The final list of the 14 players (two of whom shall be goalkeepers) selected to participate in the final competition

If the writers of the rules had intended section 27.3 to mean at least two, they would have used the same wording as in Section 27.1.

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  • I'm not sure that there is a rule stating that a team can't swap their goalkeeper with another player after say ten minutes. If this is still the case*, what does the FIFA use of 'goalkeeper' actually mean? Test cricket teams can certainly include more than one recognised wicket-keeper (though only one may operate as such at any one time). / *It is: 'a keeper may swap places with any of the outfield player[s] as long as it is done during stoppage time' [Football Bible.com]. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 18 '16 at 16:10
  • @Edwin Ashworth: The rules also say: In the event of a goalkeeper needing to be replaced by an out-field player (due to injuries or red cards), each team shall provide a goalkeeper jersey without a number displayed on the back of the shirt in order to distinguish this replacement goalkeeper from the other players. So presumably you can replace a goalkeeper with another player (and vice versa) only in the event of injuries and/or penalties. – Peter Shor Aug 19 '16 at 14:50
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    Which rules? There seem to be different and conflicting lists available. Some may be out-of-date; some may apply only to specified competitions. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 19 '16 at 14:52
  • Actually, you're right ... those were the wrong set of rules. – Peter Shor Aug 19 '16 at 15:08
  • Is any of this relevant, or is this descending into something more suited to Law.SE? About the only relevant thing I can see to English Language and Usage is the implication that the language of the clause is ambiguous. – AndyT Aug 19 '16 at 15:31

"shall" means "must" here, or more precisely "must, according to the rules,".

The use of "shall" to mean "must" is common in regulatory documents: the tone of the document is that they describe a hypothetical situation in which everyone follows the rules.

Similarly the word "will" is often used to describe aspects which are not dependent on the "players", or the people following the rules. It's like a covenant in which the organisers will do some things (eg set up the tournament) and the players shall (choose to) follow the rules.

Here's a document talking about this from the American Nuclear Society (ANS), in which they set out the rules for the use of "shall", "should" and "may".


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  • ANS uses the rules often used in American legal documents, and FIFA is an international organization. – Peter Shor Aug 18 '16 at 15:01
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    I don't see how it can mean anything except "exactly two goalkeepers". – David Garner Aug 18 '16 at 15:09
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    @Neitrino if you want to know what the language means, I think it's been answered as good as you're going to get. If you want some clarification about the actual rules then you should ask FIFA, or ask on a Beach Soccer forum or something. Ultimately, if you turn up with the wrong number of goalkeepers, it doesn't matter what we think about the wording of the rules. – Max Williams Aug 18 '16 at 15:31
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    On reflection, and after talking with a colleague, I'm not so sure, and would accept that without the word 'exactly' it could mean 'at least two goalkeepers'. – David Garner Aug 18 '16 at 16:32
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    Interpreting "shall" to mean "must" doesn't solve the problem. The problem is that "two must be goalkeepers" does not say that "the other twelve must not be goalkeepers." In normal English, this is the implication, but it's not actually logically implied (see this question and other linked questions: 'A / One / At least one student entered the room.' Are these the same? (truth-conditionally)) – herisson Aug 18 '16 at 21:16

The problem appears to be confusion between the attributes of the local label "goalkeeper", which pertains throughout the document, and the global label "goalkeeper", which pertains outside the document. Just change every instance of "goalkeeper" in the document to "poodle". If you need to coordinate goalkeeper with poodle, then spell out exactly how in the front of the doc. After a time, you just automatically start to drop the global labels when you read these kinds of governance documents.

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.

We know which is to be master. From LEWIS CARROLL (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934). First published in 1872.

Maybe an edit will appease the downvoter. What it means is that all future references to "goalkeeper" in the document refer to the two persons declared to be goalkeepers in the final list.

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  • This is indeed a problem with the example chosen. As has been pointed out. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 18 '16 at 21:17

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