Vanishing spray was first invented in the 1980s, but it wasn’t used in professional football games until the 21st century. The 2014 World Cup is the first time that it’s been used at the tournament. So what is it?
As the name suggests, it’s a spray that is applied and then vanishes. When you watch the World Cup matches, you might notice the referee use it when awarding a free kick. The referee will approach the spot of the ball, spray a semi-circle where the ball is placed behind, walk 9.15 meters (10 yards) and spray another line where the players must stand behind. Once the referee is finished instructing the players, the free kick takes place. After approximately 1-2 minutes, the spray disappears.
The spray helps create a visual marker for both the referee and players. The spray prevents advantages on both sides of the ball. The offensive player will always try to move the ball further forward whereas the defence will try to move up the “wall” to reduce the space between them and the ball. It shows everyone where they must be so there is no confusion and the game can move along efficiently.
The spray is generally only used when it’s close enough that the free kick will be used as an attempt on goal. If the free kick is far enough away from the goal then the referee will probably avoid using vanishing spray altogether. However, this is up to the referee’s discretion.
The spray that is being used at the 2014 World Cup is a patented brand called 9-15 (as a tribute to the 9.15 meter rule). The contents of each can contains water, butane gas, surfactant, and other ingredients. When sprayed, it’s actually small drops of butane covered with water that gets left on the ground. The butane will eventually evaporate only leaving behind water and surfactant. Some people find the use of it controversial saying that it’s the ref’s job to enforce the 9.15 meter rule during the free kick, but supporters say it’s an easy way to help the refs do their jobs while keeping the game as fair as possible.