Friday, 7 July 2017

Analysing IFAB's June report - the general verdict: Yes!

The report last month by the International Football Association Board on forthcoming trials and discussions with regard to the Laws of the game was met with customary scepticism by an instinctively conservative football press. Change? We can't be doing with that! And yet IFAB has been slated down the years for being exactly that - too stuck in its ways to make anything besides fussy, pernickety adjustments to the Laws that have served to confuse rather than clarify.

Elleray - progressive report (pic: Fifa.com)
All that has changed under the tutelage of former referee David Elleray, who has been prepared to listen and discuss. He sees the need for change, while accepting that this involves a long process of trial and debate. The report contains some excellent suggestions. First, let's take a look at some of the laws that will be tried out in FIFA tournaments and offer simple verdicts - Yes, No or Maybe:

1. Showing the red card (RC) and yellow card (YC) to team officials for irresponsible behaviour.
Verdict: Yes. There is no good reason not to do this. Coaches don't always understand the three-stage system of verbal warnings leading to dismissal. Most have never even heard of it.

"Me? I would
 
never waste time?"
2. A substituted player being required to leave the field at the nearest point on the touchline or goal line (to reduce the time lost/’wasted’ by the player walking slowly to the halfway line).
Verdict: Yes. Again, why not? Every weekend we see foot-dragging as players leave the field, shaking hands with the ref, applauding the crowd and arguing with opponents telling them to get a move on and leave the field.

3. At a goal kick and defending team free kick in their penalty area, the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves, i.e. no requirement for the ball to leave the penalty area before the defenders can play it – this is to encourage a faster and potentially more constructive restart of play.
Verdict: Yes. This will be one of those occasions when people ask, "Why did the old law exist in the first place?" Especially good for very young players who are always hampered and confused by this
unnecessary rule - some of them can't even get the ball out of the area to start with.

4. In addition, FIFA will give referees in their 2017 tournaments clear instructions relating to:
- Mobbing match officials (including captains taking a more proactive and positive role)
- Increasing playing time by a more accurate calculation of ‘additional time’ the goalkeeper holding the ball for more than 6 seconds
Verdict: Yes to both of those, but it needs consistent application at all levels of the game. Usually we see refs being harsh on this kind of thing for a month or two, then it lapses. A clampdown on mobbing has to be penalised harshly over a long period of time until players get the message. With enough red cards, they will.

Now, more contentiously, let's look at the discussion areas:

1. Improving player behaviour and increasing respect:
- Enhancing the role and responsibilities of the team captain Verdict: Maybe. Often the captain, especially at youth level, has no idea of his or her responsibilities. Will require much re-education at grass roots level, but should certainly be a requirement higher up.
Pre-game handshake - nice, but means
fuck all once the game starts.
- Pre-kick off handshake between the referee and both coaches Verdict: Maybe. In the amateur leagues where I ref, a pre-match handshake with players is statutory (though not coaches - I do, however, chat with both coaches and shake their hands). It doesn't really make any difference, though I suppose it doesn't do any harm.
- If a substitute is sent off during a match the team loses one substitution. Verdict: Yes, although I've never sent a sub off in 100s of matches I've reffed, so this would not be a law change that will make much difference.

2. Increasing playing time:
- Increasing the amount of time the ball is in play (effective playing time) Verdict: Yes, of course - see below.
- Linking the stadium clock to the referee’s watch. Verdict: No. I've seen this in college soccer in the US, and there's no doubt it's fairer. The fan in me, though, loves the tension that comes with injury time and not knowing when the ref will blow up. Will also require much expensive time-keeping equipment at amateur level, neutral time-keepers, and inevitable touchline hassle of the latter by coaches and spectators standing nearby.
- ‘self-passing’ at free kicks/corner kicks i.e. the player can play the ball a second time (or more) Verdict: Yes! Give the advantage to the team fouled, and hopefully also help alleviate the hurly-burly and ridiculous amount of shirt-pulling at corner kicks and free-kicks close to the penalty area.  
- Allowing the ball to be moving at goal kicks. Verdict: Yes, and yes again! Refs hate having to enforce re-takes for such a minor infringement that has no effect whatsoever on the game.
- Requiring a goal kick to be taken on the side of the goal area where the ball left the field of play. Verdict: Maybe. Didn't this used to be the law? True, it can be exploited for time-wasting, but sometimes - if the ball went out of play at a particular angle, say - implementing the above could actually take longer than under the current law.

Increasing fairness and attractiveness:
Handball
- Red card for a player who deliberately scores a goal with the hands/arms.
Verdict: Yes. Off you go, cheat.
Cheat. Take a red card, please.
- Penalty kick if the goalkeeper handles a pass or throw-in from a team-mate. Verdict: No. This happens very rarely, and is always a contentious call if it does. It will be even more contentious if the award is a penalty.
Goal awarded if a deliberate handball on the goal line stops a goal. Verdict: Yes. And still show the player a red card.
End of each half not occurring until the ball has gone out of play. Verdict: Maybe. Makes sense, but it's not impossible for the ball to stay in play for several minutes, so potentially a game could last two, three or more minutes longer than indicated for stoppage time.
All penalty kicks to be treated as a Kick from the Penalty Mark i.e. only outcomes are a goal or no goal is scored (restart with a goal kick). Verdict: Please, please - Yes, simplify this Law. If only to stop me getting tripped up by stupid, awkward questions in the monthly online referee tests I have to take and pass with a mark of at least 25 out of 30. There is always a damned question about the correct restart after something theoretically happens at a penalty kick which never, ever happens in an actual game. So, again - Yes!

I am thoroughly encouraged by this initiative and, having been first in line to criticise IFAB for several years now, think that credit is more than due to the Board for its open, innovative thinking. Nice job.

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1 comment:

  1. "1. Showing the red card (RC) and yellow card (YC) to team officials for irresponsible behaviour." At least in the amateur ranks, most coaches do seem to be familiar with Ask-Tell-Dismiss. In fact, the most problematic ones are VERY familiar as they've been dismissed before, often for the same thing--personal, provocative and public comments towards refs. john

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