Change proposed to denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity

This coming Saturday 3rd March, the International Football Association Board will be meeting in Surrey to discuss possible changes to the Laws of the Game. For those who are not aware of it, the IFAB is the body which makes the laws of football. It consists of a member each from the FA, the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish FAs and four members from FIFA. The Board will be considering no fewer than eight change proposals as well as discussing three other items for which a decision is not required at this time. Possibly the most contentious of the proposals is one which has been recommended by the FIFA Task Force which is a committee representing the various sections of the game. The proposal is for a variation of the law regarding the denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity. This is something for which the European Coaches Association, to which managers like Sir Alex Ferguson belong, has been campaigning for some time. Their concern is what is called the triple punishment, in other words, if a player fouls to deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity, not only is a penalty awarded but the player is sent off which also entails subsequent suspension. They think it is too severe, particularly considering that although one goal scoring opportunity is denied, another is created with the award of the penalty. What we should not forget is the part played by coaches that got us into this situation in the first place. Their view was simple. ‘Don’t worry about giving away the penalty because they would have scored anyway and penalties have been missed’. I’m sure we all remember the example in the last World Cup when Luis Suarez denied Ghana not only a goal but when the penalty was missed, a place in the semi-finals. Of course, it can be unfair at times. I have recalled before Reading’s first game in the Premiership when Ibrahim Sonko slipped and fell on the heels of an opponent who would otherwise have had an uninterrupted passage to goal. He obviously had no intention of bringing the player down but the law does not requite any intent. The Task Force has obviously been aware that if the sending off was removed completely, there would be no deterrent to denying the opportunity. So what is the proposal? Firstly, a player would still receive a red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity if the foul was outside the penalty area. Also the red card would still apply for hand ball and if the scoring opportunity was denied by holding or an offence committed from behind inside the penalty area, when the offender has no opportunity to play the ball. Otherwise it becomes a yellow card. The new part of the law would say, ‘if a player denies an opponent an obvious goal scoring opportunity by a holding or an offence committed in his own penalty area, when he has the opportunity to play the ball, he will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour’. You might, like me, have to read all that a second time to understand what it really means. As well as the other issues a referee has to consider in these situations, such as the direction of play, the likelihood of the opponent keeping or gaining control of the ball, the number and location of the defenders and the direction of play, if this proposal is passed he will also have take into account, did the player have the opportunity of playing the ball. Does that mean if the offender intended to play the ball but instead fouled his opponent? Or, if he could have played the ball but decides to foul the opponent instead, it would lead to a lesser punishment? I think some further explanation will be needed if this is to become law

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