Football’s law making body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) made just one change to the Laws at their AGM held in Belfast last week. This ground-breaking change, as the IBFA called it, was to allow returnable substitutes in recreational football, i.e. the lower rungs of the game. Its idea is to stop the decline in adult eleven-a-side football at this level. Personally, I think there are other reasons for this decline but both the English and Scottish FAs claim that their two years experiment has seen an increase in new players and a reduction in those giving up the game. The other proposal, to allow four substitutes in games that went into extra time was surprisingly rejected. The Board said it could see no compelling rational reason to make a change at this time.
What made the headlines however, were two other topics put up for discussion, both of which were again referred for further investigation. First was the use of video support for referees when faced with controversial decisions. It may not be widely known that the Dutch FA have been carrying out private trials, which the board said were interesting but as it would be the greatest change ever to the way the game is played it needed to be done correctly.
The other subject which created hours of heated discussion was the so called triple punishment. This is when a player, who denies a goal scoring opportunity in the penalty area, gives away a penalty, is sent off and faces automatic suspension. UEFA, egged on the European Coaches Association, want the sending off reduced to a yellow card, when the offence is committed in the penalty area.
Before the World Cup in 2010, I think they might have won the day. Remember how in a quarter final, Luis Suarez of Uruguay deliberately handled the ball to deny Ghana a certain goal. This was in the closing seconds of the match and with scores level, had the goal been scored then Ghana would have been the first African nation to have reached a World Cup semi-final. As it was the penalty was missed and Uruguay won the game on penalties. This was seen by many as a massive injustice.
The International Board rejected the UEFA request to replace the red card with a yellow one as this would greatly dilute the deterrent for players to bring down their opponent in a goal scoring position. This has greatly annoyed UEFA officials but it has to be the right decision. On BBC‘s Match of the Day this season, former professional players now acting as pundits, have either praised a player for acting illegally to prevent an opposition attack, or denounced another for not doing so. OK so it’s a yellow card but what’s a yellow card was their attitude. Imagine if the punishment for denying a goal scoring opportunity in the penalty area was only a yellow card, players would have no compunction in doing so and would be roundly criticised by their coaches if they didn’t. UEFA say that the mandatory sending off is having a killing effect on the game but what is more ‘killing’ than preventing goals, the lifeblood of the game, by illegal means.
The IFAB have said that they concede the punishment is too harsh but rather than removing the punishment of a penalty and a red card, would look at the automatic suspension if the act of denying is not a serious infringement. What does that mean? If we have to have a change, then this is least damaging but personally, I am against any change, as this is one occasion when payers know if they cheat, they will unambiguously be treated harshly.