As this is my last column for the season, I would like to look forward to the World Cup in Brazil and at changes to Law made at the International FA Board’s annual meeting. But I must first mention one change that hasn’t been made. UEFA put forward a proposal to scrap the sending off when an obvious goal scoring opportunity was denied in the penalty area. I am not a betting man but I would have put money on this being turned down because Sepp Blatter came out against it publically a few weeks before. Remember all changes have to have at least a two thirds majority and FIFA have fifty per cent of the votes at the IFAB. The reason for refusal was quite rightly that it would lead to more cynical fouls if players knew they wouldn’t be sent off.
But what is new in law that we can expect for next season? The answer is very little unless you are Sikh. In this column in March 2012 I reported on two separate uncomfortable incidents for FIFA on the wearing of headwear. First it was 15 year old Sarah Benkinane banned by Canadian football authorities from refereeing in a hijab, which they claimed the Laws forbade as it made a religious statement. Then the Iran women’s football team, which had competed for many years in West Asia tournaments, was banned from the Women’s FIFA World Cup. Not because their headwear was religious but because it was said to be dangerous. After a two year pilot, the Board has agreed that there is no reason why head covers, as they call it, should not be permitted, providing the design meets the requirements of Law 4. So what has this got to do with being Sikh? Although this started with an argument about women’s headwear, the Sikh community in Canada wanted it to include their religious requirement for men to wear turbans. I fancy that what is approved is not the full turban but the ‘abbreviated’ version as worn by Monty Panesar to play cricket.
There is another change to Law 4 and this is regarding player’s undershirts. At present the Law says that players must not reveal undergarments showing slogans or advertising. There must not be any political, religious or personal statements. It will now say that there must be no statements or images at all, other than the manufacturer’s logo. No more ‘Why always me?’ from Mario Balotelli. This is not a yellow card offence but the referee must report it to competition involved.
The Board now has two new panels. The old technical sub-committee becomes the Technical Panel and there is a new Football Panel. Various items have been passed to these panels to act or report on. It seems that I may have innocently set in train one of them. Two years ago the law was changed to say that a goal could not be scored direct from a dropped ball. I asked the FA representative on the Technical sub-committee what ‘direct’ meant in this context. I was told ‘not played by another player’. This was put forward to be incorporated in the law last year but was thrown out. The new Technical Panel will look at ‘direct’ and other words in the laws and produce a glossary for clarification.
Turning to the World Cup this summer, the top referees in the world have already been in training. Seminars have been held to ensure that their interpretations are the same wherever they hail from. They have been told that their number one priority is to protect players from heavy tackling. This message is being sent to all competing nations. Let’s hope it works after the last World Cup’s disgraceful final.