Very often, when a problem presents itself or suggestions to change aspects of the Laws of the Game are put forward, the action of the International Football Association Board is to ask for pilots or trials to be carried out in some part of the game. This has been going on for years. Older members may remember the Watney Cup, a pre-season competition where a line was extended across the pitch from the edge of the penalty area and offside could only be given beyond that line. That and many other ‘experiments’ have failed to get support but one at the last meeting of the International Board will be passed into the laws.
A couple of years ago there were two uncomfortable incidents for FIFA. One featured a 15 year referee in Canada who was prevented from refereeing in her hijab as Canadian footballing authorities felt this contravened FIFA ruling on making religious statements. Then the Iran Women’s football team was banned from the FIFA Women’s World Cup not because their headgear was seen to be religious but dangerous and therefore in breach of Law 4. Trials have been carried out over the past two years and the conclusion has been drawn that there is no reason why players should not wear head covers as they call them, providing they meet the requirements of Law 4 and this will be incorporated in the Laws from the new season. Although this whole trial was based on women wearing ‘head covers’, the Sikh community of Canada asked that it incorporate the wearing of turbans, which are a religious requirement for Sikh men and this has been agreed. There are various types of turbans and quite what the law change will cover we wait see as this could be quite relevant locally as there is a large Sikh community in Reading.
One trial that is taking place locally is that of repeatable substitutes in what is increasingly being termed ‘recreational’ football. Certain competitions in the area have signed up for what is erroneously called ‘roll on – roll off’ substitutes, even by some members of the International FA Board. This experiment was called for by the Football Association in an attempt to stall the decline in eleven-a-side men’s football. The theory is that if a team can have more substitutes and that players who are substituted can go back on to the field later in the game, more people will get to play and more people will want to play. So how is it going? Well reports at the half way stage seem to be upbeat. Clubs and competitions have had to keep records and it is claimed that some teams and competitions which would have disbanded have kept going. Seventy per cent of coaches in the trials report that they have increased their squads and there is said to be an overall increase of eighteen per cent of people taking part in the game.
The other pilot taking place in Scotland is the use of the sin-bin. This is also only being carried out in ‘recreational’ football and this is mainly because this is where it is seen there could be difficulty in its application. The reports have not been so positive. The referee on his/her own, having to cope with the timings of the suspensions and apparently the nature of the game has changed during the periods of the suspensions. The trial still has another year to go so it will be interesting to see what the final decision will be.