Thursday 23 November 2017

Attempts to clarify laws just muddy the waters

Wording of rule changes will make life even harder for refs and cause confusion among fans

'A penalty can now be awarded against a player who is off the field of play and commits a direct free-kick offence.' (Stock photo)
'A penalty can now be awarded against a player who is off the field of play and commits a direct free-kick offence.' (Stock photo)

Errol Sweeney

Change is inevitable, regardless of what walk of life we participate in, and football is no different. For most of us change can be fearful and, in some instances, frightening. Franklin D Roosevelt, former president of the United States said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) meets once a year to revise laws and make changes where necessary. This board consists of eight members. Four from the so-called home countries - England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - and four from the remaining members of FIFA.

Within that body there are sub-committees made up of experts in their field from across the world of football, including former players, coaches and referees. Their aim is to make the Laws of the Game (LOTG) more simple to understand, to reduce confusion and misunderstandings.

Contradictions and unnecessary repetitions have also been removed. The Laws are now 'gender neutral', reflecting the importance of women in football today.

Two important 'new' sections have been introduced:

•Law changes explained - this section gives the 'old' text, the 'new' text and an explanation for each Law change.

•Glossary - this is a list of definitions of important words/phrases which are sometimes misunderstood and/or difficult to translate.

The revision was undertaken by a Technical Subcommittee of IFAB made up of David Elleray (Project Lead, the IFAB), Neale Barry (the FA), Jean-Paul Brigger (FIFA), Massimo Busacca (FIFA), William Campbell (Irish FA), Ray Ellingham (FA of Wales), John Fleming (Scottish FA) and Fernando Tresaco Garcia (FIFA).

These people were tasked with making the FIFA Laws of the Game easier to understand and, to be fair to them, they did their best. However, in their desire to make things easier, I think they've gone the opposite way.

For example, The Denying Of a Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO) can have two interpretations and, in my opinion, gives some referees a way out of issuing the ultimate punishment - a red card.

The explanation given by the committee says: "When a DOGSO offence is committed by a defender in the penalty area, the penalty kick effectively restores the goal-scoring opportunity so the punishment for the player should be less strong (a YC) than when the offence is committed outside the penalty area. However, where the offence is handball or clearly not a genuine attempt to play or challenge for the ball (as defined in the wording), the player will be sent off."

Another change is to the penalty kick, which will definitely get a lot of referees into trouble. A penalty can now be awarded against a player who is off the field of play and commits a direct free-kick offence.

No, it's not a joke - this is the wording: "If a player leaves the field of play as part of play and commits an offence against another player, play is restarted with a free-kick taken on the boundary line nearest to where the offence occurred; for direct free-kick offences a penalty kick is awarded if this is within the offender's penalty area."

I can see huge consternation when that situation arises. I also wonder how many referees will be brave enough to implement that one.

A third change concerns players who, while taking a penalty kick, feint (stutter) in their run-up. FIFA have moved quickly to clarify this situation.

"Feinting to take a free-kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of the game." However, "feinting to kick the ball (penalty kick) once the kicker has completed the run-up (feinting in the run-up is permitted); the referee cautions the kicker."

So you can "feint" on your run-up, but not as you are about to kick the ball.

I'm sure that's as clear as muddy water to some. It will take a while for the uninitiated to figure it out, so long as the referees are consistent and the commentators and pundits don't make it even more confusing.

All in all, these committees do their best to make the laws clearer and easier to understand. However, I believe that in their haste to show clarity, they actually complicate the situation even more.

It all makes for an interesting time ahead in what the great Pele once called "the beautiful game".

Dr Errol Sweeney is a World Cup referee, coach and mentor

Sunday Indo Sport

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