There is a famous American idiom that states “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it’. It’s a simple informal saying that, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is said when you recognize that something is in a satisfactory state and there is no reason to try to change it. This saying appears to be lost amongst the members of the International Football Association Board (Ifab) who this week announced their latest list of ideas of how to improve football by developing the laws of the game over the next five years. Under the guise of their overarching strategy entitled ‘Play Fair’, the board have included a variety of suggested changes to tackle “on field issues” with three main objectives – improving player behaviour and respect, increasing playing time and increasing fairness and attractiveness – core to all of their ideas put forward.
The board, which is made up of members of FIFA and the four home nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have proposed a variety of topics for discussion, some of which would require no rule changes and could be implemented immediately whilst others would need to be drawn into the global rules of the game. These suggested changes include:
- A proposal to switch to two 30 minute halfs instead of 45 minutes
- players allowed to pass to themselves at a free-kick, corner and goal-kick
- a stadium clock which stops and starts along with the referee’s watch
- allowing the goal-kick to be taken even if the ball is moving
- a goal-kick being taken on the same side that the ball went out on
- a “clearer and more consistent definition” of handball
- players who score a goal or stop a goal with his/her hands gets a red card
- a keeper who handles a back pass or throw-in from a team-mate concedes a penalty
- the referee can award a goal if a player stops a goal being scored by handling on or close to the goal-line
- referees can only blow for half-time or full-time when the ball goes out of play
- Only captains allowed to speak to referees about decisions
- Adjustments to the order of penalty takers in shootout to make it fairer on both teams
- a penalty kick is either scored or missed/saved and players cannot follow-up to score to stop encroachment into the penalty area
To be fair to the board, some of the suggestions are creditable idea which if implemented could improve the quality of the match day experience not only for the fans but for the players as well. Changes like blowing for half time or full-time when the ball goes out of play will allow the game to flow better, only captains to talk to referees will help with fairness whilst a clearer and more consistent definition of handball is needed given the greyness that surrounds some calls at present (i.e. is it handball if it hits the player’s foot, rebounds and hits the hand at pace?). Others including goal kicks to be taken on the same side as the ball goes out and sending players off who score a goal with their hand be sent off need further discussion and research into whether it’s a growing issue.
However other suggestions are quite simply absurd, namely allowing players to pass the ball to themselves from a free kick, corner or goal kick or my personal favourite reducing the playing time down from 90 minutes total to 60 minutes in an attempt to deter time-wasting. The reasoning behind their logic is that they see only 60 minutes of effective game time at present with teams time wasting for the remaining 30 minutes. Some current and former players are in agreement including Peter Cech and Gianfranco Zola who both feel a reduction in overall time would see an increase in the amount of football played. I would have to disagree though. Football is much like chess, it’s a tactical game where each team is set up in advance with a strategy for attack. That strategy starts from moment one and builds during the course of each half, with often two steps forward and one step back. Reducing the time does not immediately lead to better football nor does it mean that time wasting wont be a factor. That will always be part of the game no matter how long the game is. In addition the move would likely be met with opposition from the fans who already feel short-changed in the stands, paying over inflated prices whilst the clubs they watch get richer and richer. TV viewers will suffer too with more programming stuffed in and around the game (including advertising) rather than less.
I can understand the need for this board to make suggestions and as stated earlier, some proposed changes look promising. But a majority of the suggestions appear to have been done with little thought with more glaring ones ignored. Why not embrace video action replays and goal line technology at all matches or give referees more power/help to control the game through additional off field support. Or introducing bans for player simulation/diving retroactively. Change can be a good thing but in some occasions its better to leave things as they are. It’s human nature to want to constantly improve things but often it’s not needed. When it comes to football, the lawmakers need to involve a wider group including the fans to see if these changes should be made. Only with a consensus will football evolve and continue to be the beautiful game.