The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is the body that determines the rules and regulation of the game of football. It is a separate body from FIFA, consisting of all the football associations of the countries belonging to the English Isles (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) and FIFA itself. Although FIFA is just one member, it has 50 percent of the voting rights. Two weeks back, the IFAB proposed a few changes to the way the game was played, as part of their ‘Play Fair’ initiative. While taking a conservative approach to change is the usual way for the IFAB, the new proposals are, what many would call, radical.

Some of the proposed changes were:

  • Players can play free kicks to themselves.
  • Goal kicks do not have to leave the penalty area.
  • Free kicks permitted with moving ball.
  • Penalties conceded for handling back-passes.
  • Penalty goals awarded for goal-line handballs.
  • Full-time whistle only when ball is out of play.
  • No follow-ups from penalty kicks.

I would love to discuss every single proposed change, but I’ll stick to the one that caught my attention the most. A proposal that will definitely raise a lot of eyebrows and may never get implemented because if its massive implications on the way the game is played.

60-minute games, with the referee stopping their watch every time the ball is out of play.

Now you know what I mean by radical. The IFAB have proposed the reduction of the playing time from 90 minutes to 60 minutes(30 minute halves). The referees would stop their watch every time the ball goes out of play, thus ensuring that there is no time wastage, something along the lines of Basketball. While this may sound too drastic, it does have a sound logic to back it up. It has been observed that the average playing time during a game of football is more or less only 60 minutes. While time loss during free kicks, throw ins, penalties and goal kicks can be justified, players and managers often employ time-wasting tactics in a match to gain the time advantage. Towards the end of the game, you would have noticed players of the winning side going down far too easily for fouls, which will be followed by a lengthy period of treatment. Winning managers often opt for substitutions during injury time and the players will take their own time before leisurely strolling out, resulting in more wastage of time. The stoppage time added at the end of the match is roughly 3-5 minutes and it definitely does not compensate for all the time wastage. If the timer is stopped as soon as play was stops, it prevents time wasting antics from having any effect on the game and ensures that every second of the match is actually utilized.

Why it will work

Imagine you’re watching a match and the team you’re supporting is down by a goal in the dying stages. Every time the opposition team gets a throw-in, free kick or goal kick, they’ll take their own time to take it and even the injury time added at the end of the game will not be enough. Liverpool fans accused Chelsea players of wasting time to secure a victory in that fateful game (the game in which Gerrard slipped, in case you had doubts) at Anfield. Had this rule been in practice then, Liverpool would have gained a few more minutes to have more attempts on goal.  There is no doubt that many managers and players employ time-wasting tactics to their advantage. What this does is that it ruins the momentum of the game and it tends to make audience bored. If the rule helps to bring about a noticeable change in the player’s attitude, then it will definitely help make the sport fairer and more enjoyable to watch. Substitutions won’t last an eternity anymore, and even if players want to stop the flow of the game, they will not gain any time advantage for it. Sounds fair to me.

Why it won’t

If implemented, what this rule would do is that it removes the whole concept of added time. Games will end when the time comes to a stop and the ball goes out of play. So there will be no more suspenseful waits for the referee to blow the final whistle. While this is not something that affects the quality of the game, it certainly reduces the drama, which is something that makes the sport special. Injury time goals are headlines worthy stuff and come without it, the game might just lose its X factor.

It increases the work for the officials as they have to ensure that the clock is stopped every time the ball goes out of play. Main challenges will be during quick throw-ins and free kicks. Increasing the number of officials is an option, but the extra training and the costs involved will be significant.

When watching cricket on TV, you would have seen commercials being played at the end of each over or if there is an injury on field. The ads affect the experience for the audience as it’s highly likely that you lose track of the game in the midst of all the ads. While I’m uncertain whether this will happen in football, it is possible that TV broadcasters opt to switch to ads when they notice a significant stoppage to the time. For a short and fast game like football, playing commercials in the middle will definitely be a big bummer for fans worldwide.

 

Verdict:

There are quite a few loopholes with respect to this rule, but you can’t argue against the strong logic backing it. It is necessary for the rules to evolve as the sport keeps evolving. Trials are required to determine its success. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing this rule implemented in the future. It’s not perfect, but it’s a positive step in the direction of making the game fair. But the chances of this rule getting a majority vote for implementation are quite low, considering the conservative nature of football’s governing bodies. One can hope, though. 

 

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