Seeking a new version of IFAB, and an alternative to the shootout

By Paul Gardner

There has been some encouragement recently for those of us who think the time has come, is really way past due, when there should be some radical changes in soccer’s rules, and in the way that those rules are formulated.

Firstly, there was FIFA president Sepp Blatter launching a broadside against the use of the shootout as a tiebreaker. Likening the shootout to “a tragedy,” Blatter said that soccer “loses its essence” when matches are settled by penalty kicks. Soccer “should not go to one-to-one, because when it goes to penalty kicks, it loses its essence as a team sport.” Soccer games, he declared, should be decided “11 vs 11.”

A few days later we heard from Theo Zwanziger, formerly head of the German soccer federation, now the head of a special FIFA committee appointed to suggest changes to the FIFA statutes. Zwanziger let it be known that he had been considering the abolishment of the International Football Association Board, the ancient body that, for the past 126 years, has been in charge of deciding exactly what the sport’s rules should say.

As a convinced anti-shootoutist, and an equally devout anti-IFABist I applaud both Blatter and Zwanziger. But I do so while wondering whether anything will come of their words. This is not the first time that Blatter has pilloried the shootout. He did so in 2006, in much the same terms, right after the World Cup final in which Italy had beaten France in a shootout.

At that time he said that “a replay, or gradually deducting players in extra time and playing golden goal” would be better solutions. He evidently wanted change before the 2010 World Cup: "We have four years or so, so I think we have time," he said, and asserted that high-level discussions would start soon.

I’m not aware of any such discussions, and the topic simply melted away. Until another high-profile shootout - Chelsea’s recent win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final -- triggered Blatter to open fire again.

This time, Blatter repeated his belief that shootouts destroyed the team essence of the game, but made no suggestions about possible alternatives -- he referred the matter to Franz Beckenbauer, the chairman of Task Force Football 2014, yet another committee devoted to making the sport better: “Perhaps Franz Beckenbauer with his Football 2014 group can present us with a solution, if not today then tomorrow.”

Sadly, as happens so frequently with any attempt to change things in soccer, Blatter’s notion met with immediate rejection. From Beckenbauer, who remarked that shootouts “bring emotions into play and are a lot more attractive than the toss of a coin, for example”. 

No doubt they are, but it is sad to see Beckenbauer so quickly and so vigorously refuting a threadbare solution that no one is advocating.

The quick demise of a good idea seemed also to be the story of Zwanziger’s thoughts about abolishing IFAB. “It looks like IFAB will continue,” is the latest from Zwanziger. “We initially considered dissolving it but now IFAB, which has historic and important values, will be preserved.”

No mention of what those “important values” might be. But at least there may be an attempt to diversify the IFAB membership (at the moment, half of its eight members have to be Brits). A new IFAB could also include representatives of the media or technical specialists from soccer, Zwanziger added.

Which leaves me wondering whether Zwanziger is dissembling about the continuation of IFAB. What he is advocating seems to me to be a totally new body -- but one which will retain the IFAB name. I suggested something very similar back in 2006, and if that now comes to pass, well, six years qualifies as prompt action on the IFAB time scale.

What I was looking for was this: a goodbye to the idea that preserving a structure that dates from 1886 continues to serve a useful purpose. It does not -- in fact, it is an obstruction to progress. The abolishment, then, of IFAB. Its replacement by a full-time body whose membership reflects the worldwide game. At the moment, to highlight a massive absurdity, there is absolutely no guarantee that any of the four FIFA members on IFAB will be from South America ... while Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland are each assured of a vote.

The new body would have a larger and more expert membership and, as far as I can make out, that seems to be what Zwanziger is aiming for. One aspect that Zwanziger does not deal with, though, is transparency.

It is traditional in soccer to surround referee activities with secrecy. Referees do not have to signal what calls they are making (indeed, there isn’t even an agreed set of signals anyway). They do not have to explain matters to the press. They are, in fact, rarely heard from.  When players or coaches criticize the refereeing, they can expect to be fined.

That whole atmosphere of concealment has to be changed. I have suggested that any new body have a public face, that it employs a PR officer. I make that suggestion with some hesitation because I’m well aware that there is a lot of overlap these days between genuine PR work and spin-doctoring. But open discussion of the rules and of refereeing must be the first aim.

14 comments about "Seeking a new version of IFAB, and an alternative to the shootout".
  1. R2 Dad, May 30, 2012 at 12:52 a.m.

    As long as the FIFA/Blatter monolith cannot appoint the new members who would populate a post-IFAB committee, there might be a chance of consensus on that type of change. re: refereeing, I am in total agreement that light is the best disinfectant for the sport. What the refereeing community needs are performance metrics to evaluate each professional referee. If we don't expect 100% perfect referee calls, the process of refereeing matches could advance without bringing the game into disrepute.

  2. Richard Broad, May 30, 2012 at 9:25 a.m.

    The penalty kick shootout as a means for deciding any match, let alone a Champions League or World Cup title, is ludicrous. When are we going to enter the 21st century?

  3. Kenneth Elliott, May 30, 2012 at 9:49 a.m.

    I've always thought corner kicks would be a good replacement for the shootout. Maybe with all 11, maybe with a subset of just 5 or 6. 5 tries each, with a try apiece until a winner is decided. A time limit of 60 seconds. Offsides rules apply. It would closely match a part of the game where many of a team's scores come from anyway.

  4. Jim Hougan, May 30, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.

    The penalty-kick tie-breaker is a disaster. What I would like to see, instead, is a system whereby a player on each team is withdrawn from the match - and not replaced - every five minutes until a goal is scored. The process would open up the field, and a goal would soon be found by one team or the other. Some matches would be resolved with 10 a side, others with 9, 8, 7, or 6 - I doubt that it would go much lower than that, given the sizes of the fields we play on.

  5. Kent James, May 30, 2012 at 12:31 p.m.

    Instead of penalty kicks, they should take kicks from either the top of the penalty box (maybe the arc, for the pros), so that instead of being forced to dive in anticipation of a kick, a keeper would have a chance to make a save. Additionally, instead of the game being decided by the failure of a kicker to score when they should, only the exceptional shot would score. So there would be heroes instead of goats. Nothing worse than a player who played exceptionally well for 120 minutes losing the game by not converting a kick from the mark. I also like both Ken and Jim's suggestions. I'm not sure which would work best, but it would be relatively easy to try them out to see how they work in practice. Have a league try some of these after any match that ends in a tie. The match could remain a tie for the league standings, but perhaps teams participating in the tie-breakers could get a bonus (either per match, or for the team that wins the most tie-breakers over the year) to reward their efforts. Anything but penalty kicks, which are only marginally better than the coin toss Beckenbauer was disparaging...

  6. Carl Walther, May 30, 2012 at 12:31 p.m.

    Oh yea Jim, take a player off every five minutes. It now takes players 2 to 3 minutes to walk off the field when they're subbed out. Your idea wouldn't stop the flow of the game, would it?

  7. beautiful game, May 30, 2012 at 2:58 p.m.

    Coaches should be given the opportunity to select a 'new squad' for overtime games. Why complicate the issue with gizmos.

  8. Ramon Creager, May 30, 2012 at 5:44 p.m.

    I'm all for abolishing the IFAB. It's composition is silly, an insult to the rest of the world of soccer. As for the shootout, this is a silly issue and I'm with Beckenbauer on this. 120 minutes is AMPLE TIME to prove your superiority, and if you are unable to do so you don't have a right to bitch that the outcome was decided unfairly, or to complain the wrong team won. That's two hours of playing time! Enough already! At this point a coin flip is about as fair as anything, but at least a penalty kick shootout provides some drama and allows players to decide the issue.

  9. Bill Anderson, May 30, 2012 at 11:06 p.m.

    I strongly disagree with the attack on the shootout. Does anyone not recall the NCAA playoff games that went 5, 6, 7 overtimes deep? That was far worse than the penalty kicks.

  10. Bill Anderson, May 30, 2012 at 11:08 p.m.

    On the other hand, there should be a rule review on substitutions for overtime periods. The rosters should be expanded to 21, and an additional 3 players should be allowed for the two overtime sessions, that would allow a maximum of 6 per game. It would give the coaches more flexibility in subbing earlier during regulation, knowing that if overtime did come, they could withstand injuries late in the match etc...

  11. Andrzej Kowalski, May 31, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.

    The tiebreakers should be:
    1. Team who's goalkeeper touch the ball more often would loose.
    2. Team that was rewarded more corner kicks would win.
    3. Team that committed more fouls would loose.

  12. Andrzej Kowalski, May 31, 2012 at 6:14 p.m.

    Germans and Italians will always prefer shootout as a tiebreake, because they have the best goalkeepers and usually play dafense.Beside that if games were decided by the flaw of game, than Brazil and Spanish would win everything and Germans and Italians would win nothing.

  13. Andrzej Kowalski, May 31, 2012 at 6:27 p.m.

    4.Team that longer possessed the ball should be the winner.
    They should count every element of 90 minutes from the game to decide the winner.
    Winner should be decided be 90 minutes of play exclusively. No more overtime or shootout!

  14. Scott Olson, June 1, 2012 at 10:16 a.m.

    I am still a promoter of the referee review for higher level games.

    Much like American football, this would give the coaches a viable avenue if they wanted to question an important call. The stipulations would be that they can only question calls that are made, or goal scoring opportunities like end line bounces on the line off the crossbar.

    They have 3 substitutions, so let them put their power where their mouth is, give them a red flag such as in American Football, if they throw it to question a call and it stands, they just gave up a substitution opportunity.

    This would make them really carefull about what they put up for question and would avoid a lot of time wasting.

    The bissest problem would be having the review official for each game to assess and make the decision and how overturning these calls would affect the view of referees and the game.

    And yes, I am a referee, none of us are perfect, and incorrect calls in soccer should not overturn a game any more than any other sport.

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