Well, well -- how about this? Had to happen some time, I suppose, so here we are: I find myself in agreement with an IFAB decision. At least, partially so.
There was dissension at the annual IFAB meeting this past weekend over the so-called “triple punishment” rule -- under which a player who is guilty of “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity” is automatically red-carded. You add together the penalty kick conceded, the player’s expulsion (leaving his team to soldier on with 10 men), and his subsequent one-game suspension ... and there you have it, a triple whammy.
Not fair, too harsh, says UEFA (and plenty of others, too). So IFAB was asked to delete the automatic red card. A yellow card would be quite enough (but not if the foul, in its physical nature, warranted s direct red). Meaning, just the penalty kick and the yellow card. A pretty drastic reduction, really. No ejection, no suspension.
IFAB said OK, a decision I do not agree with. But it then ignored UEFA’s recommendation that a yellow card should replace the red, and instead ruled that the part of the triple punishment to be lifted would be the subsequent one-game suspension.
Which, if the rule must be weakened, is a much more sensible move as it leaves the now-two-part punishment (a penalty kick and an ejection) where it belongs -- having an impact on the game in which the offense was committed.
UEFA has been heard from very quickly, evidently annoyed -- and probably shocked -- at this unwonted display of independence and common sense by IFAB. Here is UEFA’s huffy retort: “UEFA would like to express its extreme disappointment with the decision taken by IFAB to reject our provision regarding ‘triple punishment.’ The problem with the current law is the mandatory sanction of a red card, which in many cases is too harsh and has a killing effect on the games. Therefore, we also fundamentally disagree with the IFAB's view regarding the one-game suspension, since we feel it totally misses the point.”
Which point would that be? Presumably the one about the red card having “a killing effect on the games.” But is this a sustainable argument? I don’t think so. It presumably refers to a team having to play with 10 men. But that is a “killing effect” that applies to all red cards. Why should it be considered unacceptable for just this one offense? Particularly as this is a rather special type of offense, one that destroys one of the game’s climactic moments -- the scoring of a goal.
Frankly, I cannot see any reason for diminishing the triple punishment. From the start, this notion has the hollow ring of a PR campaign. The term “triple punishment” is meant to deceive and to evoke indignation, a sure sign that the case is weak. As it happens, triple punishment -- the team playing with 10 men, the free kick (it doesn’t have to be a penalty kick to be dangerous), and the suspension -- always follows a red card, any red card.
It is presumably the penalty kick, which UEFA seems to think must mean a goal, that makes things “too harsh.” How so? The penalty kick may be missed. Or it may be saved (quite likely by an illegally moving but unpunished goalkeeper, we’ve seen plenty of that). In which case the offending player, and his team, have “got away with one” ... big time.
The UEFA position is worrying because it seeks to claw back one of the few instances where the rules tell defenders, unequivocally, that if they resort to illegal methods, they will be hit pretty hard. This represents a hard-won victory against something that is unfortunately a persistent part of refereeing: The tendency to give any benefit of doubt to defenders. Anyone who still can’t see that should consider two types of action that occur in virtually every game:
* Penalty kicks: Can there be any doubt that referees do not like giving penalty kicks? That the total of genuine PKs not awarded far exceeds the number of doubtful ones that are given?
* Corner kicks: All that holding and shoving that goes on before the kick is taken, the pause while the referee talks to a couple of players, then the kick is taken ... and the referee blows his whistle before any real goalmouth action happens. The chances of that whistle meaning a penalty kick -- i.e. a foul by a defender -- are minimal, virtually non-existent. The vast majority of those calls are made against attacking players. Well, we’ve all seen the replays and the videos, we know that defenders and forwards are equally to blame ... so how come the forwards rarely get a break?
And need I mention the almost scandalous indulgence that referees routinely show to goalkeepers?
As for UEFA’s argument that red cards have a “killing effect” on the game -- well, of course they do. I am on record, have been for years, as not liking the idea of teams having to play with 10 men.
That brings us to another aspect of the red card controversy -- namely, that overly harsh punishments are likely to be counter-productive. Juries will refuse to convict. Referees will avoid making the call. In both cases, out of a feeling that they are doing right thing, that they are being fair.
This is something that should be looked into by IFAB and its advisory panels. But the investigation must be a game-wide project to assess the overall effectiveness of the red-card-ejection process. What is not needed is what UEFA is pushing: a contentiously selective attempt to weaken the rule in just one situation. An attempt that tells defending players that, once again, the referees are on their side, and that makes “denying a goal-scoring opportunity” -- a major offense, I would have thought? -- considerably less risky.
If such a move has to be made (frankly, I think it’s a rotten idea) then I think IFAB, by lifting the player’s suspension rather than removing the red card as UEFA wish, has got this one right. Partially right, that is.