Right now, I’m thinking that IFAB -- you know, the soccer rule-making guys -- have really done it this time. In the past, I’ve relentlessly criticized them for being a virtually useless group that does very little, and is composed of the wrong people anyway.
I have never encountered any reason to change that view (I have found plenty of reasons for adhering to it) . . . but now, Action! The news from the IFAB hideout is that they will shortly be presenting to the world an extensively re-written version of the rules -- or the Laws (don’t forget that capital L!) as they so fatuously insist on calling them.
All will be revealed when IFAB has its AGM next month, in Wales (typically, they’ve got their footballs mixed up and the meeting will be held in Cardiff -- one of the great centers of world rugby, but of no special significance to global soccer).
Rewritten, did I say? An Associated Press story about the changes makes “rewritten” sound like the mother of all understatements. Eviscerated comes much closer. According to AP, “A 22,000-word document has been cut to 12,000 words over the last 18 months.”
But some clarification is already necessary. That “22,000-word document” they’re talking about includes both the rules themselves and the much longer Interpretation and Guidelines section. From now on the sections will be combined within the rules.
The man in charge of this no doubt complicated re-wording is Englishman David Elleray, a former Premier League referee who is now a member of IFAB’s Technical Advisory Panel. According to Elleray, among the motives for the revision are: “much clearer language,” which will minimize confusion and lead to less room for differing individual interpretations; avoidance of repetition; and making the rules “more up-to-date.”
English is the basic language for the rules (in every other language, the rules exist as a translation of the English version) so it makes sense to have an English-speaker in charge. But it is not necessarily ideal.
This business of bringing the rules up-to-date, for instance. I don’t think I would ever put an Englishman in charge of bringing anything up-to-date. Ensuring that things are quaintly out of date is more their line. Particularly when it comes to language. Sure enough, in no time at all, we have Elleray talking about a player “changing his boots.” Yikes! Has he yet to notice that “boots” is a far-from-modern, and totally inaccurate, description of a player’s footwear? Even these stodgy rules know that footwear is the word to use. But -- do players really wear stockings, and not socks? Yet stockings are what the current rules say. Maybe that will change next month, but probably not.
After all, if IFAB were really serious about joining the 21st century, they would jettison the pompous Victorian usage of Laws, and start talking about rules.
OK, we’ll have to wait a few more weeks. I’ll confess to being greatly intrigued by the news that Elleray & Co. have managed to knock 10,000 words off the rulebook. Currently, there is a fair amount of repetition (some of it actually contradictory) between the rules proper and the Interpretation & Guidelines section. But 10,000 words sounds like a massacre -- and massacres usually fail to discriminate between good and bad victims.
Surely, though, we shall at long last bid farewell to something I once referred to as “a blatant absurdity that must be the most laughably fatuous clause in any set of rules anywhere.” Half a page of inanity that inescapably demonstrates the ineptitude of IFAB.
Aside from the great re-wording (apparently the largest ever in the 100-plus years of the rules’ existence), we do have one or two examples of rule changes that IFAB will be implementing or considering in Cardiff.
First -- an obvious amendment. But it has been obvious for years and years -- I know because I’ve been banging on about it for years. The requirement that the ball be played forward at any kickoff has been dropped. That this has taken so long is yet another measure of IFAB’s somnolence.
There is stuff here that is up for a re-hearing. Last year, IFAB finally got something right and rejected a proposal to water-down the so-called triple-punishment: penalty kick, plus the red card and one-game suspension given to a player denying a clear goalscoring opportunity in his own penalty area. Seems the one-game suspension will be dropped.
Which will be a lousy move, and another victory favoring those who commit fouls. There is no guarantee that the penalty kick will be converted, so the only certain punishment for the infraction will be the red card.
Also rejected last year (no reason given) was the idea of allowing a fourth substitute in an overtime game. An obviously sensible idea, which is no doubt why it got nixed, but its chances this year should be a lot better.
I would hope that yet another discussion of Sin Bins (temporary expulsions) will see the idea permanently buried. But I fear not. Someone seems to want this -- it keeps re-appearing. Now IFAB will discuss research that UEFA has been conducting.
There will also be a change in the shootout procedure. But not the change that should be made. If a team has one of its kickers red-carded during the shootout (a pretty unusual occurrence, I’d say), the other team must now drop a player.
But the change that should have been made, that should at least be investigated, concerns something that happens at every shootout. The order of the kicks. Some pretty good research has been done to show that the current AB AB AB AB AB sequence gives a 60-40 advantage to team A -- a sizeable advantage to the team that wins the coin toss and can choose to kick first. An altered sequence -- AB BA AB BA AB works more fairly. IFAB ignores the whole thing.
But then IFAB regularly fails to notice what is going on in the sport, beyond its hopelessly limited outlook. And that narrow viewpoint -- with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales occupying three of IFAB’s eight seats -- is bound to continue. Hope of a more global IFAB arrived in 2014 when two advisory panels were appointed to help IFAB make decisions. The two panels have, between them, 21 members. Twelve of them are European. Only one is from South America. Business (European) as usual, then.