Commentary

Coming soon: a slimmer, snappier -- and maybe better -- rulebook

By Paul Gardner

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 Ensuring that things are quaintly out of date is more their line.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.

18 comments about "Coming soon: a slimmer, snappier -- and maybe better -- rulebook ".
  1. Scot Sutherland, January 26, 2016 at 3:38 p.m.

    I do a fair bit of writing long documents. Chopping something like this in half could be a Godsend or a disaster. I don't see much possibility of an in between. Hopefully attempting to discern the intent of the player will be depreciated.

  2. beautiful game, January 26, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    Some rules of the game need to be reinvented. Yet more serious is the fact that referees fail to enforce the current rules. IMHO, since the ARs and the referee have telcom capability, ARs need to get more involved in what they observe as 'breaking' the rules. Their communication capability would make things more consistent.

  3. Dick Burns, January 26, 2016 at 7:52 p.m.

    IT IS ABOUT TIME THAT ALL CONFEDERATIONS ARE REPRESENTED ON THE IFAB. THERE IS NO REASON EXISTING TODAY THAT THE UK HAS FOUR OF EIGHT SEATS. UNFORTUNATELY, WE CAN NOT DEPEND ON FIFA TO ADDRESS THE SITUATIONS IN A FAIR, IMPARTIAL WAY EITHER. MAYBE A VOTE COULD BE HELD OF ALL FIFA OFFICIALS TO SELECT FROM A SHORT LIST OF RETIRED AND ACTIVE OFFICIALS. WE SHOULD HAVE REPRESENTATION FROM THE MANAGERS AND RETIRED PLAYERS AS WELL.

  4. Saverio Colantonio, January 26, 2016 at 9:14 p.m.

    They could reduce the size of the Laws of the Game by dropping Law 11--Offsides. Its not needed in the modern game.

  5. R2 Dad replied, January 26, 2016 at 10:01 p.m.

    that was my thought, too. dropping 10k words would have to involve something substantial like that.

  6. Mauro Nobre replied, January 27, 2016 at 12:08 a.m.

    I have heard this comment many times before - that the offside rule is not needed. This betrays a deep misunderstanding of the game. The offside rule is what makes the modern possession game possible. It encourages defenders to press forward, therefore creating spaces behind that the attackers can penetrate and counterattack. Without the offside rule half of each team would be inside the penalty boxes, and they would just send long balls from box to box. There would be no midfield play, no counterattacks, no possession game. It would be like tennis or ping pong. That is because the attacking team would send a "cherry-picker" over to the opponent's box, and the defending team would counter by leaving a defender there. In order to get a numerical advantage the attackers would send another player to cherry-pick. And the defending team would counter it by leaving another defender in their home penalty area. This numbers race would continue until there is no one in the midfield, and the game would consist of a series of long balls from penalty area to penalty area, with an occasional fast dribble down the midfield. Lost would be the possession game, the counterattacking game, and the entire beauty of the game as we know it. The offside rule is the most ingenious rule of any game.

  7. Allan Lindh, January 27, 2016 at 1:48 a.m.

    Agreed the offside rule is needed, but for heaven's sake make the obvious change to "daylight between attacker and defender is offside, trunk of the body only." Too many good goals called back because the rule is too difficult to call correctly, as currently written.

  8. Mauro Nobre replied, January 27, 2016 at 11:44 a.m.

    I share your frustration in this respect. I think this is a case where assistant referees don't apply the principle that when in doubt the benefit of the doubt should be applied in favor of the attackers. Referees make too many mistakes without consequences. There should be more accountability.

  9. Dave Roberts, January 27, 2016 at 2:33 a.m.

    If you don't know why Cardiff, don't appreciate the why 'Laws' and truly believe 'boots' isn't used around the majority of the world - you obviously use words such as color, center and tire.
    Why must everything around the world be Americanised for your convenience? BTW... I'll give you stockings - that's just dumb.

  10. Scott Johnson replied, January 27, 2016 at 2:55 a.m.

    You do know that Gardner is originally English, don't you? He's lived in the US for over five decades, according to his Wikipedia bio, but I;m sure he's bought round rubber things for his lorry down at the tyre centre, and knows its boot from its bonnet. (Of course, the British spelling of "jail" remains an abomination--gaol?--but we'll let that slide for now.)

  11. R2 Dad replied, January 27, 2016 at 11:15 a.m.

    I find these british-ism less annoying than before--maybe it has to do with FIFA 20XX--they've only got brit commentators. WRT specific members, yes there should be more/younger representation from S American and Africa. If we're demanding FIFA change their stripes, so should IFAB. If soccer is the world's game, the body that defines the LOTG should represent the world.

  12. Ric Fonseca replied, January 28, 2016 at 5:38 p.m.

    Mr. Roberts, sort of like some sarcasm, vis-a-vis "the boots or stockings," but heck, when in Rome do as the Romans do. And BTW folks, how many of you know the morphology of our penchant to use "soccer" when we speak of and about football, futebol, fussball, calcio, futbol, etc.? Many years ago, in a different planet and a long past century, it was derived from two words, "Association Football," which later morphed into soccer. Really, think about it.

  13. Scott Johnson replied, January 29, 2016 at 9:26 p.m.

    "Calcio" means "kick" in Italian, not "football"; and prior to referring to what we yanks call soccer, it referred to other historical games played with the feet and a ball. But most places' name for the sport is either a translation or transliteration of "football", or a transliteration of "soccer" (such as Japanese "sakkā").

  14. Scott Johnson, January 27, 2016 at 2:58 a.m.

    Perhaps they might want to include in the Laws this time, the long-unwritten-but-always understood rule that if a player on the pitch gets sent off, he may not be replaced with a substitute. (Seriously. Read the current Laws. IT'S NOT IN THERE. Why not? An oversight from the days in which substitutions weren't allowed at all, I suspect...)

  15. Carlos Figueroa, January 27, 2016 at 9:18 a.m.

    I stopped reading when PG insulted all of England with how out of date they supposedly are.

  16. Scott Johnson, January 27, 2016 at 12:29 p.m.

    How about--more referees on the pitch? Basketball has three officials for a court which is a tenth the size of a soccer field. American football has platoons of referees; baseball has umpires at each base. If nothing else, have on additional linesman--as it is hard to watch the sideline and monitor offside simultaneously.

  17. Ric Fonseca replied, January 28, 2016 at 5:42 p.m.

    Great idea Mr. Johnson, oh but wait: didn't or don't they already use two additional AR's to act as "goal judges" during some competition in Europe, you know the guys that stand at the goal line and or goal post to ensure the ball completely crossed the goal line to ensure a goal?

  18. Scott Johnson replied, January 30, 2016 at 6:28 p.m.

    Computers can watch the goal line, like they did in Brazil.

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