IFAB: one step forward, one step backward

By Paul Gardner

I think it unlikely that there are many people around who would consider the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to be an up-to-date group. But, the IFAB is making an attempt, it seems. It has just approved a major rewriting of soccer’s rules and David Elleray, the man in charge of the overhaul, says one of its aims is to bring the rules up to date.

The intention, then is good. Whether it’s been achieved, I cannot tell you, as the IFAB appears reluctant to let anyone see the new rulebook. A bad sign, that -- it strongly suggests that while the IFAB may be updating the rules, it is not modernizing its modus operandi. The traditional tendency to reveal as little as possible (one that the IFAB shares with referees) remains in place.

A press conference was held after last week’s IFAB meeting in Cardiff. A question was asked -- When would the new rulebook be available? -- which received the classically evasive “Soon” as an answer. An IFAB press release contains a link to “new wording” for Rule 12; press it and you get “We’re sorry, this page cannot be found.” When Elleray was asked where the new version of the rules could be found, he replied: “In May we will be launching the IFAB website ( and the whole book and each individual Law will be available for download.”

Well, that’s just dandy. We’ll have to wait until May for a sight of the new rulebook that will come into use in June.

The one change that we do know at least something about is the one I’ve already mentioned, a change to Rule 12. It concerns the so-called “triple punishment” problem that can arise in cases of DOGSO -- Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity.

If the offense occurs within the penalty area -- as many, probably most, of them do -- the guilty player is red-carded, and is suspended for the next game, and the attacking team gets a penalty kick. Triple punishment, you see. The term is nonsense. Every red card involves, whether for DOGSO or not, involves triple punishment: ejection, suspension, and the award of a free kick -- which, even if it is outside the penalty area, may well be within scoring range.

So why is the DOGSO case regarded differently? Why all the whining about it being too severe? And why is the IFAB listening to it? The same topic came before the IFAB last year and they very sensibly rejected it. Here it comes again, and the IFAB has agreed that trials be conducted with a modified rule that will allow referees to give a yellow card instead of a red.

I cannot quote the rule change (it’s the unavailable “new wording” mentioned above), but I do have something that ought to be almost as good. During the IFAB press conference, FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino had his say on the matter. Thus: “Basically, if the goalkeeper or the defender in the penalty area tries to go to the ball -- genuinely and honestly tries to challenge for the ball, then there will not be a red card any more, only a yellow card.

“For other instances, violent play or whatever, pulling or pushing, which have nothing to do with trying to get the ball, there will still be a red card and a penalty. But in the other instances, where there is an honest challenge for the ball ... the goalkeeper, the typical incident where you have a goalkeeper jumping and the attacker just manages to touch the ball before him, and they hit each other, there will be a penalty and a yellow card.”

I’ll underline again: I don’t have the official wording. I do not know what will happens when a defender uses his hand to keep the ball out -- that is, I’m afraid, a pretty “genuine and honest” attempt to play the ball, though not in the sense that the rule change requires. But what I’ve quoted above is from the FIFA president himself, so I’m assuming it is an accurate version of the change.

There are several cogent reasons why this is a particularly bad, ill-thought-out change.

1. It represents a surrender to those who want soccer to be a more physical game. Simply this: a weakening of an existing rule, a lighter punishment for a mistimed tackle. I can think of no compelling reason why that is needed. And how long will this new leniency be confined to late tackles in DOGSO situations only? It will inevitably (and logically) spread to be applied to tackles anywhere on the field.

2. It expands something that should be reduced -- i.e. referees’ reluctance to call fouls against, and particularly to eject, goalkeepers. When looking for examples of how this “new wording” will work, Infantino twice singled out the goalkeeper as a beneficiary. Not, I think, by accident. Under this rule change, red cards for goalkeepers will rarely, if ever, be seen. The keeper stays on the field, now with the chance to become a hero if he saves the penalty kick. This looks like a goalkeepers’ charter.

3. An earlier rewrite of the rules (in 1994) brought in a major change: it threw out the idea of “intent.” Apart from hand ball, referees no longer had to read the players’ mind. A foul was a foul, whether it was intentional or not. But this “new wording” on DOGSO clearly calls on the referee to judge intent. He has to decide whether a player making a challenge is “genuinely and honestly” (Infantino’s words) trying to play the ball. A huge step backward.

4. The “new wording” will surely encourage goalkeepers to continue with their violent assaults on opponents, when it ought to be absolutely obvious that this aspect of a goalkeeper’s play will, sooner rather than later, have to be curtailed.

Finally, back to the IFAB -- there is never a shortage of gaucheries from them. I -- and plenty of others -- have long found it unacceptable that the IFAB should be dominated by the Brits, who have four of its eight votes, given to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The countering argument is that FIFA has the other four votes, that six votes are needed for change, so things balance out.

According to that explanation, the Brits are not in charge. Yet, at the recent press conference quoted above, who was on the platform answering questions? Why, Jonathan Ford (Wales), Stewart Regan (Scotland), Martin Glenn (England) and Patrick Nelson (Northern Ireland). There was no sign of the four mysterious FIFA delegates. Only the new FIFA president, Gianni Infantino.

That blatant show of Brit-power, obviously not caring whom it might upset, or how inappropriate it might be, should not be allowed to happen again. Three of those permanent Brit members should be pensioned off, which would allow the IFAB to take on permanent delegates from important areas -- Latin America and Europe in particular -- which are currently without representation.

17 comments about "IFAB: one step forward, one step backward".
  1. Allan Lindh, March 9, 2016 at 11:12 a.m.

    Ejecting the goal-keeper ruins the match, might as well just call it off. These are bang-bang calls, usually do not involve deliberately violent play, and are rarely clear cut. Unless there is deliberate violent play, no red cards should be given if a penalty is granted, IMHO.

  2. Peter Orona, March 9, 2016 at 11:25 a.m.

    Maybe the rule should be adjusted to allow the coach to decide which player he takes off the field if the GK commits a foul the prevents a goal. He can stay in the game, but the team needs to go a man down to 10 men. Let the coach decide the consequence.
    All regions of FIFA should be properly represented. One person per region.

  3. beautiful game replied, March 9, 2016 at 5:15 p.m.

    A goal scoring opportunity is an "opportunity" and not a certain goal. It would be more efficient to caution the offender and not red card him unless it's ruled excessive and dangerous. If the offense occurs inside the box award a PK...if it happens outside the box, the player who was fouled should have a one on one opportunity against the keeper from the spot of the foul.

  4. Chuck Locke, March 9, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

    Here is the criteria from IFAB:

    Denial of a goal-scoring opportunity
    Where a player commits an offence within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal
    scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offending player should be cautioned unless:
    - The offence is holding, pulling or pushing or
    - The offending player does not attempt to play the ball or there is no possibility for the player making the
    challenge to play the ball or
    - The offence is one which is punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field of play (e.g. serious
    foul play, violent conduct etc..)
    In all the above circumstances the player should be dismissed from the field of play.

  5. Brian Something, March 9, 2016 at 2:05 p.m.

    What's the difference, Gardner asks. Simple. A DOGSO inside the box is punished with a penalty kick, which means that the scoring opportunity is not really denied. It is simply replacing an open play OGSO with a set piece one. So you are ejecting a player for the denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity when the opportunity is not really denied. By contrast, when the DOGSO happens 40 yards from goal, it is replaced with a free kick, which, from that distance, can not be seen to reasonably replace the OGSO, so therefore the extra punishment of ejection is warranted.

  6. Ron L, March 9, 2016 at 2:09 p.m.

    You don't know "what will happens when a defender uses his hand to keep the ball out". Clearly in all the communications they have talked about DOGSO-F not DOGSO-H. Your question undercuts any credibility of the article for not recognizing the two DOGSO. The Law change I am most concerned about is allowing the ball kicked in anyway on Kick-Offs. In practice, we are already allowing the team to stand in the other teams side. The spirit of the game is to move the ball forward.

  7. John Soares, March 9, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    Fair arguments; except that ejecting the goalkeeper is equal to surrendering the game. Every team has a qualified goalkeeper on the bench. To that end keepers should not get special treatment. Where I still see/hear many arguments is "EXACTLY" what is a DOGSO.
    I have seen calls where there were at least two defenders between the ball and goal and others that due to the angle/location it would have been virtually impossible to score.

  8. R2 Dad, March 9, 2016 at 7:24 p.m.

    It always comes back to this:
    Remember, Higuain was ruled to have impeded the keeper and an indirect awarded to Germany. But this was wrong.
    Until the world of soccer agrees this was a penalty in the box, anything regarding LOTG rule changes with the keeper will not mean much.

  9. Gus Keri, March 9, 2016 at 8:57 p.m.

    Paul, you are objecting to the removal of triple punishment for the Goalkeeper who is, "genuinely and honestly," a fraction of a second late to the challenge. Then, why don't you apply the same punishment to the attacker who is, "genuinely and honestly," a fraction of a second late to the challenge? send the attacker out every time a challenge between the goalkeeper and an attacker goes in favor of the goalkeeper.

  10. Miguel Dedo, March 10, 2016 at 10:02 a.m.

    Speaking as a referee and as a friend of many players, reintroducing "intent" would be an error. The 1994 rewrite based Law 12 on the degree of danger (to an opponent) created by a player's action: careless, reckless, excessive force.
    By the way, the commonly-applied one-match suspension for a send-off is not in the Laws of the Game.

  11. Bob Ashpole, March 10, 2016 at 3:29 p.m.

    This is one of those rare occasions when I don't agree with the Mr. Gardner's editorial. To steal a line, an infraction is still an infraction by any other name. "Honest" should be a synonym for "careful" in this context.

  12. Ric Fonseca, March 12, 2016 at 3:25 p.m.

    I guess 'tis another sloooooow-zzzzzz day for Paul Gardner...

  13. Scott Johnson, March 16, 2016 at 5:51 p.m.

    A few things: 1) If there is more than one defender between the ball and the goal, OGSO probably should not exist. 2) In general, a defender (including the keeper) who is between the attacker and the goal should have greater leeway in defense than someone tackling from behind. 3) I still like the idea of dealing with DOGSO out in the field not with a red card, but by allowing the offense to to restart at the point of the foul, with the keeper starting on his line, and everyone else 20 yards behind the play until the restart occurs. As soon as the offensive player touches the ball, anyone can move, but the offense essentially gets a one-on-one against the goalie. Use red cards only for dangerous or unsportsmanlike conduct, not for professional fouls. (Intentional handballs to deny a goal, OTOH, are cheating and should result in the player being sent-off).

  14. Scott Johnson, March 16, 2016 at 5:54 p.m.

    Actually, in the case of DOGSO-H where it's clearly intentional--send the player off and don't bother with a PK. Simply award the goal if, in the opinion of the referee, the handball was intentional AND the goal would have been clearly scored otherwise but for the illegal interference.

  15. Scot Sutherland, March 16, 2016 at 7:01 p.m.

    I think "denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity" is the real problem in question here. Rather than focus on assessing the consequences of the infraction, the rule should be applied based upon the behavior during the infraction and be applied consistently throughout the game. If a yellow card is given for a foul on a player with no attempt to play the ball at midfield, then a yellow card should be issued for the same kind of foul when a player attacking the last defender. Whether it is an obvious goal scoring opportunity is immaterial. If in any case the play endangers the opponent then a red card should be issued, again without regard to the consequences involved in that particular situation.

  16. Peter Grove, March 17, 2016 at 1:21 a.m.

    I think its a little unfair to come out with an article on March 9, criticising the IFAB for not publishing the new laws yet. Although there was an expectation that all the changes would be approved, they were not officially ratified until the IFAB meeting took place March 5.

    4 days is hardly enough time to finalise, publish and distribute a new laws of the game document.

  17. Glenn Auve, April 13, 2016 at 3:56 p.m.

    And here they are

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