Maybe we're asking ARs to do the impossible

By Paul Gardner

We are still waiting for a look at the new -- rewritten, and greatly condensed -- rule book. The IFAB has been making a big deal of this. I’m not about to belittle it, it is a big deal, involving a lot of work.

And yes, of course, I have a complaint. Well, several actually. For starters it is decidedly irritating that we are being offered only a series of sneak previews. The book itself will not be available until May, when the IFAB will post it on its new website, Why the delay?

We’ve been told -- by former English referee David Elleray, who was in charge of the revision -- that the rewrite is intended to make the rules more accessible for everyone, referees, players, coaches, fans, journalists. Thoroughly commendable.

We have been permitted just one glimpse into the new book. This is the “triple punishment” rule change. Unfortunately, it is a shockingly bad change, a retrograde step, ill thought-out, that will simply permit defenders and goalkeepers to get away with more fouls.

If there is one thing that the game can do without, it is an expansion of the habit of turning a blind eye to goalkeeper fouls. I have raised before the threat that violent and reckless keepers pose for other players -- and I have no doubt at all that they will have to be reined in. Whether the sport itself -- the IFAB presumably -- does the reining in, or whether it is forced by the threat of legal action is immaterial. It is going to happen.

There is another area in which goalkeepers are regularly allowed to break the rules. During penalty kicks and shootouts. The rules are absolutely clear: the goalkeeper “must remain on his goal line ... until the ball has been kicked.” Sideways movement along the line is OK, but not forward movement.

But goalkeepers almost always do step forward. And it has become the accepted practice to allow them one step forward -- simply because it’s impossible to tell exactly when that step is made -- at the moment the ball is kicked, or a fraction of a second before.

All of that seems reasonable enough. It is also understandable that goalkeepers, knowing they’re always going to be given the benefit of the doubt, will try for two steps forward. Which must encourage keepers to go for more.

In the picture you can see Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo at the moment of kicking the ball for a penalty kick against Bulgaria in a recent friendly. The Bulgarian keeper is already, and obviously, way off his line (he is actually moving forward, too). He is not penalized. He makes the save. He becomes his team’s hero as Bulgaria wins the game 1-0.

A cheating hero, though. The kick should have been retaken. How on earth can the AR not have seen the illegal movement? Impossible. He must have seen it. Which can only mean the AR judged that the movement was legal, i.e. after the kick.

The rulebook is not helpful (the current rulebook, that is, I cannot tell you what the revised version says). Where the rule itself states that the keeper “must remain on his line,” the Interpretations section says the AR only alerts the referee when he sees blatant forward movement. Another concession to the keeper. (And yet another one: the picture also shows clear encroachment by both teams. For that, the kick should have been retaken, but again the keeper got a break because the violation was not called).

But I think the biggest problem here may be a physiological one. That the rules are asking the AR to do something that the human eye and the human brain simply cannot manage. The AR is being asked to have his eyes sharply focused on the goalkeeper, 22 yards away and, at the same moment, to have them acutely aware of what the kicker -- off to the AR’s left -- is up to. A separation of 12 yards, which may simply be too great for the human eye’s lateral vision to encompass with uniform intensity.

At least, such an explanation would account for the repeated occasions on which ARs seem to be blind to obviously illegal goalkeeper movement.

It needs thinking about. Maybe the problem can be solved by shifting the AR’s position. Having him stand behind the kicker, so that he can see both kicker and goalkeeper in the same frame seems the only workable position. The other answer, a much better one, is to use TV replays that can be viewed instantly and will clearly show if there is any cheating.

I wonder if the IFAB has ever pondered this matter? I doubt it. It’s not the sort of research that the IFAB does -- though it surely should.

14 comments about "Maybe we're asking ARs to do the impossible ".
  1. Marc Silverstein, March 29, 2016 at 3:58 p.m.

    2 technology

  2. steve foster, March 29, 2016 at 4:08 p.m.

    I recently called keeper encroachment as an AR and got a massive amount of parents telling me I was wrong. Yet replays showed I was in fact correct. HS game

    AR needs guts. This is the issue. AR has it in his mind that a free kick from the 12, it doesn't matter what happens. The guy should score.

    So, either take PK from the 8 yd line or go back to a stationary keeper. No moving will be easier to judge. But, we tach the kids to be brave. Refs need to also be brave.

  3. robert charles, March 29, 2016 at 4:14 p.m.

    wrong video not needed, its not that difficult. a good referee trains his brain to use peripheral vision, especially easy when the criteris is so clear. All humans hone peripheral vision when needed --ever hunted?

    On penalties I look at a point between kicker and keeper and can immediately judge movements of the ball vs keeper feet. I actually prefer the AR to watch for encroachment as that is away from keeper. This one is easy -- but refs just don't call it enough. If you don't train your brain and use peripheral vision (for which there is a tiny delay in decision making,less than a second), but in this case there is plenty of time to make the call. Refs need to be taught and train to do this -- and good refs use it all match long, balls into touch, fouls and action off the ball, etc. Absurd Offside guidance is the mess Paul should be talking about.

  4. Pasco Struhs replied, March 30, 2016 at 8:56 a.m.

    I agree, it shouldn't be that difficult to determine whether the keeper has stepped off his line or whether there is encroachment. Coaches need to slam the refs for not calling this. Having said that, if I am the person taking the penalty kick, I want the keeper to move first so that I can simply place the ball into the spot he vacates. Advantage to the kicker. Maybe that's why it's not called.

  5. Rich V, March 29, 2016 at 4:32 p.m.

    I don't ref so just throwing it out there...can they watch the keeper but listen for the sound of the ball being struck? I'd think that it would be loud enough, but perhaps not with a large crowd...

  6. Ric Fonseca, March 29, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    Oh lordy, here we go again! What happened to using the goal line AR, as they do in Europe during championship tournament time? When using two AR's, and on a PK situation, one of the AR's is supposed to move immediately to a spot on the goal line usually between the 18 and 6 in order to check for GK infringement and to ensure the whole of the ball has crossed the goal line. What is so difficult about this? Also for PG to pontificate about a yet to be published and distributed IFAB book, I must say that my good-old amigo must be bored outta his mind until tonight's games, as well as those being played in Europe right now. Oh, well as Refs are wont to say (or are supposed to "say") PLAY ON!!!

  7. R2 Dad, March 30, 2016 at 1:12 a.m.

    1 yard box?

  8. Joey Tremone, March 30, 2016 at 9:50 a.m.

    Looking at that photo, the keeper isn't what jumps out to me, it's the four other players who are yards into the box by the time the ball is struck.

  9. beautiful game, March 30, 2016 at 10:19 a.m.

    JT, the PK rules cover this type of infringement.

  10. Joey Tremone replied, April 1, 2016 at 10:11 a.m.

    And? The point is, it doesn't looked like this infraction was actually caught, and it's much worse than what the goalkeeper is doing.

  11. Woody Woodpecker, March 30, 2016 at 10:23 a.m.

    Paul, my old chestnut, you are clueless. When a GK stands on the goal line, and when he takes a step forward *proper GK technique, he will be a yard off the line. In the picture you see that, even the 2 red players encroaching the area is correct, as you allow the kick to continue.

  12. Pasco Struhs replied, March 30, 2016 at 10:47 a.m.

    Why is this ok and not a violation of the rules?

  13. ROBERT BOND, March 30, 2016 at 2:54 p.m.

    make them stand still till the ball is kicked-that will prevent that silly jumping the wrong way........

  14. Peter Grove, March 30, 2016 at 10:48 p.m.

    Once again with the illogical and unnecessary criticism that the IFAB doesn't publish the amended Laws immediately after making the changes. The changes to the Laws were only approved on March 5th. It's entirely unrealistic to expect them to publish an entirely rewritten document so soon.

    The reason the new version won't be available on the IFAB website until May is probably because their website isn't due to be launched before then.

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