The new Laws of the Game were distributed
in April by the International
Football Association Board, which claims it made the changes so the laws are more appropriate for the modern game for all levels.
This version of the Laws of the Game contains the most
radical changes since its first inception in 1863. The 2016-2017 version is 206 pages long compared to 2015-2016 edition which had 144 pages. There are 95 Law changes in total. These changes affected
all existing 17 Laws except Law 3.
For example, it changed the concept of awarding penalty kick; now a penalty kick can be awarded for a team official -- for the layman a coach -- who
runs onto the field and kicks the ball as it is about to go into the coach’s team goal.
If the reader is curious they can go through the 95 changes. The names of the Laws have been
changed. The language is simplified, but it is still pretty archaic for a 12 year old kid who is an entry level referee. The 17 Laws and 206 pages are the letter of the Laws of the Game that you have
to learn whether you are 12 or 42 old when you start refereeing.
Although simpler than other Laws of other Games, it is still a major challenge to learn the letter of the Laws of the
Game. The referee unfortunately does not have the chance to look at the letter of the Laws of the Game during a game. I have observed at all levels, referees forgetting one detail of the letter of the
Laws of the Game and causing major headaches for the organizers of the competitions. Recently, I saw a referee who had been refereeing for eight years call a penalty kick for a “pass to the
goalkeeper.” Luckily an assistant referee jumped in to remind that the game has to be restarted with an indirect free kick.
As the referees advance, then they have learn and
understand the spirit of the game. The new Laws of the Game refer to the spirit of the game. In order to understand the spirit of each Law, you have to understand why it was inscribed and the history
behind it. One expects that a referee, refereeing advanced adult games or pro games understand the spirit of the Laws of the Game. This will take him or her at least three or four years after
mastering the letter of the Laws of the Game.
For example, letter of the Law 12 says “if a goalkeeper controls the ball with the hands for more than six seconds before releasing it
an indirect free kick will be awarded.” If a goalkeeper whose team is behind 3-0 keeps the ball in her hands for 10 seconds and the referee awards an indirect free kick against the team of the
goalkeeper, then it is evident that the referee knows the letter of the Law but not the spirit. The spirit of this Law has distilled through time to penalize time-wasting. Clearly a losing
team’s goalkeeper will not waste time. At this stage, the referees should evolve from the enforcer of the Laws of the Game. to a game manager who understands the spirit of the Laws of the Game
One more evolution is expected from the elite referee after that point: That is the application of the unwritten Law 18 -- “common sense” -- when the circumstances
warrant it. The common sense should be used very sparingly and diligently by the elite referee who mastered the spirit and letter of the Laws of the Game. That was all that was expected of an elite
referee who was also a “game manager” applying common sense and the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game fairly and with due diligence.
Those three concepts -- letter and
spirit of the Laws of the Game and common sense -- opened the doors to the top soccer games in the world for the “game manager” referees. Until a few years ago…
the 2014 World Cup, Massimo Busacca
-- the head of refereeing for FIFA -- asked the referees to answer the question “What does football expect?” when making critical decisions. For
example, they were asked to delay showing yellow cards. That was not in the letter or the spirit of the Laws of the Game and neither was that a common-sense decision. That was “what industrial
football expected.” This approach confused the referees. At least I know that for the UEFA referees that was not in line with instruction they got in UEFA. The result was a poorly officiated
After 2014, I started hearing more and more of “what does football expect.” Actually you can find the phrase “this is what football wants…” in
the new Laws of the Game. Then I remembered that some years ago while watching an NFL playoff game on TV, one of commentators said that referees are asked not to throw their flags easily for
infractions, so that teams, not the referees, decide the outcome of the game. That was what is happening in “industrial” soccer now. The referees were asked in Brazil 2014 to make critical
decisions like yellow/red cards and penalty kicks in such a way that neither side will contest it. In summary, they did not want any controversy in critical decisions so that results will be decided
by teams and not by the refereeing crew.
UEFA tried for a while to rebalance the confused referees, but nowadays I hear the words “what does football expect” in UEFA
refereeing circles more and more.
The flood gates of the “industrial soccer” for refereeing have opened. The goal line technology, audio visual assistant referees and the
concept of “what does football expect” in refereeing decisions are all there in soccer to make “industrial soccer” happy. Will it make the romantic lovers of this beautiful
game happy? That I do not know. Ahmet Guvener is the former Secretary General and Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA.
He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives in Austin, Texas.