I taught a re-certification referee course this weekend. My students were mostly teenagers who had been refereeing for at least one year. We covered the new changes to the Laws of the Game (LOTG).
Since 1987, I have been mostly instructing top level referees in Turkey and around the world. Teaching young referees is exciting and also challenging. Especially, teaching a class of new referees
whose ages range between 10 and 45 is very challenging pedagogically. I personally would prefer to have a minimum age limit of 13 or 14 for refereeing.
While teaching the re-certification
course I noticed two things that I already had faced earlier. The vocabulary of the LOTG is too complicated for the teenagers. For example, nearly 90 percent of the students do not know the meaning of
“dissent” or “trifling.” In the information age, they can easily look up the meaning of the words from their smart phones. Although IFAB has “simplified” the LOTG
in the last few years, maybe they should reconsider the lexicon of the LOTG.
The other issue was the fact that a good percentage of the new changes to the LOTG were irrelevant for youth
or even grassroots soccer.
Let us look at the history of the LOTG. LOTG were written at the end of the 19th century for the “gentlemen” who played the game. There were no
youth or women's games then. As the game evolved, so did the LOTG. With more women playing the game, the terminology “ungentlemanly conduct” dropped and “unsporting behavior”
emerged. Even the refereeing attire has changed. We used to wear all black; now U.S. Soccer referees have the option five different colored uniforms. Technology broke into the LOTG. Now LOTG
talks about and allows Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS). LOTG allows the referees to use:
• Equipment for communicating with other match officials --
buzzer/beep flags, headsets etc; and
• EPTS or other fitness monitoring equipment.
Why is the spray that is being used extensively in games not mentioned in the LOTG? I do
not know. What is ironic, there's a picture preceding Law 5 that has a referee using the spray.
More and more, we see that IFAB is giving more autonomy to the national associations for
implementing changes to various laws, especially at the lower echelons of the game.
But one thing is very clear: The current LOTG are written for the highest level of the game. With
millions of young players, women players, veteran players and disabled players playing the game, IFAB had to make patches to the LOTG which was not intended for these players to start with.
If you look carefully at the LOTG, you will realize that the patches and LOTG that is intended for the highest level of the game sometimes conflict each other. For example, although LOTG allow
return substitution -- for the American reader unlimited substitution -- for grassroots, youth, veteran and disabled soccer, the LOTG always refer to limited substitution. So little nuances of what
happens under return substitution is often missed.
Let us look at one concrete example in the new LOTG (2017-2018): “Goal scored with an extra person on the field of
play. If, after a goal is scored, the referee realizes, before play restarts, an extra person was on the field of play when the goal was scored:
• The referee
must disallow the goal if the extra person was: a player, substitute, substituted player, sent off player or team official of the team that scored the goal; play is restarted with a direct free kick
from the position of the extra person”
Finding out the extra person is very easy with limited substitution, since the records of the match officials will tell you who the
extra person is. But with return substitutions records of substitutions are not kept, so how and who will decide the extra person? Where will the game be restarted? You have to ask this question to
IFAB and learn that the restart will have to be at the halfway line where the substitutes enter.
I can bring up a few more other similar examples. The LOTG’s focal point is not the
grassroots or youth soccer. Its focal point is the higher levels of the game, namely professional or semi-professional soccer. I doubt that IFAB would have changed the triple punishment for
DOGSO if the objection did not come from the professional leagues.
I personally have no objection to this focal point. Until I moved back to USA, I always dealt with the highest level of
the game, and this focal point did not bother me. Dealing with young referees, “unlimited substitution” and small-sided games made me conscious of this situation.
There is a
difference between the application of LOTG to the professional game or senior amateur game and youth games also. In youth games -- especially U16 and under -- most of the hand and ball contact is
non-deliberate. The young players do not have too much coordination with their arms and hands, so they should not be accountable where their arms/hands should be. On the other hand, professional
players should always be accountable for the position of their arms/hands.
Grassroots and youth soccer players will never play on fields which are both artificial and grass, those fields
will rarely have commercial advertising on the ground, they will never wear EPTS devices, their undershirts and undershorts might not be the same color as their shirts/shorts, the match officials in
such games will never utilize GLT, AAARs or VARs. The list might go on.
To cut the long story short, I believe we need two sets of LOTG: One for the youth and grassroots games and the
other for the higher levels of games. (I am hoping that one day IFAB will stop categorizing women’s soccer with youth, grassroots, veterans and disabled soccer.) The first one can be a subset of
the second one with an easier to understand language. The governing bodies of each country can decide which LOTG to apply for their different leagues.
Those two LOTG should not only
be different in the letter/content of the LOTG but also they should be different in their interpretations.
The conservatives might find this unnecessary. I would also have found it
unnecessary if I were not involved in educating referees for grassroots and youth leagues.
We have to understand that the needs of these leagues and accommodate their needs not with
patches but with genuine set of laws designed for those games. Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former
Secretary General and the Technical Director of the 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 and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.