Commentary

How much longer can soccer put up with the clueless IFAB?

Surely it is time to cry Enough! and do away with the antiquated and dangerously useless International Football Association Board, IFAB?

This is a committee which is supposed to keep its eye on soccer’s rules -- to make sure they are kept up to date, that they are comprehensive, that they are clear and easily understood. That sort of thing.

It is composed of members, none of whom, to my knowledge, has any particular qualifications for the job. I know of no requirement that it must include a referee, for instance, or a player. Or a lawyer.

So, in a vital position in the increasingly complicated world of soccer, IFAB muddles along with but one outstanding talent: That of postponing, or completely avoiding, making important decisions.

Recent attempts to reorganize this mess, trying to pass IFAB off as a hive of activity, independent of FIFA, and completely modern in its outlook have fallen quickly to earth with a resounding dull thud.

IFAB is still IFAB, still a musty remnant of its formation years, back in stuffy Victorian England. All that need be said, really -- and it’s quite damning enough -- is that it is still required, as it was back in 1886, that four of IFAB’s eight votes must go to representatives of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (not, it must be pointed out, four countries, but four regions of the same country, the U.K.). FIFA has the other four votes, all of them wielded at the moment by general secretary Fatma Samoura.

Think about it: 1886 ... over one hundred and thirty years ago, and soccer still considers it OK for one of the sport’s most important areas to be entrusted to Northern Ireland and Wales - countries that cannot, by any highly elastic stretching of the imagination, be held to carry any weight whatsoever in the sport. Sadly, even the once-powerful Scotland, is also now a spent force.

To be that impervious to the very idea of change in a rapidly changing world is not an accident. You have to be devoted to inertia, satisfied with stagnation. That is IFAB. A gathering of complacent “just say no!” reactionaries.

Would it not make sense, as a very minimal acknowledgment of the arrival of the 21st century, to replace Northern Ireland and Wales with, let us say, representatives from Argentina and Brazil? Two countries with seven World Cup trophies between them, countries representing the vital Latin-American contribution to the sport. Two countries, responsible for so much of the development of the game on the field ... should they not be given automatic seats in the rule-making body?

All the above seems to me to be so blindingly obvious that I wonder why it is that soccer itself puts up with it. If you need any further evidence on that point, we need go no further back than four months ago, to October 2019.

On the sixteenth of that month Reuters delivered an article titled “IFAB Planning Working Group on Managing Concussions.” Which already tells you a lot. IFAB was not about to deal directly with the vital concussion injuries, already a widely discussed topic throughout sports. It was going to set up a working group. No, it was planning to set up a working group. The next IFAB meeting had concussions on the agenda -- not as a topic needing urgent action, but as a “discussion topic.”

Quoted throughout the article was Vincent Gouttebarge, identified as the medical head at FIFPro, the international body representing some 65,000 professional soccer players worldwide. Gouttebarge comes over as an amiable man, willing to agree with more or less anything that IFAB said. He told Reuters that any rule changes were still some way off, that changing the rules was complicated -- “We don’t have to be naive that such a huge agenda point will be resolved in a couple of weeks.” He then let slip, casually, that FIFPro had first brought up the question of concussions in 2013, so that it had “taken six years to get this far.”

Six years to get round to thinking about planning a working group to discuss career-threatening and quality-of-life-endangering injuries?

How can that possibly be acceptable? The rule changes mentioned by Gouttebarge involve permitting teams to use temporary subs while an injured player is off the field, being tested for concussion. IFAB was dithering on the issue (and still is), yet by the time of that press release, U.S. Soccer had already implemented (in 2015) limitations on heading for younger players, complete with the use of concussion subs. The changes, including subs, have not, I believe, caused any major disruption to games.

And concussion subs are not the whole story. Because, as far as concussions are concerned, IFAB -- typically, alas -- is getting it wrong. It is treating the injuries as a completely medical issue, and therefore concentrating on diagnosis and treatment. But concussions are also a sports issue, and that is where IFAB should make itself heard.

Not in treating concussions, but in preventing them. By looking at the rules (IFAB’s allotted responsibility) to see if any changes need to be made to reduce the incidence of concussions in soccer. If it does that, it will find plenty of work to do -- work that should then lead quickly (that does not mean six years) to rule changes making soccer a safer sport for all its millions of players.

But I do not believe that IFAB as currently set up can do that. It has had its chance, it has failed abysmally. A new organization, with new people and new attitudes is necessary.

10 comments about "How much longer can soccer put up with the clueless IFAB?".
  1. John Hofmann, February 14, 2020 at 1:40 p.m.

    Amen.

  2. John Soares, February 14, 2020 at 3:19 p.m.

    ? Does IFAB need to go away?
    Or improved to meet it's responsibilities???

  3. Ric Fonseca replied, February 14, 2020 at 4:23 p.m.

    JS:  You are correct that it needs to be improved.  I am and have been a teacher-prof. emeritus of US History - Social and Political - and I want to mention here that in the "social" portion of the course, I also include a very brief yet completely important section on the "history of sport" in the US, a topic the class that at first could care less about to a complete acceptance.  As you might imagine, the development of various sports in the US from the colonial period to the late 19th and into the 20th Centuries, is not well know or even spoken about in the supposed "usual norm" in the teaching of history.  So what do I mean by all of this?
    PG above mentions that the IFAB must be composed of "x" numbers of representatives, four that must be from the UK, and says that reps from Argentina and Brasil ought to be included.  Historically, yes we can thank the Brits for introducing the sport in the 19th Century during their expansion driven period, especially when they introduced cattle ranching in the Rio de la Plata Region, i.e. Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, and perhaps even into Sao Paulo, Brasil.  The British cattlemen were also futboleros, and thus the introduction of Football Soccer to that part of the world (I might point out that the equestrian sport of Polo took place about the same time, hence Argentina's prowess in that sport, etc. etc.)  I might point out also that Argentina also opened its borders in the 19th Century for more and extensive immigration from Europe, especially Italy - but need I say more?   As for Portugal colonizing Brasil....  So only and unless one is cognizant of the introduction, influencing and exportation of the sport, in addition of including Argentina and Brasil into IFAB, how about a country fron CONCACAF?  
    And thus and lastly, it is a very interesting topic, this Board does need to get off it's duff and expand worldwide, and curiously when I lecture on the history of sports in the US, students are more than baffled about futball soccer, the birth of regular football (from rugby), baseball, and even basket ball, I think I leave them better informed that others, and leave appreciative.  Anyhow, just saying, PLAY ON!!!

  4. Dick Burns, February 14, 2020 at 4:27 p.m.

    It needs a more comprehensive membership. As was stated, there is no reason that the UK has half the seats. I have been an advocate of universal rules but at the same time the games played every weekend in the EPL are the same as the Sunday adult leagues played aroind the world let alone youth soccer. I was in favor of changing heading rules for young players but thoght reducing the presure of the ball would have accomplished the same thing without changing the nature of the game. By the way, when are  we going to have VAR on the 99.999 percent of the games that are played world wide every day that are not televised. I hate to say but the high school and colleges have some good ideas. By the way, I started refereeing before yellow and red cards were introduced imto the game. Book em' Daniel!


  5. Ric Fonseca replied, February 14, 2020 at 4:48 p.m.

    >DB:  There are some interesting films/videos on the history of El Jogo Bonito, e.g. how the game evolved in other parts of the world, before the Brits sorta laid claims to it and it began to spread throughout the UK countrysides.  And how the sport of rugby evlolved from association football, during which time to the British gents in high society decided to develop a sport for gentlemen that became rugby, while they left alone the sport of "football" was left to be played by a bunch of ruffians. 
    And so they formed rugby rules, and later they "decided" to call the sport to be played only by ruffians, became "association football" which morphed into "AssocFootball" then  Assoc morphed into "asoccer" ultimately it became just "soccer."  And then they got together to write what today is known as The Laws of the Game.  So, PLAY ON, guvnor!!!


     

  6. Wooden Ships replied, February 15, 2020 at 8:53 a.m.

    More VAR, you're kidding right? 99.9% of games everywhere. 

  7. Alan Goldstein, February 14, 2020 at 6:40 p.m.

    As Americans we are used to entrepreneurial groups starting new leagues and organizations to challenge older ones, especially when the older organizations are steeped in corruption and inertia. There is no universal rule from above that puts FIFA or the IFAB in charge of all Soccer in the world. That occurs because none has the combination of will and resources to compete. We nerd an alternative to FIFA, one with the guts to modernize the game, change rediculous outmoded rules, be transparent in its operations. Oh, and the money to grab a few great players (Ala AFL back in the day) to start the revolution and bring the can into the 21st century. 

  8. R2 Dad, February 14, 2020 at 8:14 p.m.

    Cue Wah Wah Trombone....

  9. Bob Ashpole, February 14, 2020 at 10:12 p.m.

    It makes little sense today to give votes to just FIFA and 4 member nations. Can anyone articulate a justification other than tradition?

  10. Derek Armstrong, March 11, 2020 at 2:41 p.m.

    Rick ,can you contct me please derek@nomadssoccer.org

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