Commentary

The mountain and the mouse: what came out of IFAB meeting

There is a saying in Turkish: “The mountain gave birth to a mouse.” Well, I am not here to teach you Turkish sayings, but I feel it fits in well with the subject material. This saying is used when someone has high expectations from an occasion and gets nothing or very little at the end. Just like our soccer/football community expected so much from the last meeting of International Football Association Board (IFAB)  and got a ‘mouse’ at the end.

There were three expectations from the IFAB AGM: 

  1. A solution to the substitutions due to potential concussions;
  2. More clarification to the “handball” offense;
  3. Improvements to the VAR protocol especially after the severe criticisms over offside decisions measured by centimeters.

You could have a look at official website to see what the mountain gave birth to.

The USA was the first country to take concussion seriously, most probably due to the fact that it is the most litigious country on the planet. The concussion protocol was aimed at kids 10 years or younger (U11) playing small-sided games. FA’s in UK will take a similar stand for kids younger than 12. It is clear that the focus of IFAB on concussions is towards the non-grassroots game. IFAB says: “Following feedback from the recent meeting of the Concussion Expert Group (CEG), The IFAB also agreed that more research data is required before proposing possible changes to the Laws of the Game. FIFA indicated a strong interest in having trials at the men’s and women’s Olympic Games football tournament in July 2020, with other competitions also being able to take part in the trials.” You can call this procrastination or whatever you want to call, but a solution is still at least a year away.

If we look at further clarification for the handball offense, the only clarification IFAB came out with is to define the difference between the arm and the shoulder. From the start of the 2020-21 season, the point at which the arm stops and the shoulder begins will now be written into the LOTG as the “T-shirt line.” According an important UEFA refereeing expert, there are some talks that IFAB will come out with more clarifications in the weeks ahead before they release the new LOTG for 2020-2021. I hope that is the case. Otherwise, this change about the “T-shirt line” is ludicrous at least. Anyone who played the game knows that a player can direct the ball and even score a goal using deliberately the part between the shoulder joint and the T-shirt line. But then, maybe IFAB is talking about accidental/non-deliberate contact between the ball and that part of the arm. Now, things are getting more complicated instead of getting simpler.

Let us not forget what UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said a few months ago: “Second thing, we had at UEFA the top coaches two weeks ago, in Nyon. There was Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Max Allegri, Carlo Ancelotti, Zinedine Zidane.  All the top coaches of European teams, and our referee officer, Roberto Rossetti shows a handball. He says: ‘Handball or not? ’Half the room said yes. Half said no. So tell me how clear the rule is. We don’t know anything!” 

Are we better off after the new LOTG (2019-2020) came on clarifying the handball offense? After watching many games and inconsistent decisions, this assumption does not seem to hold water.

UEFA is now directing its referees that if the arm is already in an unnatural position when the ball comes directly from the player’s own head or body or foot then a direct free kick or a penalty kick should be awarded. Is that how you read the following from the LOTG 2019-2020, I do not?

“Except for the above offences, it is not usually an offence if the ball touches

a player’s hand/arm:

• directly from the player’s own head or body (including the foot)

• directly from the head or body (including the foot) of another player who is close…”

Like before, the interpretation of the LOTG by FIFA or UEFA will come before that interpretation is embedded in the LOTG. 

Let us have a look at this from the LOTG: “It is an offence if a player:….. scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper.”  The goalkeeper mentioned here is the attacking team’s goalkeeper. There are two alternatives: Either the Law is talking about the case when the attacking team’s goalkeeper joins his/her friend in the opponent’s penalty area like it happens in the last few minutes of some games. As soon as a goalkeeper leaves his/her penalty area, he/she has no privileges for the use of the hands/arms than any other player and hence if even he/she accidentally plays the ball and scores directly, there is no doubt that the goal will be disallowed. But then why repeat the obvious which is already in the LOTG.

The other alternative which is the more rational explanation is a hypothetical case of when a goalkeeper throws the ball from his/her penalty area with his/her hand and due to a very strong wind the ball goes into the opponent’s goal directly. Yes, this looks very unlikely but I have seen unlikely things happen in soccer. Since football does not expect any goals to be scored by hand this alternative explanation makes sense. But then how will the game be restarted, I will let the readers to discuss this.

The bottom line is that the more you try to clarify things in soccer the more complex it gets.

The implementation of the VAR system has been grueling at best in the professional leagues. There had been serious criticism of the offside detection system used by the VAR. Ceferin in the same interview said: “If you have a long nose, you are in an offside position these days. Also the lines are drawn by the VARs. So it’s a bit subjective drawing of objective criteria.” 

The Technical Director of IFAB David Elleray said: “VAR had prompted a change in thinking because of so many marginal VAR decisions that ruled out goals and made a mockery of guidelines that the system should only be used to correct ‘clear and obvious errors’. Assistant referees were always told (in the past), if in doubt, give the benefit of doubt to the attacking team. Football is saying to us that we don’t think that your toe being two centimeters in front of the end of a defender is a significant enough advantage to be penalized. Is it appropriate for us to say, can we change the law to restore more benefit to attacking football?”  

Did IFAB whose technical director is quoted above make any changes to the LOTG this year to facilitate a change to benefit attacking soccer? The answer is NO. Instead, we hear that UEFA has decided to introduce thicker VAR offside lines for Champions League and Europa League in 2020-21. So how thick of a VAR line is good enough to promote attacking soccer? One centimeter, two centimeters, three centimeters….. Well this and other VAR improvement suggestions require a sequel to this article. See you in two weeks….

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer 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 and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.

4 comments about "The mountain and the mouse: what came out of IFAB meeting".
  1. Bill Dooley, March 14, 2020 at 8:53 a.m.

    Paul Gardner column to follow in 3...2...1

  2. Bob Ashpole, March 14, 2020 at 1:33 p.m.

    Thank you, Ahmet. Truly a disappointment. It seems they have made the handling situation worse instead of better.

  3. R2 Dad, March 14, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.

    Another good column from AG--appreciate taking up this issue which can be a bit dry but impacts the quality of the game for everyone. To offer a possible answer to the restart: opponent keeper gets an indirect kick/goal kick (novel penalty that is both!), after this opposite number has that throw-in goal rescinded. That's the most likely restart, though I like the idea of the offending keeper (especially if it's at the youth level) being allowed another try and is given a goal kick.

  4. beautiful game, March 20, 2020 at 3:36 p.m.

    New handball rule is a disaster. Let the referee make a decision after VAR review about the intent factors.

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