This is the fourth of my series of articles looking at the Play Fair document being proposed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and looks at their ideas for increasing fairness and attractiveness. My initial piece was “Play Fair? – An introduction to the document looking to make changes to game of football”, and I followed this up with their proposals for “Improving player behaviour and increasing respect.” The third article looked at “Increasing playing time”.
The aim of this final strategy is to make the game fairer and more enjoyable to watch, play, coach and referee. This may involve challenging aspects of football which have been traditionally accepted but which some believe can cause minor irritation and spoil the game. The following are the points raised:
A different order of kickers for penalty kicks in a penalty shoot-out
Statistics show that the team that takes the first kick in a shoot-out has an advantage because of greater mental pressure on the second kicker in each round, who may face instant elimination if they miss their kick, especially once the first four kicks have been taken by each side. They propose a system similar to the tie-break in a game of tennis, whereby one team takes just one kick, and then the second team then take two consecutive penalties. The first team then takes two kicks and so on, each team taking two kicks at a time, until one team wins. By doing this, if each kick is successfully converted, then as you move on to the subsequent penalties after each team has taken their five penalties, the “mental pressure” alternates between the teams, rather than one team always being ahead. This sounds a fairer way of doing things to me, and I believe it should be introduced as soon as possible.
Goal kicks and defending free kicks in the penalty area
Under the current rule the ball must be played outside the area before another player can touch it. If it is played before leaving the area the kick is re-taken, and this could be seen as a time-wasting tactic. I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this current rule which does not apply anywhere else on the pitch, where a short kick can be taken. The proposal is to allow defending players or the goalkeeper to play the ball inside the area once the goal / free kick has been taken. But I cannot understand why they propose only defending players to be able to play the ball next. Why not the attacking players as would be the case in any other area of the pitch, as long as they are outside the area when the kick is actually taken? The reasoning behind the proposal is that it can speed up the game, stop time-wasting, and they believe it may lead to a more constructive and controlled re-start rather than the current long kick.
This is one of the most contentious issues in the game, especially when it occurs in the penalty area. Questions arise as to whether the handball is deliberate, if it is hand to ball or ball to hand, and pundits and referees seem to question whether the arms / hands are in a natural or un-natural position. This requires judgement by the officials which many perceive to be incorrect on many occasions. Clearly the game would benefit from a clearer and more consistent definition and interpretation of handball.
One school of thought is that if it hits the hand or arm (deliberate or not) then an offence is committed, taking the subjective judgement out of the hands of the referee. The alternative view is that the referee must be absolutely certain that it is deliberate to blow his whistle. In the penalty area, too many penalties are awarded in my opinion when the action is not a deliberate one. This usually leads to a goal from the penalty spot, when in many instances the goal was not being threatened by the ball being played by the hand or arm. Clearly this is one issue that requires further debate and clarification and needs to be addressed but this document does not really do so. How about this for a solution? If the ball hits the hand and denies a goal scoring opportunity then a penalty is awarded, otherwise a free-kick. Ignore whether or not the “offence” occurs in the penalty area, and take the intent out of the equation.
They do have some proposals, however, that they believe could make the game fairer. These include sending off a player who deliberately scores a goal with his hand, in the same way that a defender who prevents a goal in this way is punished. Personally I do not like to see players sent off which potentially spoils the game for spectators. Perhaps a more radical solution would be for the team of the attacking player who scores a goal in this way to concede a penalty themselves, even though the offence took place at the other end of the pitch.
A further proposal is that a goalkeeper who handles a deliberate pass or throw-in from a team mate should be penalised by a penalty kick awarded against him rather than an indirect free-kick which is currently the case. I like this idea.
Their final proposal in respect of handball is that the referee should be able to award a goal if a defender stops a goal being scored by handling the ball, an idea which is similar to the penalty try in the game of rugby. Again, I believe a sound proposal.
Half-time and full-time whistle only blown when the ball is out of play
This is another proposal borrowed from the game of rugby and, again I believe to be a good one. Sometimes the referee blows his whistle for half / full time just as a shot is going into the goal, or a team has a promising attack or scoring opportunity. The introduction of this change would eliminate any controversy and potentially create more excitement as a team tries to keep the ball in play.
The penalty kick – hit or miss
Their final proposal in this area aims to stop encroachment by defenders or attackers when a penalty is being taken. They propose that a penalty kick is either scored or missed / saved. If the kick is not successful, then the referee would stop play and award a goal kick, thus discouraging all the nonsense as players crowd the edge of the penalty area when a kick is taken. Once again, a proposal that would seem to be a promising idea.