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Modernising the beautiful game to absurdity

Modernising the beautiful game to absurdity

By Steve Alabi
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The rules of the beautiful game are changing at a such a frenetic pace that the inventors of the laws may no longer recognise them were they to rise from beyond. Only last week, five changes were again made to the rules. It seems the modern man is more interested in making things more laborious than the good old  man of yonder. The simplicity of the beautiful game has given way to too much technicality. If we are not careful, our passion may become a game played by robots.

The player of old was a man of passion, skills and expression, required to make the fan happy while striving to win. The modern player is more like a robot, required to know so many technical details as if the game is an academic matter or war. The object has shifted from entertainment to battle. The old game was so pure that any number of kids in any clime needed just some form of goalposts and any kind of ball to get a game going. There may not even be a “lefiree”. The players instinctively knew the rules. There might be arguments but no VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was needed to resolve them. Today, we have modernised the game to absurdity.

Rules of the game are tinkered by a body that many football faithful hardly know exist. Fans are generally aware of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, FIFA which is the body governing the game worldwide but it is not solely in charge of the laws of the game. The body in charge is the International Football Association Board, IFAB. It is the maker and reviewer of the Laws of the Game. Founded in 1886, it was originally made up of the four British associations, The Football Association (of England), the Scottish Football Association, the Football Association of Wales and the Irish Football Association. This was so because the game originated from Britain and FIFA did not come into existence until 1904.

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From inception, FIFA recognised IFAB’s jurisdiction over the Laws of the Game and sought only to be admitted to the board, not to supplant it. Today, IFAB consists of the four British associations and FIFA itself with each of the British associations having one vote and FIFA four votes. Decisions of the board can only become binding upon approval by three-quarters of the vote, that is, at least six votes.The implication is that even though FIFA alone cannot change the Laws of the Game, its concurrence is necessary to validate any decision.

The new rules the board rolled out last week and which will take effect worldwide from the first of June are:

  1. There will be no rebounds from penalties. Play will stop for a restart if a penalty is saved or hits the post, meaning there will be no chance to follow up and score from rebounds. In other words, players will no longer need to line up on the edge of the area.
  2. Handballs inside the area. Goals scored that have hit a player’s hand, voluntarily or involuntarily, will not be allowed.
  3. Substituted players can leave the field anywhere. When a player is withdrawn, they will no longer have to leave the field at the halfway line and will instead be permitted to leave the pitch at the nearest point.
  4. Players can touch the ball in the area after a goalkeeper kicks it out. Until now, players could not touch goal kicks before they exited the box, but now they will be able to.
  5. Coaches will receive cards again. It has been done in the past, but discipline of coaches changed to simple reprimands or sendings off. Now they are able to receive yellow and red cards much like players.
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Do we really need these new rules? IFAB thinks so and many football technocrats may agree but I think fans just want a simple game. Whenever the laws are reviewed, and it is now annual, we take the game to a higher level of technical suffocation. Inadvertently, the stakes are further shot up, thus reducing the beauty of the simplicity and the spontaneity of the game.

In the last thirty years, sports have been witnessing a new craze of regular, and sometimes, unnecessary revision of rules. Football has experimented with some rules that had to be jettisoned at the end of the day, including the ridiculous kick-in introduced at Japan ’93. Athletics even took out the natural anxiety that accompanied athletes’ reaction to the starter’s gun by awarding the red card instantly to any of them after the yellow apparently in deference to commercial considerations.

No matter how much the rules are reviewed, rejigged, amended and reformed, the game will not be perfect. Mistakes are really part and parcel of it all. The lawmakers in IFAB will never be able to eliminate mistakes from the game. Look at the controversies that VAR has created. Was it not introduced with the intent to remove doubts and controversies from refereeing decisions? In fact, mistakes add to what makes the game beautiful.

I do not have quarrel with administrative rules. We can tinker with them endlessly but the laws of the game should largely be immoveable. They should only be reviewed when they have become so inadequate that the whole world will be clamouring for it.

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