New proposals by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) could reduce the duration of a match from 90 to 60 minutes, with the clock stopped every time the ball goes out of play, and allow players to take a free kick or corner kick to themselves. Other changes include permitting free kicks to be taken with a moving ball, penalties being given if a goalkeeper handles a back pass and a penalty goal being awarded in the instance of a goal line handball, a law similar to one already practiced in rugby. There are also ideas for teams whose players’ mob referees to be docked points and for defenders to be allowed to receive the ball from a goal kick within the penalty area. A goal kick would follow a penalty kick, meaning there would be no opportunity for players to follow in and score from a rebound. This is proposed to stop the issue of encroachment, with the kick being given as missed if an attacking player encroaches and a retake being allowed if a defending player encroaches on a missed penalty.
Where have these proposals come from?
The ideas have been put forward to IFAB by stakeholders in the game to tackle "on-field issues" and form part of what it calls its "Play Fair strategy", which has three aims of: improving player behaviour and increasing respect, increasing playing time, increasing fairness and attractiveness.
Which plans need no law changes?
The document has put forward a number of radical ideas for discussion, but suggests some proposals can be implemented immediately without the need for law changes. Most of these apply to trying to combat time-wasting. The document says match officials should be stricter on the rule which allows keepers to hold the ball for six seconds and be more stringent when calculating additional time. Additionally, it suggests match officials stop their watch:
- from a penalty being awarded to the spot-kick being taken
- from a goal being scored until the match resumes from the kick-off
- from asking an injured player if he requires treatment to play restarting
- from the referee showing a yellow or red card to play resuming
- from the signal of a substitution to play restarting
- from a referee starting to pace a free-kick to when it is taken.
Which plans are ready for testing?
Some of the proposals are already being tested. The idea of only allowing captains to speak to referees - to prevent match officials being mobbed – is currently being trialled at the Confederations Cup in Russia. Another proposal involves changing the order of kick-taking in penalty shoot-outs, known as 'ABBA'. It is similar to a tie-break in tennis, with team A taking the first kick, then team B taking two, then team A taking two. That is a change from the traditional 'team A, team B, team A, team B' pattern. New suggestions also include players who are being substituted leaving at the closest part of the touchline to them instead of at the halfway line.
Which ideas are up for discussion?
This is where it gets interesting. One of the proposals would allow players being able to dribble straight from a free-kick to "encourage attacking play as the player who is fouled can stop the ball and then immediately continue their dribble/attacking move". Other measures include:
- passing to yourself at a free kick, corner kick and goal kick
- a stadium clock which stops and starts along with the referee's watch
- allowing the goal kick to be taken even if the ball is moving
- a goal kick being taken on the same side that the ball went out on
- a "clearer and more consistent definition" of handball
- a player who scores a goal or stops a goal with his hands gets a red card
- a goalkeeper who handles a back pass or throw-in from a team-mate concedes a penalty
- the referee can award a goal if a player stops a goal being scored by handling on or close to the goal line
- the referee can only blow for half-time or full-time when the ball goes out of play
- a penalty kick is either scored or missed/saved and players cannot follow-up to score to stop encroachment into the penalty area.
Who has come up with these proposals?
IFAB is made up of FIFA and the four British home football associations - of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - and is responsible for making the final decision on law changes. Former English referee David Elleray is IFAB's technical director and has overseen the document. "Referees, players, coaches and fans all agree that improving player behaviour and respect for all participants and especially match officials, increasing playing time and the game's fairness and attractiveness must be football's main priority", he said. “You could say that it is a quiet revolution aimed at getting football even better. My starting point was to look at the laws and say 'what are they for?' and if there is no particular reason then would changing them make the game better." Allowing goalkeepers to pass the ball to defenders within the penalty area from a goal kick has already been trialled in European youth matches in order to test whether it would encourage more passing rather than a long kick up field. The use of video assistant referees (VARs) at the Under-20 World Cup was deemed a success, Elleray added. "Overall the trials are going extremely well," he said. "Out of 52 games in the Under-20 World Cup in Korea there were only 12 decisions which were decided by the VAR so it is not disrupting the game. Referees are saying to players at corners and free kicks 'remember, the cameras are watching you.' Players know they cannot get away with things such as violent conduct and bad tackles". The next stage would involve the ideas being discussed at various meetings before decisions are taken on whether to develop them further or discard them.