The Sweeper: Laws of the Game Stuck in the Past

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We asked on Friday ahead of this weekend’s meeting of the International Association Football Board (IFAB), who determine the Laws of the Game followed under FIFA’s direction worldwide, if the formation of its membership was an historical anachronism that could be detrimental to the modern game, with a British veto guaranteed due to a nod of the head to its nineteenth century foundation in Blighty. As we explained, the eight person board is comprised of four representatives from FIFA and one each from the four British associations, with a majority of six required to pass a law.

The results of the meeting and the explanations given for some of their decisions (which might be too generous of a word) has raised further questions about the board’s fitness to be the custodians of the rules everybody plays under.

Most notably, the IFAB has rejected even further looking into goal-line technology. spins this nicely with its headline “Favouring football’s human side”.

“The IFAB has decided not to pursue goal-line technology and to no longer continue experiments in that area,” explained the FIFA Secretary General, Jerome Valcke. “The question posed to the members of the IFAB was simple: should we introduce technology in football or not? The answer from the majority of members was no, even if was not unanimous.”

I don’t know what Mr. Valcke considers to be “technology”, but if we’re being nice about it, it seems to me that referees and their linesmen these days aren’t communicating via carrier pigeon or morse code, but by the wireless headsets attached to their heads. Regardless of the merits of the technology, ruling out even experimentation with goal-line technology is just pig-headed.

League of Nations

Pretty much every article outside of’s in-house sycophancy comes down hard on the IFAB. Arsene Wenger said it was “beyond comprehension”; the head of the Italian FA asked why experimentation itself had been ruled-out; and James Lawton offers a withering take-down of the IFAB’s views:

No doubt the resistance to change will continue to be fuelled by the old, played-out arguments. You know them well enough. These things level themselves out. Technology would interrupt the flow of the game. Referees and linesmen would be diminished.

The feebleness of such arguments can surely no longer bear the most casual scrutiny. Certainly, they had never been so besieged as in the wake of the Henry outrage. Then, an Irish team which had played with brilliant optimism and purpose was aghast to see their chance of victory and the great prize of a ticket to South Africa taken away, stolen before their eyes… and those of a watching world.

Only the match officials were in the dark about the scale of Henry’s cheating as he controlled the ball with his hand before making the decisive cross. How long would it have taken to wipe away that catastrophe? No longer than the uttering of a few words by the fourth official.

Who would have been diminished then? Only the culprit Henry, exposed for an act dismaying, it seemed quickly enough, both to himself as well as the great army of his admirers.

But worse than the decision has been its presentation, so hamfisted that the genuine concerns about introducing video technology into the game are lost in the uproar. Despite their claims to have taken “careful deliberation” over it, the IFAB left most only baffled by the defense offered, which appears to centre on the joy we all apparently indulge in from human failing. IFAB board member Jonathan Ford of the Football Association of Wales said “The big moments in this sport – whatever they are – get supporters talking and go down in history. That’s what makes this sport so vibrant.”

Irish FA member Patrick Nelson concurred: “We were all agreed that technology shouldn’t enter football because we want football to remain human, which is what makes it great,” going on bizarrely to reference one of the worst refereeing mistakes of all-time in the 1966 World Cup final. “The fans keep talking about these matches again and again, and relive them.”

The IFAB, oddly, even accepted that “referees need assistance in making decisions” according to, yet tabled the other proposal to examine the use of goal-line officials until May. Nineteenth century public relations to go with a nineteenth century structure, then.

Quick Hits

  • Could Andrew Ellis be Rangers’ white knight? The mooted sale price of the club as David Murray looks to get rid of his 90%+ share for just £33 million reminds us again of just how vast the difference is in the value of Scotland’s top clubs from their southern neighbours, almost entirely due to the vastly different domestic television revenue incomes.
  • Tragic news as Nigerian Endurance Idahor died on the pitch this weekend.
  • The Guardian (for once not David Conn) give us more detail on the Red Knights Manchester United takeover bid: “The Red Knights are hoping to galvanise support for a bid that would be welcomed by both fans and the football authorities. Analysts say there are several ways a transaction could be structured. One would be to bring in a rich individual as part of the bidding consortium who could wipe out debts of £715m, pay the Glazers about £500m and commit resources to further develop the club. A condition of such a deal would be to sell shares to the fans with sufficient voting rights to allow them to block any future sale and have a say in the running of the club. An alternative would be to sell to 60 or so super-rich investors and spread ownership more widely among supporters and their wealthy backers.”

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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