‘Faster, sportier, fairer’: are the new law trials proposed by football a good idea? | soccer laws


palaquium gutta It is an evergreen tree, native to Malaysia and Borneo, that can grow up to 100 feet tall. Its sap, known as gutta-percha, is a kind of botanical phenomenon, a moldable yet durable latex that is resistant to extreme temperatures and does not conduct electricity. Largely plundered by the British empire, gutta-percha was used to make furniture and pistol grips, and covered the submarine cables that carried the first international telegrams. He also played a role in the birth of association football.

When the laws of the game were first drawn up during a series of pub meetings in London’s Covent Garden, there were two key issues at stake. The first was whether this new codified sport should allow people to pick up the ball and run with it. The second was about the level of violence allowed. “Hacking” was a real concern among the clubs involved, as were players modifying their boots to make them even more likely to rip someone’s flesh. So when the laws were finally passed on December 8, 1863, not only did three of them prohibit players from lifting the ball, but rule number 13 prohibited a player from using “protruding nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha in the balls.” soles or heels of their boots.

Gutta-percha still lives a respectable life, commonly used as a material for fillings in people’s teeth. Their relevance to football, however, has diminished substantially, with the weaponry of football boots considered less important in the 21st century than whether the shoe can effectively create kinetic friction between the foot and the turf. The laws of the game are also interested in different things today, but perhaps they are just as revealing about what legislators are concerned about.


This week, the game’s world legislative body, the International Football Association Board, announced its opening to a series of lawsuits that would experiment with ideas that may yet become law. In a statement to the media, Ifab said “tests such as explaining certain refereeing decisions during a game, potentially fairer calculation of playing time and throw-ins” had been discussed at his AGM.

The news followed a similar announcement from the KNVB, the Dutch Football Association, which said it had proposed testing such measures, and others, to FIFA. Additional ideas included being able to dribble off a free kick, unlimited “flying substitutions” made while the ball is in play, and altering each match to 30 minutes per fair play half time. These changes, according to Jan Dirk van der Zee of the KNVB, would make the game “faster, sportier, fairer and more attractive”.

The KNVB’s Jan Dirk van der Zee (left, with Daniëlle van de Donk) believes that “it takes more than just sticking to tradition and nostalgia.” Photo: Gerrit van Keulen/EPA

Van der Zee is the director of amateur football for the KNVB and his interest is that more children play. But something else he said coincides precisely with the thoughts of those at the top of the professional game. Arguing in favor of trying rule changes, Van der Zee said: “If we want to compete with the temptations of the screen and free individual sports, it takes more than sticking to tradition and nostalgia.”

That elite football is in direct competition not only with the NFL and NBA, but also with Netflix and PlayStation, is an idea shared by almost all top executives in the game. It is understood that the “future freak”, as he is known, is promiscuous and easily bored and will turn his eyes elsewhere if he is not entertained. This logic helped inform the thinking behind the reform of the Champions League, the aborted launch of the Super League, and even some of soccer’s flirtation with cryptocurrency, where tokens were traded as a way to buy (and therefore So stay loyal to) a club and the game.

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You can view these proposed essays through the same lens. And the argument, advocated by Arsène Wenger, among others, that a throw-in would prevent throw-in errors, or that a dribbled free kick would make things move faster, has its merits. However, it could also be argued that a player might take their time deciding who should get a throw-in or that coaches would still prefer to make their substitutions when the ball is out of play. better to preserve a tactical form. Either way, the results of accepting the changes and what kind of game it would create are not yet known.

The tests, if and when they happen, would seek to resolve that, but regardless, the underlying message that the game needs to be sped up and have fewer interruptions is getting stronger. Van der Zee argues that those who resist changes to the law are “football romantics”, trapped in an idea of ​​what the game once was like. Others may reply that it is the spirit in which the game is played, rather than the laws, that defines the outcome and that the importance of winning, or rather the fear of defeat, is what holds things back. It’s also possible to wonder what the Victorian players would have made of all these normative tweaks, though they’d probably be too busy picking bits of gutta-percha off their shins to notice.