Radical law changes under consideration in football

Conor Gallagher, fifa, football, Premier League, Radical law, soccer, World Cup 2022

Conor Gallagher – Radical rule changes under consideration in football – Getty Images/Jacques Feeney

Football’s law-makers will consider radical new plans to crackdown on time-wasters – including a basketball-style start-stop clock – at a Wembley meeting on Wednesday.

With the amount of time being played in the Premier League reaching record lows this season, representatives from Fifa and the four Home Nations will discuss three possible solutions.

The first is to deliver a strict edict for referees to enforce the existing rules, notably that goalkeepers should be penalised if they hold the ball for more than six seconds before restarting play. The second is to follow the example of the World Cup, where a much stricter estimation of lost playing time was implemented and matches lasted for an average of 101 minutes.

An even more dramatic change will also be discussed, whereby playing time is measured with a start-stop clock in the same way as sports like American football and basketball. An external time-keeper has been advocated by influential figures including Manchester United director Sir Alex Ferguson and former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein.

New analysis by Sky Sports has found a declining number of ‘in play’ minutes during the Premier League this season as players become increasingly sophisticated at ‘killing’ time, with the ball in play for less than 56 per cent of matches this season.

In more than 20 games, Premier League fans have seen less than 45 minutes of the supposed 90 minutes of playing time. It is an issue across Europe, with Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and Spain La Liga recording even lower ‘in play’ percentages than the Premier League.

Time can be added at the referee’s discretion and allowances should be made for substitutions, assessment and removal of injured players, time-wasting, disciplinary sanctions, medical stoppages such as drinks and cooling breaks, video assistant referee checks and anything else that causes a delay to a restart, including goal celebrations.

Precise guidance for calculating added is limited and the Laws of the Game simply says: “An allowance is made only when delays are excessive.

England’s referees chief Howard Webb has so far suggested that he would first like to see the existing rules applied more strictly.

“I’m a big advocate of ensuring that we empower referees to take action against players who delay restarts, and those who immediately stand in front of free-kicks to stop them from being taken,” he said, describing Fifa’s World Cup methods as “unusual”.

Also on the agenda at Wednesday’s meeting will be temporary concussions substitutes, where trials for a system similar to rugby of in-game head injury replacements could be agreed.

The Premier League, France’s Ligue 1 and Major League Soccer in America, as well as players’ unions, are all in favour of allowing teams to bring on a temporary substitute so that medics have an off-field window of around 15 minutes to decide whether the player could be concussed. At present, snap decisions have to be made on the field and football has been accused of having ‘“stone age” rules which endanger players.

“Football’s unique global reach and influence mean that it should be leading the way in making player safety measures as effective as they can be,” said Dr Adam White, the head of brain health at the PFA.

The International Football Association Board will also discuss clarifying guidelines around offsides on Wednesday. It follows the controversy over Manchester United’s equalising goal against Manchester City on Saturday when an offside Marcus Rashford ran on to a through-ball, apparently distracting City defenders, before Bruno Fernandes scored.

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