The Laws of the Game are set for a major overhaul in 2016/17. They won’t be officially published until May, but I’ve been scouring the Internet for clues, and have been able to come up with a fairly clear picture of what’s ahead.
For the first time, the Laws of the Game will be published by IFAB, the International Football Association Board, the organization responsible for updating the Laws for many years. This means the IFAB logo – and not the FIFA logo – will be featured on the cover.
This is the result of IFAB being formed as a legal entity separate and apart from FIFA. IFAB exists solely for the purpose of setting the Laws of the Game.
The Laws had not seen a comprehensive rewrite in many years. IFAB selected retired English referee David Elleray (pictured above) to oversee the rewrite. Among other goals, Elleray has said the rewrite should make the laws “clearer” and less subject to contradicting interpretation.
Until now, the Laws were actually two separate publications: the Laws “proper” and a separate section called “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees”, or simply “The Interpretations” to most referees. Under the rewrite, these two separate sections are merged into a single publication. Interpretations are discussed within each Law itself.
Referees in the USA may be familiar with this approach, as it has been utilized for years in the NCAA and the NFHS Soccer Rules publications (both of which vary to some extent from the LOTG).
The Laws will now be gender neutral. Instead of using only masculine pronouns, the revised Laws use language that does not refer to one gender.
The Laws will be much briefer. In the current edition of the Laws and Interpretations, the document clocks in at over 20,000 words. The revised Laws will be about 10,000 words.
The most significant change to the Laws is the removal of the controversial “triple punishment” requirement. In the current Laws, if a defender fouls an attacker in the defender’s own penalty area, and the referee determines that the defender should be sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, the defender (and their team) is subject to three punishments:
- The defender is sent-off (and the team must play with one less player)
- The attacking team is awarded a penalty kick.
- The defender is subject to a further suspension (which varies by league, but ranges from 1 to 3 games).
Under the revised Laws, if the defender is making a legitimate attempt to play the ball and simply mis-times a tackle, for example, the defender will be cautioned instead of sent off. This only applies to fouls committed inside the penalty area, and only when the referee determines there was a legitimate attempt to play the ball. If the defender should, for example, grab the jersey of the attacker, the defender would still be subject to being sent off.
Further, if the foul occurs outside of the penalty area, the defender would continue to be subject to a send off, consistent with the current edition of the Laws.
Other changes to the Laws include:
- A kick-off may now be kicked in any direction, including backwards
- Players who are injured as the result of a reckless or excessive force challenge (resulting in a caution or send off to the offender) will not be required to leave the field of play to receive treatment, if treatment can be handled expeditiously
- Goalkeepers who come off their line during a penalty kick will be cautioned if the kick fails, in addition to the kick being re-taken
- If the kicker of the penalty kick violates the Laws, the kick will no longer be retaken and play will be restarted with an indirect free kick for the defending team
- If opposing players are off the field of play (through the course of normal play) and one commits a foul, play will be restarted with the appropriate free kick, on the touchline or goal line. Under the current Laws, play restarts with a dropped ball, as only misconduct and not fouls can be committed off the field of play. The example given by Mr Elleray to illustrate is when a pair of opponents go off the field during the run of play, and one grabs the other to prevent him/her from re-entering the field of play. The team of the player whose shirt was grabbed will now be awarded a free-kick on the appropriate boundary line. Note that this could result in a penalty kick being awarded.
- Offside restarts will be taken from the point on the field where the offending player was when they became offside. Under the current Laws, the restart would be taken from the point where they were originally in an offside position. (Editor’s note: it will be interesting to see how the Assistant Referee mechanics might be updated to handle a situation where a player starts a play from an offside position in the attacking half of the field and then becomes involved in active play on the defending half of the field)
There are other minor changes to the Laws, but I’ve attempted to list what I believe to be the most significant changes. There’s certainly enough change to ensure 2017 recertification classes will be have plenty of discussion points.