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Trial Alternatives to the 'Triple Punishment'

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We propose the following alternative to the 'triple punishment' currently present in football:

- For fouls* that deny an obvious goalscoring opportunity or goal committed outside the penalty area, a penalty kick is awarded to the opposing team; and

- For fouls* that deny an obvious goalscoring opportunity or goal committed inside the penalty area, a penalty goal is awarded to the opposing team and the match is restarted with a kick-off (as per a regular goal).

We also propose that IFAB undertakes a 12-month trial of this alternative in various second-tier domestic and continental, and amateur-level competitions globally, before considering implementing these changes in the Laws of The Game.

By signing this petition, you are contributing to dialogue which we hope will inspire the five members of IFAB - The Football Association, the Scottish Football Association, the Football Associaion of Wales, the Irish Football Association and FIFA - to consider these proposals at the upcoming in the near future.

(* - only direct free-kick offences - see clarification under 'Wording' below)

Background

In response to an increasing number of cynical fouls in professional football - most notably the infamous Willie Young foul on Paul Allen in the 1980 FA cup final), the FA instructed referees to send off players who committed a foul which denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity (commonly known as "last man") from the 1982-83 season onwards. This instruction was added to the laws as an IFAB decision in 1990, in time for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. It received its own separate entry as a sending-off offence in the 1997 edition of the FIFA Laws of The Game.

Current Situation

This law change has undoubtedly had the desired effect of ensuring teams are punished for committing professional fouls. However, there are a number of problems with the current implementation which we consider below.

1. Players can still 'take one for the team'. There are two incidents which clearly highlight this in the modern era. They are the foul committed by Ole Gunnar Solskjær for Manchester United against Newcastle United in the Premier League in 1998, and the goal-line deliberate handball by Luis Suárez for Uruguay against Ghana in the 2010 FIFA World Cup quarter-final.

In the Manchester United vs Newcastle United match, Solskjær had the option of fouling Robert Lee to prevent a goalscoring opportunity. He clearly chose the option of committing a deliberate foul outside of the area. While Solskjær was sent-off, as the match was drawing to a close and the resultant outcome was only a free kick, the punishment gave Newcastle United negligible tactical restitution when compared to the tactical disadvantage they suffered as a result of the foul. If the foul hadn't been committed, it is likely that Solskjær would have been able to make a fair challenge just inside the penalty area. With our proposed amendment in place, we believe that players would choose the moderate probability of success in making a fair challenge in this situation instead of giving away a certain penalty kick.

In the Uruguay vs Ghana match, Suárez had the choice between what was a certain goal and a highly likely goal from the penalty mark. He chose to sacrifice himself, reducing the proability of a goal being scored by conceding a penalty kick and send-off. The gamble paid off and Ghana missed the penatly kick and lost the resultant kicks from the penalty mark. With our proposed alternative in place, there is no advantage to a player in Suárez's position handling the ball and conceding the penalty - a goal would be awarded, and we would hope that as a side-effect, various statisticians would still credit the goal, in spite of it being a 'penalty goal', to the original scorer.

2. Unnecessary suspensions occur in low-level amateur competitions. Football is undoubtedly the most played sport in the world. All official competitions are organised under the auspices of FIFA. FIFA lists a number of laws that may be modified for veteran, youth and female footballers; however, this list does not contain Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct. In amateur, social matches, players are competitive and still strive to win, but generally care more about participating and playing the game rather than the result. Referees, whether official, or appointed by competing clubs still must apply the laws. A lack of skill in these competitions can result in last-ditch tackles being slightly mistimed, and players in these competitions can occasionally make poor judgements - whether it's raising their hands in an instinctive manner in the penalty area or making a tackle that wasn't clean to make.

Nothing in our proposed amendment would prevent referees from cautioning and sending-off players for reckless and excessive tackles in goalscoring situations. However, a large number of these fouls result in only a tactical disadvantage to the attacking team. Our proposed amendment would still rectify the disadvantage suffered by the attacking team, while saving cards and suspensions for dangerous tackles and uncivilised behaviour. This would keep players on the park each weekend, playing the game they love for momentary, otherwise harmless mistakes.

3. The current punishment is often disproportionate and highly variant in its effects. Depending upon when in a match a player is sent-off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, the disadvantage suffered by the offending team can vary from disastrous, to negligible. Conversely, the advantage conferred upon the team that had their goal-scoring opportunity unfairly taken away can also drastically vary.
Consider the scenario presented in this video clip. Ebbsfleet United's goalkeeper, Preston Edwards, is correctly sent-off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity in under ten seconds. The backpass from his defender is misplayed straight into the path of a Farnborough striker. Edwards makes a last-ditch effort to try to win the ball, but mistimes the tackle and clips the striker. The resultant penalty kick is scored, and Ebbsfleet now must play ninety minutes of football, starting a goal down, a player down, with their second-choice goalkeeper. To add insult to injury, due to the send-off, Edwards will be suspended for at least one additional match. Farnborough, with an advantage that excessively exceeds any disadvantage they suffered, go on to win the match 3-0.

In stark contrast, the two clips presented in point 1 above were committed towards the end of the match. In this instance, the only negative outcome suffered by both Manchester United and Uruguay were the ensuing suspensions of Solskjær and Suárez. Newcaslte United and Ghana were unfairly left in a far worse position than if the foul had not been committed.

With our proposed amendment in place, Ebbsfleet United would have suffered the goal, but would have kept a full complement of players and their strongest goalkeeper, with a chance to still contest the match. Newcastle United and Ghana would have both had the tactical disadvantage rectified, no longer being robbed through "justified cheating".

4. The entertainment value of a game is greatly diminished. Football is a multi-billion dollar industry. In the modern game, enticing people to stadia and ensuring broadcasters receive maximum value for money when purchasing television rights is crucial, particularly for developing the game in emerging football markets.
Supplementary to point 3, in highly competitive, tight matches in competitions such as the UEFA Champions League early send-offs can have a match-killing effect. Obviously, severe punishment is appropriate for the majority of sending-off offences. Dangerous tackles, violent behaviour and intolerable language and gestures must be discouraged and stamped out in football. However, when the offence is purely tactical, the game is often unnecessarily killed as a spectacle - particularly when the majority of resultant penalty kicks are scored. The ensuing player-advantage is too often crushing and the team on the receiving end of the punishment loses. With our proposed amendment in place, the restitution would occur immediately, and then a more evenly-matched contest would resume after such restitution, whether it is a penalty kick, or a penalty goal.

Supplementary to point 1, the entertainment value of games is also killed when "justified cheating" ie. taking one for the team - can influence the result of a match. Spectators, in spite of usually holding bias for one team over the other, expect a fair contest, particularly when paying top dollar for seats and television subscriptions. If there is any opportunity in which a player committing a professional foul is more advantangeous to them then not fouling the opponent, clearly there is a problem with the current system. As shown by the Solskjær and Suárez, these situations can occur. With our proposed amendment, this would not be the case. Either the professional foul would have no effect, as in the application of our law change to the Suárez example, or it would result in the fouler putting their team in a worse position, as in the application of our law change to the Solskjær example.

Wording

We propose that the following sending-off offences in Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct are removed from the FIFA Laws of The Game for competitions that participate in the trial:

- denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity
by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within
his own penalty area); and

- denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving
towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a
penalty kick,

and that the following text is inserted into Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct between the "Indirect free kick" and "Disciplinary sanctions" sections, under the heading "Denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity":

- A penalty kick is awarded to the the opposing team if a player denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a direct free kick, committed outside the player's own penalty area.

- A penalty kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball, committed outside the player's own penalty area.

- A goal is awarded to the opposing team if a player denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a direct free kick, committed inside the player's own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play. Play is to be restarted with a kick-off to the player's team.

- A goal is also awarded to the opposing team if a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeper within his own penalty area) within his own penalty area. Play is to be restarted with a kick-off to the player's team.

- An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team, with the ball positioned on the player's own penalty mark, if a player denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by an indirect free kick, committed outside the player's own penalty area.

- A penalty kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by an indirect free kick (this does not apply to any offence involving a goalkeper handling the ball within his own penalty area), committed inside the player's own penalty area.

A player may not be cautioned or sent-off for the tactical nature of denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. However they must still be cautioned if the offence is reckless or sent-off if the offence is committed with excessive force or brutality.

The following text in Law 10 - The Method of Scoring:

A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between
the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no infringement of the
Laws of the Game has been committed previously by the team scoring the
goal.

is to be modified to:

A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between
the goalposts and under the crossbar, or in accordance with Law 12, provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed previously by the team scoring the goal.

A Perfect Solution?

No solution is perfect - as we can see with the many calls for the law in its current form to be modified. This disdain is coming from not only players and coaches who have been disadvantaged by it, but administrators - including Michel Platini, the current President of UEFA. Even players who have arguably benefited in recent days from its existence, including Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich's goalkeeper have argued for changes.

However, if a 12-month trial of the amendment, as we propose, is implemented both at grassroots level and in second-tier competitions internationally, we will truly be able to determine if it has a positive net effect. IFAB will be able to measure its success and popularity with players, coaches, referees and spectators in elite football. IFAB will also gauge its merits in ensuring lower-level, amateur footballers are not suspended for mere tactical infringements caused by a lack of skill and poor decision making.

In the higher levels of football administration, there appears to be an unwillingness to accept changes that don't yield a perfect solution. While we are sure that our proposed modification to the Laws of The Game is not perfect, we still believe that this change can incrementally lead us towards a fairer, more consistent outcome for all stakeholders and keep football safe, fun, fair and entertaining for all participants at all levels of the game.

Please sign now to get this message heard!

(Image used courtesy of Sdo216, licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. The original image can be found here on Wikimedia Commons)

(Excerpts from the FIFA Laws of The Game are copyright FIFA 2013. The inclusion of these excerpts constitute a fair use under applicable law, in discussing the work for research/academic purposes)



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