What do you love about the sport you follow? Think about it for a minute before reading on.
Is it the atmosphere? Or is it the excitement and skill? Or the fact that you can rely on it to deliver time and time again, because it has history and tradition, and the rules remain the same?
Since Sports administration has become big business we have seen many sports look to “Evolve” in order to become “Commercially Viable.” As a result we have seen hybrid versions of various games we all love introduced, fast food sport for the masses who flock for a quick fix and keep the cash registers ticking over. No longed does traditional sport pay the bills so we are told.
Some sports have been forced to make changes to their rules as a result of responsible management of the players, and safeguarding them from long term injuries. Another reason was quite simply that modern-day mums did not want their children playing games with a high injury risk. Traditional fans will tell you that this sanitisation of their sport has taken away the physicality that gave it some of its appeal.
Rule changes in sport are rarely welcomed. In that main because many are thought up by administrators in an office, and have not been thought through in terms of how they are implemented, the enforcing by the officials and the impact on the game from a playing and coaching perspective. Often forgotten is the impact from an audience point of view, whether they are at the stadium or watching on television.
The key thing to remember is keep it simple. The simpler the rules the easier they are to understand. The easier they are to understand the more people will engage with the sport. This has been the beauty of football. Two goals, one ball, the team that scores the most in the allotted time wins. Offside is probably the most complicated rule in the game and the one that is constantly changing, and looks like changing again.
Marco Van Basten, the great Dutch forward was appointed Director General for Technical Development by FIFA in September last year, and recently gave an interview to German newspaper Bild in which he has highlighted eight potential rule changes to the game.
First change is the doing away with the penalty shoot out. Taking a leaf out of field hockey’s book it will become a one on one challenge between the outfield player and the goalkeeper. The outfield player having to dribble from a distance of 25 metres and beat the keeper within eight seconds. The shoot out will be based on a best of five, and if level, like hockey will then go to sudden death.
This is currently being considered as also a way to determine drawn games at the 2026 World Cup in the Group stages. FIFA adopting the view that was taken by the old North American Soccer League, that fans do not want to see draws they want to see a result.
It would appear that Hockey – a very big sport in the Netherlands – has had a massive impact on Van Basten, as another proposed change is to do away with the offside rule altogether.
“In hockey, the offside rule has already been abolished and there are no problems. The teams would also adapt to it in football.” Van Basten is quoted as saying. “Personally I am curious as to how Football would work with no offside. The game would be more attractive, the attackers would have more chances, and there would be more goals. That’s what fans want to see.”
Van Basten has again looked to Hockey and is suggesting that a deliberate hand ball should no longer result in a red card. Instead players would receive a yellow card and a five minute or ten minute spell in a sin bin. In Hockey for bad fouls the same penalty applies and teams look to capitalise while they have numerical advantage. Yet the game is rarely ruined; unless the card is harsh, as the New Zealand Black Sticks suffered in the Olympic Games, and ended up losing their quarter final to Germany. In rugby the sin bin has also been a successful introduction.
Looking at both Rugby and Hockey, Van Basten wants only the Captain to be the player allowed to talk to referees, and hopes that this will eliminate players surrounding officials which has become and ugly regular occurrence in football. In Hockey cards can be issued and time spent in the sin bin if a player other than the captain is too vocal. Whether this would be the case in Football Van Basten it appears has not elaborated.
They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, and once again Van Basten has turned to Field Hockey when he suggests that the World Game switch from two halves of 45 minutes to four quarters. He believes the current format is too intense and gruelling, and believes that switching to four quarters will help keep the game ‘dynamic,’ and will give coaches three opportunities to talk to his players as a group and modify his tactics.
One of the other changes Van Basten wants to introduce comes from Basketball. He wants to see players who commit five fouls in a match no longer allowed to play any further part in the game. Aligned to this he wishes to change the substitution rule and increase the number allowed per game from three to five.
In addition to these changes Van Basten is pushing for all the leagues around the globe to reduce the number of games played, with a maximum permitted in each country of 50 per club. What this would mean in England and Spain is that teams in the Champions League would have to withdraw from some of their national Cup competitions. Or we may see some of the top leagues in the World reduce the number of teams playing in their competitions.
As hockey has shown many of these changes do work, and are hugely successful in terms of excitement and maintaining the tempo of the game. Would they work in football? Is there a need for Football to make so many changes?
Time will tell when the changes are tabled with the various national associations and clubs. The only change many would agree with is dropping football from the Olympics and giving that slot to a smaller version of the game such as Futsal. The Olympic tournament has little or no meaning in the men’s game and clubs hate releasing players to play in the tournament.