Is Football Still The Beautiful Game?

Is Football Still The Beautiful Game?

By Raj Chopra.

Having watched football since the early seventies I’ve seen so many aspects of the game change. Some of these changes I have enjoyed such as the continuous TV coverage, competitiveness in the Premier League and the introduction of the Champions League.

But there is one aspect of the game that I don’t enjoy which is the continuous changing of the rules.

Every sport requires rules. The basic rules have been there from inception. It is these rules which ensure the game is understood by those participating and viewing.

Sports such as Tennis, Badminton, Cricket, rugby etc., all have rules.

But unlike these sports, football with its rule changes has taken away a lot of what I enjoyed about the game.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) govern the laws of football worldwide. IFAB was formed in 1886 and has since then initiated and applied changes to the laws of the game continuously.

We’ve seen IFAB make impactful changes to the game with red and yellow cards, the six-second rule for goalkeepers and the golden goal. Some rule changes have been successful, and some have since been scrapped.

But the one change which many would agree has improved the game as a spectacle is the back pass rule. The 1990 World Cup was widely deemed as the tournament that forced this change because of how dull it was.

Many involved in the game widely criticized the time-wasting and defensive tactics in this tournament. When the back pass rule was introduced in 1992 the game was seen to improve instantaneously. The game sees more goals, less time-wasting by the goalkeeper and more fluidity making the game a better watch.

Technology since the turn of the year 2000 has grown in leaps and bounds. We very much live in a technology-driven society. The internet, mobile phones, super-fast computer chips, IPTV and coffee machines are some of the everyday technological advancements we now take for granted.

There was no doubt that technology was going to find its way into sport and in a number of instances has proved to be successful. Long gone are the dubious umpire line calls in tennis and the incorrect leg before wicket calls by the cricketing umpire, Hawk-Eye takes care of that. In football, goal-line technology has also been successful.

However, the same cannot be said for the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). VAR decisions are discussed more on a Monday morning than many of the games featured at the weekend.

VAR was introduced to football as a technology to support the referee. It was deemed that with the use of technology and a separate panel in a studio, an error made on the pitch by the referee could be quickly addressed and reversed.

But the experience of VAR so far has shown it raises even more questions about whether the process has been thought through clearly by IFAB.

The most controversial decisions seen to date are the ones involving whether an attacker is off-side. We’ve seen lines being drawn on TV screens, dubious camera angles and blurred still captures.

As stated, technology has its advantages, but has it been applied correctly for this rule?

Why have IFAB and the connected committees not foreseen the inevitable difficulty that even the technology would face when having to adjudicate such fine margins as a toe being offside?

Why have they not explored inconsistencies in technology such as insufficient frame rates which can lead to the actual video capture being deceiving?

But the biggest question to IFAB should be what now drives their decisions and law-making. Is it still to maintain the game as an attractive viewing spectacle or is it based on football being absolutely accurate on every decision made?

It’s clear the latter is not working and if we are honest with ourselves, I’m sure many would prefer the odd dubious referee decision as opposed to a delayed goal celebration or a goal celebration all for nothing.

Football has always been in the entertainment industry and lawmakers have a huge part to play in maintaining this. Technology also has its part to play but application must be thought through better.

Let’s maintain the legacy and keep the game beautiful.