Archive for January, 2012

Headscarf review makes sense

An interesting item on the Agenda of the International FA Board meeting in London on 3rd March 2012 will be a request by the Asian Football Confederation that the ban on women’s wearing headscarves be overturned.

AFC Acting President Zhang said “Many women footballers in Asia wear headscarves,”

“I would like to request the IFAB to favourably consider FIFA’s proposal and review the rule and allow women players to play wearing a safe headscarf that covers the neck,” he said.

“My colleagues in the AFC Executive Committee strongly support the idea of reviewing the rule and I think it is in the interests of women’s football worldwide.”

He said several new designs of headscarves are now commercially available in the market that ensures the safety of the player.

This seems a sensible request.

The Laws over the years have been adapted to meet new demands and making headscarves legal will take away a major source of controversy, not only in Asia but in many other countries where religions demand certain dress codes.

Allowing headscarves will also raise the question of whether the ban on snoods which was passed at the Board meeting in 2011 should now be reversed.

Law 4 Players’ Equipment states that ‘A player must not wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).’

Headscarves and snoods do not seem to come into that category.

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The inconsistencies of TV based punishments

Football in Great Britain has been central to a number of controversies in recent weeks because of decisions taken by the Football Association and the Scottish Football Association based on and supported by television evidence.

The Luis Suarez case, when the Liverpool midfielder was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United captain Patrice Evra and banned for eight matches has possibly been the most high profile case but there have been others which have been questionable to say the least.

In Scotland there was the case of Sone Aluko of Rangers who was banned for two matches for simulation – or diving. Had the referee recognised the offence he would have received a caution with no match ban. This is inconsistent.

Recent incidents in England involving high profile players such as Mario Balotelli and Joleon Lescott in the match between Manchester City and Spurs have highlighted major inconsistencies and matters of concern.

Firstly the media are now setting the agenda for punishments, having had the luxury to review incidents over and over again and then to demand action from the authorities.

The authorities have over-reacted by issuing punishments which far exceed what would have been given had the referee seen the incident in the first place.

This in turn totally undermines the authority of the match referee.

Perhaps the review panels should be more prepared to issue additional points to the players’ disciplinary record for ’unprofessional conduct’ or for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ – importantly neither is an offence in the Laws of the Game.

This would recognise the need for punishment but avoid an automatic suspension which might often appear excessive.

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The mysteries of refereeing

Refereeing is a mysterious art and sometimes the paying public are not aware of some hidden agendas.

In the recent Carling Cup Semi Final between Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers the two leg match finished level at 1-1 after 180 minutes of play.

Extra time was required and, after a goalless 30 minute period, kicks from the penalty mark were used to determine the winner.

Referee Howard Webb, when tossing the coin with the captains for the restart of extra time, not only tossed for the team which would restart the match but also decided the end of the stadium at which any kicks from the penalty mark would be taken.

Forward planning in kicks from the penalty mark is important.

If the surface of a particular goal area has been damaged it should be avoided.

If most spectators are at one end of the stadium and there are very few at the other end there is no problem in choosing the goal to be used.

Where there are opposing supporters at each end, the decision of which goal to use becomes more problematic.

The simple way to solve the problem, as Howard Webb did in the Carling Cup, is to toss a coin and so everyone knows which end will be used.

There are also special situations such as safety and security and by alerting the police to the end to be used this problem can be minimised.

The main consideration for the referee is to ensure that everything is fair.

Having refereed a torrid 180 minutes of play successfully, the last thing a referee needs is to be criticised for is the administration of kicks from the penalty mark.

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The power of the television producer

The demand for the use of television evidence continues, at the moment concentrated on goal line incidents but there is also a push that television evidence should be used in other match incidents.

Television evidence is used by a number of associations, however, to deal with cases which are not seen by the referee during the match.

In the recent match between Manchester city and Tottenham Hotspur, Italian Mario Balotelli, appeared to stamp on the head of Spurs’ midfielder Scott Parker.

The incident was replayed over and over again by Sky TV and the studio pundits and the Spurs’manager, Harry Redknapp had divided opinions.

The Football Association has now decided the player has a case to answer and has banned him for four matches.

In the Scottish Premier League match between Dundee United and Motherwell, Michael Higdon, the Motherwell striker scored the equalising goal and reacted to the jeers he had received from his own supporters by making a gesture towards them.

The match was not televised live, but the BBC producer decided to replay the end of match incident and so generated a post match discussion on whether he should receive retrospective punishment from the Scottish FA.

There is always a case to use television evidence deal with serious incidents which are not seen by the match officials but Motherwell manager, Stuart McCall, has rightly raised the question of whether the television producers are now setting the agenda on disciplinary matters.

If television producers are now spending their time trawling through the match footages to look for controversy we are moving along a dangerous road.

Might these same producers have the same power if television replays are allowed during a match?

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Offside coins it in

Royal Mint, which is responsible for producing coins in the UK, has produced a series of 29 fifty pence pieces to commemorate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Possibly the most intriguing is one produced by production journalist Neil Wolfson which explains football’s offside rule.

Wolfson is a football fan and a qualified referee and his simple design on the reverse side of the coin gives anyone with a fifty pence piece in their pocket and instant guide to the intricacies of offside.

Offside is one of the shortest of the 17 Laws of the Game but it is the most technical.

It is also essential for the structure of the game, If there was no offside for example the easiest tactic would be to crowd each penalty area with attackers, and therefore defenders, and kick a long ball from one end of the field to the other.

It has evolved over the years.

It used to state that there should be three defenders between an attacker and the goal when he had the ball played to him. This was later reduced to two and in 1990 the attacker became onside if he was level with the second last defender.

There have also been changes in the interpretation of the Law.

The concept of active and passive play was introduced which confirmed that being in an offside position was not an offence in itself.

The assistant referees are the ones with the pressure of signaling for offside in the difficult situations when, for example defenders are running out and attackers are running toward goal or when a long ball is played.

The amazing thing is they get it right most times – even without the help of a fifty pence piece in their pockets.

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Sport under threat from corruption

New Year messages are common at this time of year but one of the most depressing was the statement by Hugh Robertson, the UK Olympics Minister, that he considers match fixing to be the biggest threat to the reputation of the Olympics.

Britain is to mount an unprecedented security operation in 2012 against betting syndicates trying to bribe athletes into fixing events at the London Olympic Games this summer.

There is increasing evidence of Olympic competitors and officials in sports including football, tennis and handball being offered bribes to fix matches. Gambling syndicates largely in the Indian sub-continent and Far East are expected to bet billions of pounds on the Olympics.

In a recent high profile court case in England three Pakistani cricketers were found guilty of corruption in a test match at Lord’s. The fixers were from the Indian sub-continent.

New evidence has been submitted to the International Olympic Committee of attempted match-fixing at previous Olympics.

In one case, a Chinese fixer claimed to have bribed members of the Ghanaian team with $550,000 to throw a match with Japan at the Athens Games in 2004.

Ghana lost 1-0. Players admitted being approached but said they had refused the offer to fix the match.

Handball, a sport with the third-highest viewing figures at the Beijing Games, has also been embroiled in controversy.

Two Olympic handball referees, Bernd Ullrich and Frank Lemme, who were in charge of the men’s gold medal match, were banned after $50,000 was found in their luggage after a match in Russia. They admitted being approached by a fixer, but denied accepting cash and successfully appealed on “procedural grounds” against the decision to ban them.

Fixing the result of matches is one thing but the more recent increase in spot betting is more difficult to identify.

Bets are now made on when the first corner or free kick will be awarded or when the first caution will be issued in football, when the first double fault will take place in tennis or when the first no ball will be bowled in cricket.

Previously performance enhancing drugs were the big problems in many sports – although possibly less in football than some other sports – but now the big challenge is to fight corruption which is a threat to all the major sports.

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