Editing the Laws of the Game

The loud caterwauling you heard around the world this afternoon related to a questionable red card given to Manchester United’s Nani. Real Madrid scored two quick goals, Manchester United was bounced out of the Champions League, and civilization collapsed.

A furious, if somewhat one-sided, debate raged on Twitter over the call. NBC’s Pro Soccer Talk posted dueling posts from Richard “Red Card” Farley and Steve “No It Isn’t” Davis.

Fox Soccer’s analysts raged about “intent,” a word that does not appear in the Laws of the Game and its attached interpretations. (“Intentionally” appears four times, but never in the context of judging yellow or red cards.)

Coincidentally, the keepers of the Laws made a minor tweak this weekend, supposedly reducing confusion with a change in the offside rule.

Those keepers, known as IFAB, are reluctant to make changes. As they should be.

But the Nani debate highlights one of several passages that could use some editing.

Farley, in his rebuttal to the rebuttal, highlights English referee Graham Poll as an example of a divide between English refs and European refs. And quite often, there is. There’s certainly a divide between European refs and English-bred commentators, who still think a studs-up shot to the knee is a friendly greeting.

But here, at last, is the point. Poll says the Nani incident could easily be a yellow card. And many people agree.

And yet … Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct, does not specify anything about yellow cards for fouls that don’t quite deserve red cards. Go ahead – read page 38. The closest you’ll find is “unsporting behaviour.” Red card infractions include “serious foul play” and “violent conduct.”

Now if you read on to the interpretations, you find some common-sense talk on page 113. IFAB defines “careless,” “reckless,” and “using excessive force.” Careless? No foul. Reckless? Yellow card. Excessive force? Red card.

So if you stuck with the Laws, you’d be stuck trying to shoehorn a reckless foul into “unsporting behaviour.” The interpretations, on the other hand, clearly state what referees do anyway — give yellow cards for infractions that aren’t quite worthy of a red card.

Seems like the word “reckless,” at the very least, should be included in the actual text of Law 12. Right?

(But don’t add “intent.” The pundits were just bringing it up to make fun of it.)

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

One thought on “Editing the Laws of the Game”

  1. But ‘force’ means coercive power (or at least I doubt they mean it in a Newtonian physics sense), and that’s going to imply a level of intent, at least the intent to make a challenge. Nani’s not trying to make a challenge there.

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