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International Football Association Board: Introduction of Sin Bin in Football?

Pop quiz. Who is in charge of the laws of the game of association football?

Referee, Whistle, If you said FIFA, you would be wrong. It is in fact the International Football Association Board (“IFAB”) which determines the rules of the world’s most popular sport and has done since its formation in 1886. FIFA, which was not even established until 1904, has always recognised the IFAB’s jurisdiction over the laws of the game.

The mission of the IFAB is “to serve the world of football as the independent guardian of the Laws of the Game”.

The IFAB’s membership is made up of each of the British home associations (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) who each have one vote together with FIFA which has four votes.

Any change to the laws of the games must be approved by at least three quarters of the vote which means, given all members must be present for a vote to be binding, all changes must be approved by FIFA. At the same time FIFA alone cannot change the laws of the game; at least two other IFAB members must also agree to any proposed modification.

In recent years the IFAB has introduced both Football and Technical Advisory Panels made up of former players and referees to provide additional expertise to the IFAB in respect of its decision making which is conducted at its Annual General Meeting.

On 1 February 2017 the IFAB released the agenda for its 131st AGM which will be chaired on 3 March 2017 by Greg Clarke, Chairman of the FA at Wembley Stadium.

Amongst the issues up for discussion are a review of the work of video assistant referees, allowing the use of a fourth substitute during extra time, punishments for denying a goal scoring opportunity, the minimum standards for use of electronic performance and tracking systems and the possibility of only a team’s captain being able to speak to the match officials.

However the issue that has received the most attention is:

“the proposal to allow temporary dismissals (sin bins) in youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football for yellow card offences will be considered following tests in UEFA’s development competitions over the last three years.”

As highlighted in the agenda programme, UEFA first trialled the use of sin bins during an U16 development tournament where players were dismissed for a 10 minute period for various offences including diving and criticising match officials. The use of a sin bin is designed so that it would be more impactful than a yellow card but less severe than a red.

Initial reports suggest the trial was not a success with games affected significantly as a result of teams becoming more defensive when they were a player down and also being less willing to commit to tackles.

Despite this, the introduction in 2000 of the use of sin bins in rugby has been a success story and is often referred to in support of their proposed introduction in football.

Those in favour suggest that the introduction of the sin bin would neatly deal with growing concerns as to impurities in the modern game and could be used to combat those abusing match officials, feigning injuries or diving. Michel Platini, a strong advocate for the introduction of the sin bin whilst in charge at UEFA, also suggested they could be used for disciplining goalkeepers guilty of fouling the last man, for whom being sent off “is too excessive; the penalty is enough”. A sin bin may also be more appropriate than a second yellow card for a trivial offence such as taking your shirt off after scoring a goal.

Those against their introduction, including many officials, suggest it will lead to players trying to get other players sin binned and the slowing down of the game by the team short on players as evidenced in the U16 trial matches. Also, if an official was to get a decision wrong and undeservedly sin bin a player this could have dramatic consequences on the outcome of the match, thus placing yet further scrutiny on officials. Of course the same could be said of red cards but it would appear inevitable the lesser sanction of a sin bin would be used more frequently.

If a vote to introduce sin bins is passed at the forthcoming IFAB AGM they could become part of the youth and amateur game in a matter of months. If such a trial is successful one could expect to see them in the professional game within 3 years.

For what it is worth the author would welcome the introduction of the sin bin believing the advantages, particularly in relation to simulation and the respect shown to officials, would far outweigh the potential disadvantages.

Unless there is a significant change to the on-field antics of professional footballers in the immediate future the sin bin would appear inevitable.

© Copyright 2017 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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About this Author

Tim Lowles, Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm, Sport Litigation Attorney
Senior Associate

Tim Lowles is a Senior Associate in our Litigation Practice Group. Tim advises upon all aspects of commercial litigation with a particular emphasis on sport, contentious media and reputation management issues for companies, institutions and high profile individuals. He has been involved in a number of reported cases and was a member of the team which represented the Core Participant Victims in the Leveson Inquiry.

Tim has advised a number of household names from the sporting world on various issues ranging from contractual disputes to...

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