In the Bin: Football’s sinners should be given the Rugby Treatment

Well with another Six Nations just finished, I am relieved to be free for another year of having to tolerate Carling quaffing toffs watching pre-rugby football in the pub braying about how “no rugby player would have gone down under that challenge”.

I do enjoy the game of rugby as an annual curiosity though. Anyone who has read about the evolution of football will notice that the structure and formations of rugby bare a much closer to resemblance to the early forms of football – with large quantities of forwards in a line and very few players back when in possession of the ball and an offside rule where no-one is allowed ahead of the ball – than our own modern game that has been shaped so much by the relaxation of the offside rule and, of course, the more easily controllable spherical ball.

I am also keen on identifying aspects of other sports that may improve football (or find ideas that are to be avoided) and believe rugby can offer one concept in particular that I believe would help overcome one of my footballing pet hates.

Cynical fouls, or purposeful, unfair challenges to break up play or halt a dangerous counter-attack are ubiquitous in modern football. You see countless examples in almost every game and even I have been known to call on players like Alex Song, for instance, to learn how to give away these tactical fouls, with no intention of ever getting the ball, in the middle of the park, which are now integral part of defending. It’s not right though is it? Purposefully playing against the rules in order to gain a strategic advantage; written like that it is very similar to the universally abhorred practice of diving.

These two misconducts do, of course, receive the same punishment at present, a yellow card. I would suggest, however, that the yellow card does not carry a significant enough threat anymore. Players are too willing to use a deliberate foul to thwart a promising attack or dive to win a penalty and accept the punishment that follows.

In rugby, a player that commits any reasonably serious foul or a misdemeanour that deliberately prevents the progression of an attack is given a yellow card but also handed a sin bin, during which they must leave the field of play for ten minutes. I would argue that implementing this system in football would give yellow cards the preventative power that they need to dissuade players from actively giving away purposeful fouls and inhibiting attacking football.

During the 2010 Six Nations the overall scoring rate was four times higher during periods of sin bin than during that when both teams are at full strength. Powerplay periods in ice hockey (in effect when a player has been sin binned) are also seen as prime opportunities to score. Football of course is a different game and following a sending off teams can often play large parts of matches with less players, not always to their detriment. Surely though managers will be less pleased to see their disruptive midfielders giving away cynical fouls if it means they are not going to be on the field for the next ten minutes.

This is by no means an original suggestion. IFAB were said to have discussed a proposal to introduce sin bins in 2009. The wheels of football governance on any issue other than snoods seem to run rather slowly. I’m sure this issue will continue to be raised in Britain around this time of year as the success of sin bins in rugby is observed again. It is surely time they were trialled in football. I, for one, would like to see the demise of the cynical foul and believe that this would be an excellent start.

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5 Responses to In the Bin: Football’s sinners should be given the Rugby Treatment

  1. Ed says:

    I concur although I must admit to being a Carling quaffing toff myself. Football could learn alot from rugby and the respect shown to the referee is one of those.

    In rugby, the referee is the boss. Their decisions are the law even when they are ludicrous and players must adapt accordingly. It’s part of the game. When Wales were scored a try despite a glaring error from the touch judge, the Ireland captain queried the decision with the referee. Dialogue ensued between linesman and touch judge but the referee awarded the try. The players turned around and got on with it. There’s nothing else they could do. This try was crucial as Ireland were ahead at the time and the whole momentum of the match subsequently changed.

    After the match, disappointment was clear among the Irish players and coach but ultimately they know they still should’ve won the game despite this clear mistake. The Irish coach pointed to the earthquake in Japan to demonstrate that it’s just a game and there are more important things in life. Sometimes these things go with you, sometimes against and that’s all part of sport.

    Just 4-5 days earlier, a similar error was made at a similarly crucial time in a very important match. This time the sport was football and the team was Arsenal. Now this being an impartial blog, I know we can put aside our allegiances and realise that the blame levelled at the referee was unjust. Sometimes these things go with you, sometimes against you. However, the referee is the moderator of the game and it is his right to moderate the game as he see’s fit. If Van Persie hadn’t got involved in a stupid scrap to get his first yellow card then this situation would never have arisen.

    Anyway, my point. The respect shown to the referee in rugby is a benchmark for all sports. This is both on the field and off the field. Messrs Ferguson, Wenger, Holloway, Morinho etc and their players have alot to learn from their rugby union counterparts. This from a sport which apparently has a Respect campaign. It’s arrogance, pure and simple and a bit of humility from such influential figures wouldn’t go amiss.

    • Graham says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write in such depth! I agree with you to a large extent Ed. It is certainly better in rugby at present than in football where players are regularly seen surrounding the referee and acting in a disproportionate and aggressive manner. I would say though that it is too far the other way in rugby. The fact there is no dialogue between the players and the referee is also no right. I like the fact that at lower levels of football down to the level I play at that there can be some chat between players and officials. I think that’s healthy for all people who are at some level of power, be it referees, policemen or politicians. Without any dialogue players are likely to get frustrated and possibly liable to let it out with a touch of eye gouging or copious quantities of stamping.

  2. Alex says:

    Ah but the captain is entitled to talk to the ref (so long as he addresses him as ‘sir’). Surely it is appropriate to have one mouthpiece for each team. This helps avoid the ugly scenes where players surround the referee to try and provoke some sort of Damascuscene change of mind.

    In the Ireland v Wales example Ed gives, Brian O’Driscoll approached the referee, made his point, was batted away and got on with the game – no whining, no finger jabbing, no sulking (possibly) – that was left for the fans, commentators and neutrals alike.

    • Graham says:

      To be fair it is only at the top level where you get full surrounding of players. I’m not sure entirely what brings it on but probably some sort of money and power induced prima donna state of mind.

      Maybe a little more moaning should have been done. Presumably if the point had been made more forcibly then they could have gone to the television judge who would have shown that the ball had been changed and they could have got on with it and then everyone would have been happy, or at least content.

      • Alex says:

        But referees never change their minds, do they? And I would dispute that it only happens at the top level – you see it in the Championship, and you see it on the Sunday league pitch (although that takes us into whole new arguments about PL players setting a bad example) – I think it’s pretty endemic throughout football as a whole now.

        Secondly, for the Welsh ‘try’ the TMO was not an option. The video ref can only rule on potential illegality “in the act of scoring” so questions about quick lineouts, forward passes, knock ons etc are outwith their jurisdiction. They deal exclusively with the grounding of the ball, feet in touch etc.

        Technically, the referee did exactly the right thing – and all he could do – in this instance; he asked the linesman. It’s just unfortunate (if you’re Irish) that the lino got it wrong.

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