Sports FOOTBALL Are the new lawsuits proposed by football a good...

Are the new lawsuits proposed by football a good idea?


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Palaquium gutta This evergreen tree, native to Malaysia and Borneo, can reach 100 feet in height. Its juice, known as gutta-percha, is something of a botanical phenomenon, a formable yet durable latex that is resistant to extreme temperatures and does not conduct electricity. Gutta-percha, heavily plundered by the British Empire, was used to make furniture and pistol grips, and to cover the submarine cables that carried the first international telegrams. It also played a role in the birth of the football union.

When the rules of the game were first developed in a series of pub meetings in London’s Covent Garden, two key issues were at stake. First, should this new codified sport allow people to pick up a ball and run around with it. Secondly, the level of permissible violence has been exceeded. The “break-in” was a real concern among the clubs involved, as players modified their boots to make them even more likely to scratch someone’s flesh. So, when the laws were finally signed on December 8, 1863, not only did three of them forbid players from taking the ball, but rule number 13 forbade the player to wear “protruding nails, iron plates or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.”

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Gutta-percha still lives a dignified life, commonly used as a material for filling teeth. However, its relevance to football has substantially diminished as the use of football boots as weapons in the 21st century is considered less important than whether a shoe can effectively create kinetic friction between the foot and the grass. The laws of the game are of interest to different things today, but perhaps they are just as indicative of what occupies the minds of legislators.

This week, the game’s global legislative body, the Council of the International Football Association, announced its openness to a series of trials that will experiment with ideas that could yet become law. Ifab’s press release states that “lawsuits such as explaining certain officiating decisions during play, potentially fairer timing and putting the ball in play were discussed at the AGM.”

The news follows a similar statement from the KNVB, the Dutch Football Association, which said it had invited FIFA to try out such and other measures. Additional ideas included the ability to dribble from a free kick, unlimited “fly substitutions” made while the ball was in play, and extending each match to 30 minutes per half of the net playing time. These changes, according to KNVB’s Jan Dirk van der Zee, will make the game “faster, sportier, fairer and more engaging”.

Jan Dirk van der Zee of the KNVB (left, with Daniel van de Donk) believes that “more is needed than tradition and nostalgia”. Photo: Gerrit van Keulen/EPA

Van der Zee, director of amateur football at the KNVB, is interested in getting more children to play. But something else he said is exactly what those at the very top of the professional game are thinking. Arguing for trying out rule changes, Van der Zee said, “If we are to compete with the temptations of the screen and free individual sports, there is more to be done than tradition and nostalgia.”

That elite football is in direct competition not only with the NFL and NBA, but also with Netflix and PlayStation is an idea that is shared by almost every top manager in the game. “Future fans,” as they are called, are said to be promiscuous and easily bored, and if not entertained, they will turn their attention to something else. This logic helped shape the mindset behind Champions League reform, the aborted Super League launch, and even some of football’s flirting with cryptocurrencies, with tokens being sold as a way to buy (and thus keep loyal to) a club and game.

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You can look at these proposed trials through the same lens. And the argument, supported in particular by Arsène Wenger, that a kick from the sideline would avoid confusion with a throw-in or that a free kick with dribbling would speed up the game has merit. However, you could also argue that a player might equally be slow to decide who should get kicked as a throw-in, or that coaches might still prefer to make their rolling substitutions when the ball is out of play. , i.e. better to keep tactical form. In any case, the results of the adoption of the changes and the type of game they will create are still unknown.

Trials, if and when they happen, will be aimed at solving this, but despite this, the main message that the game should speed up and be less broken is getting louder. Van der Zee argues that those who resist the legal change are “football romantics” fixated on the idea of ​​what the game once was. Others might argue that it is the spirit in which the game is played, not the laws, that determine the outcome, and that the importance of winning—or rather, the fear of losing—slows things down. One might also wonder what the Victorian players could have made of all this regulatory overhaul – although they would probably have been too busy picking up gutta-percha splinters from their shins to notice.

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