Code(s) of Conduct

It’s important I stress one thing before starting, nothing beats football. I’ve seen a lot of sports, and a lot of games in my time, and nothing remotely comes close. The game throws up the biggest surprises and upsets, and entire seasons can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds (Take QPR and Bolton as an example!). It’s the most popular across the world for a reason and I doubt there are many who can avert their eyes from the sheer brilliance that is Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team-mates in their best form.


A more common sight on the football pitch?

That being said though, it’s far from the beautiful game in every sense of the word. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and corruption undermine the sport we all love, and for every football genius there’s a footballing idiot, waiting to pounce at the chance to give the game a bad name. In Ireland, there are a number of sports who make up a fabric of our society. Native Gaelic games hold the vast majority, but following a string of Irish Heineken Cup winning teams and a Six Nations Grand Slam, rugby is beginning to establish itself as the powerhouse of Irish sport.

Domestic football is largely out shadowed by its Premier League neighbour while Hockey and Cricket are also emerging as popular minority sports; we even have our own World Cup winning Australian Rules side! We get the best of American Sport on TV, as well as the pick of European Sporting events. In short, there’s no lack of sport over here, and though my love for football hasn’t waned, the exposure to others has led me to question why changes have been so few and far between in the 150 year history of organised football.

Apart from the obvious claims (the offside rule!,) there are some aspects in football that leave a lot to be desired, and if rectified would bring a better game for the player and fan. For a game that’s so insistent on accepting modern values (Shorter shorts for ze ladies Mr. Blatter?!) it seems implausible to me that the beautiful game can be so resistant to change.

I don’t know if many of you are aware, but the biggest prize in Ice Hockey is currently being contested. The Stanley Cup is the Holy Grail for all those who worship the puck, and like its brothers American football, baseball and basketball, hockey is huge business, with the best players on multi-million dollar contracts. In this game nothing is left to chance, no badly called goals, no controversy, no mistakes, and no bitching in press conferences (which does vary from coach to coach!)

First of all, the game has two referees, as well as two linesmen, to ensure every call has one (and often two or three) set of eyes on it. You can forget your 7th official, with their walkie talkies for whistles, too afraid to make a judgement on their own. How many stonewall penalties have been missed by these clowns, who get the same benefits as a match night referee? Cut out the crap; two referees, two linesmen, problem solved.

Moreover, after every major call on the ice all the officials gather together and confer, to make sure there’s no confusion, and that every decision made has the full backing of all officials. There’s usually only, if even, one incident per game, and this doesn’t detract from the flow of the game. If they’re not sure, they refer the decision to a sort of TV Referee (usually a former player), who sits in the league’s HQ and acts as TV referee for all games that night. Not only does it take the pressure and influence of a partisan crowd away from the referee, but in these times it dramatically cuts costs as there’s only one TV official.

The league also has the power to retrospectively ban players for an amount of time they deem fair for the crime. No unfair bans, and no thuggary tolerated; this helps keep the game hard but fair, and ensures that anything that the referee’s may have missed does not go unpunished.

That brings me neatly to another point; it’s about time we take a proactive stance to ridding our game of its biggest disease – diving. Not only does it award unfair penalties and red cards, but it also takes away player protection, with players who have almost had their legs broken accused of simulation. You get caught cheating on the cameras? Two match ban, no question; then you’d see the Drogbas and Ronaldos of this world think twice before hitting the ground after the slightest touch. With Sky Sports’ 50 cameras around the ground, I think we’d be able to reach the right conclusion 99% of the time.

In Ice Hockey, like its American Football brothers, once a decision has been reached it is announced to the crowd by the lead referee, so nobody’s in any doubt why he’s been booked, or they haven’t won a free kick. The sin bin system would also suit the game right down to the ground. Imagine the trouble that would have been saved if Luiz Suarezwas sent to the sin-bin after his comments toward Patrice Evra? Or if time was done during some of the ‘El Clásico’ derbies over the last few years? The sin bin, even for a few minutes, allow players cool down and re-focus, taking the needle out of some of the toughest games. Even the NHL’s actual website is packed with clips and highlights of recent games, as well as official video explanations of the rules. One of the best video series’ available on the site is with the League ‘Commissioner’ (Chairman) of player safety (again a former player), where he breaks down each ban handed out by the league, why it was enforced, and why enforced for that particular period of time. With this no fan is in doubt of the discipline system, and understands future action better.


‘Respect’ the referee?!

Another sport that has this facility is the previously mentioned Australian Rules, where a presenter and referee’s official discuss four major calls of the week, as well as two viewer requested calls (done through a poll on the official website.) What’s also admirable about the sport is its zero tolerance towards any foul play or dissent in a sport that’s so physically tough. In this case, a 50 metre advancement towards the opposition goal is awarded for any sign of petulance or nastiness.

Abuse the referee? That’s 50 metres; throw the ball away in disgust? That’s 50 metres. Any lack of respect for the game can see a player go from trying to kick a pass near the goal, to having a clear shot at the posts, and in games that are so tight, that distance can be the difference between winning and losing.

The rule has worked well. Despite the sport’s bad reputation for fighting (unjustly earned in my opinion,) you never see payers show the same level of disrespect for each other and the referee as in football. The game is tough, but played in the right manner, and often two players going at each other’s throats on the pitch are best friends off it! It’s this spirit that allows the game to be played at such a frenetic pace with such physical fervour, and still be a relatively safe sport to play. Again the game has two referees in the middle, who only need to cover half the ground, and are therefore able to take stock when play is down the other end, ensuring that when the ball does return, lapses in concentration are not made. As an aside, the draft system encourages the breeding of local talent, and would reward teams who stay up by attaining the best of young players (the worst placed side gets the first pick.) This system aims to breakup other stale league systems, in wich the same teams always coming away as winners (Irish League (N.I.), SPL anybody?)

While football can be the most intriguing, exciting, unpredictable and skilful game on the planet, on and off the pitch it can often be far from perfection. These are just a few examples of how football would benefit by taking a few tips from other games it competes with and maybe with a few of these improvements, our game will continue to prosper for the next 150 years!


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