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By the book: Would rugby sin bins work in football, too?

Friday 2nd November 2018
American referee Mark Geiger's had enough players in his face to envy the respect rugby officials receive.
American referee Mark Geiger's had enough players in his face to envy the respect rugby officials receive.

FIFA is the ultimate governor for all business surrounding organised football. Between the white lines is a different story. IFAB sets the rules of the game. FIFA sits on the International Football Association Board. They wield exactly half the voting power. The four Home Nation federations, the FA, SFA, FAW and IFA, each hold one vote or 12.5% voting power. For any rule change to be implemented it must gain 75% approval or six votes. IFAB meets twice annually, once to discuss business matters, the other to take rule changes under advisement. The next meeting is Monday and Tuesday, 5-6 November.

With that meeting fast approaching, It's Round and It's White polled our writing staff to see who might have a suggestion. Ben Barkworth is big on incarceration.


Yellow and red cards as punishment are increasingly outdated in football. The risk/reward is weighted heavily in favour of a cynical challenge to break up a dangerous attack. Tactical fouls are common among the top teams. Aesthetically pleasing, possession-based sides are just as bad as teams who park the bus. Managers at either end of the style spectrum unite in drilling their players on the need to deny dangerous attacks before they can develop. Diego Simeone does it. So does Pep Guardiola.

Halting a counter-attack with a simple foul is usually a yellow card or just a free kick, depending on the league or official. Dangerous play or taking the last man out will draw red but coaches brainwash their troops to not allow matters to go that far.

For all their beauty, Manchester City are particularly adept at this chicanery. The Sky Blues already log 16 yellow cards in 12 Champions League and Premier League matches combined, even though they average 67% possession overall and aren't known for being dirty. Guardiola's squad commits the least fouls in the league, proving their intelligence in exploiting the rules. Denying the opposition the chance to quickly transition when City are at their most vulnerable is a crucial part of their play. It ensures they can take major risks in possession by playing high up the pitch.

A notable example of the punishment not fitting the crime was Sergio Ramos' foul on Yannick Carrasco in the 2016 Champions League final. Atletico Madrid had a numbers advantage on a counter-attack right at the end. If Carrasco had got his pass away, it's highly conceivable Atletico would have scored and won the match. Ramos prevented him, recieiving only a yellow as Carrasco was not beyond the last defender. It was a smart play from the Real Madrid captain that led to his team winning on penalties.

That said, something must be done to address the imbalance between crime and punishment. Rugby has the right idea. Ten-minute sin bins that leave a team undermanned for a significant period might deter some of the rule-bending. Basically, it's an upgraded yellow card, albeit not a red. Because a yellow card would be for less severe offenses, the referee could broaden the colour spectrum in his back pocket.

Making a tactical foul more costly for the defender might convince teams it's not worth it. Or it might not. Hockey features two-minute penalties but players still take them to nullify scoring chances. They accept the risk that the other team will score once every four or five power plays. Ten minutes is a much larger advantage than two. Football managters would have to weigh the costs and benefits. There is no guarantee a counter-attack will lead to a goal even in a promising situation. Free-flowing football might win the day.

Sides like Manchester City might not be willing to suffocate games to the degree they do now. Matches might be more open and therefore competitive. A tiring Real Madrid would have faced ten minutes down to ten men in the Champions League Final under this scenario. Atleti would be given restitution in keeping with the offense's severity. Cynicism would be much more costly.

The sin bin would also provide officials an option to punish a dangerous tackle more harshly when they are reluctant to send the player off. A challenge can be dirty but lack intent. The sin bin would warn the offender while not giving short shrift to the victim.

Traditionalists are reluctant to welcome such innovations but the game has changed many times. Both added time and substitutions are relatively new developments. The offside and back-pass rules also revolutionised the game. As with VAR, there would be a teething process, but the idea deserves a chance.

Ben Barkworth
Ben is a freelance football journalist writing for various sites. He follows La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League closely as well as having an interest in other leagues.

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