The best piece of news of last week’s 128th annual conference of the IFAB, the body that is responsible for defining and changing the Laws of the Game and their application, has certainly been that – for now – there will not be any form of technology in football exceeding Goalline Technology (GLT) that is to be deployed at FIFA World Cup 2014 and that was first tested last year. The usage of video replays was discussed in Zurich but luckily rejected. This counts for another vitally important issue on the agenda, too: the triple punishment.
|Nicola Rizzoli correctly sending off Szczesny for DOGSO|
Following the proposal of Europe’s football governing body UEFA and its president, Michel Platini, the lawmakers discussed about the opportunity to avert the triple punishment as a consequence for players who have denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity in the penalty area. The three components subject to debate are the penalty kick awarded, the red card given and the match suspension that usually followed after the matchday. According to Mr Platini, “everybody fel[t] that as an injustice”. Since the Frenchman has often proven his extremely well-marked sense of justice – the surely universally, i.e. for every European club, effective Financial Fairplay Program is the best example of that … - this concern is definitely a noble and honest one. Though he has not defined yet who is “everybody”. In my humble opinion, the triple punishment is per sé no injustice and most referees actually feel so as well. The argument most frequently put forward is that, by awarding the penalty kick, the obvious goal-scoring opportunity was re-established. While this argument sounds logical and justified, it leaves open whether a red card is really shown to sanction the circumstance that an obvious goal-scoring opportunity was denied or to sanction the will and intent of a defender to deny an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. In addition, the Laws of the Game clearly emphasize that it does not matter where the infringement occurred, whether it was outside the penalty area or inside. For this reason, having two different disciplinary sanctions for the same offense, depending on where exactly it occurred, is not adequate. As a compromise, the IFAB has now stated that referees should be more careful with issuing red card for DOGSO in the penalty area and that a council would attempt to specify Law 12 in terms of that. UEFA's attempt to create an own version of the Laws of the Game by instructing their referees to deal differently with dogso than their colleagues in the rest of the world do hence appears ridiculously with the benefit of hindsight.
In the end, the solution would have been quite easy, in my opinion. Most of those people loving football and having a sense of justice – at least I dare to say so – can accept that denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is sanctioned with a red card regardless where it occurred. I would even say most of the supporters, players and specially managers would refuse to accept yellow cards for fouls that have denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity in the last minute of additional time – please imagine what would happen when a player misses a penalty kick, maybe because of a wet ground which makes him slip, and the offender has got away with a yellow card and saved his team the win…
Therefore, the real area for debate neither is the circumstance of the match sanction (the penalty kick), nor is the disciplinary sanction (the red card). What national associations could do themselves (UEFA would not have to interfere with FIFA and the IFAB), as it is their area of responsibility and jurisdiction, is to eliminate the third component of the triple punishment, i.e. the match suspension. Normally, at least in Germany, for example, players are banned for one match if they have committed a dogso in the penalty area, as long as the penalty kick was converted into a goal. If the forward failed to convert the penalty kick, the offender is usually banned for two matches (or more, depending on the severity of the offense, too). What they could do is not to ban the offender as soon as the penalty kick resulted in a goal. The team of the offender would have faced a double punishment in this case – the red card in the match and the penalty kick resulting in a goal. But there would not be a match suspension. If the attacking team however failed to convert the penalty kick into a goal, the offender could be banned for one or two matches. This would, from my point of view, meet the desires of the clubs but still maintain a certain level of justice and fairness in its true meaning – and not in Mr Platini’s one. That’s why I consider the debate on the triple punishment in its current form as much ado about nothing and not recognizing a possible area where things could be changed without necessarily changing the Laws of the Game.