Some of the decisions taken at the 119th Annual General Meeting of the International Football Association Board held in Cardiff, Wales, on 26 February 2005, were put into practice at the recent FIFA World Youth Championship held in the Netherlands. At the end of the tournament FIFA’s Referees’ Committee assessed the practical application of the use of yellow cards to sanction unsporting conduct and deliberate timewasting.
The law states: “If a player from the side that has been penalised deliberately touches the ball after the referee stops the game for a free kick, this will be considered as delaying the restart of the game and shall be sanctioned with a yellow card. These sanctions shall be applied equally to players who touch the ball after conceding a throw in or corner kick and to players who keep possession of a ball after their team has conceded a goal.”
The aim of the new regulation is to put an end to players wasting time by unsportingly holding onto the ball. It is also designed to prevent players fighting for possession of the ball after the whistle has blown.
Several yellow cards were awarded in the first few games of the tournament as players got used to the new law and referees strictly enforced it. As the competition advanced, however, players grew accustomed to the new rule and referees interpreted it to perfection.
The figures clearly reflect this. Whereas in the first round of matches no fewer than 20 yellow cards were shown to players for deliberately touching the ball to prevent the other side from restarting the game, none whatsoever were awarded for this offence in the quarter-finals.
Referees noted that the experiment helped play flow more freely and also led to fewer altercations between players after free kicks had been awarded. It was also noted that refereeing decisions were contested far less frequently with the number of cards shown for dissent dropping.
Referees did point, however, to the large number of cards awarded in the first half of the tournament as players struggled to adapt to the new regulation with some being sent off as a result.
In seeking to improve the way in which the law is applied in future tournaments, the Referees’ Committee suggested that “any player from the team that committed the foul will be allowed to touch the ball in special circumstances, for example, when the ball is some distance from the point where play will restart and there are no members of the opposing team in the vicinity to return it. This is a clear case of fair play.”
In conclusion, the Referees’ Committee stated: “The new law could have a very positive effect for the aforementioned reasons once players have become familiar with it.” The experiment will also be applied at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005.