Decisions taken at today’s Special Meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) led to some stimulating discussions during the subsequent press conference at the home of FIFA. Three issues in particular interested the media representatives present: the recent experiment with additional assistant referees, the role of the fourth official and feinting by players taking penalty kicks.
The principal discussion point concerned the extra assistants experiment, for which UEFA Europa League matches were used as a testing ground this season. The possibility of extending the experiment, on a voluntary basis, was authorised by the IFAB. “We wanted to maintain the principle of one referee on the field of play. But having rejected the use of technology in football, we decided that we would look at the option of additional assistant referees, whose role is to help the main referee. A trial period, over the next two seasons, has been approved – it’s an option, it’s not compulsory. We will leave it up to the Confederations and National Associations to continue conducting the trial,” explained Jerome Valcke, FIFA Secretary General.
“We’ve had the tests in the Europa League this season, over 205 games in total. In the context of all the football that’s played, it’s not a huge amount. Consequently, we haven’t seen enough evidence to say that it’s the best system,” clarified Irish Football Association (FA) President, Patrick Nelson.
“The general consensus during our meeting was that the results have certainly proved more favourable than negative – that’s why we’ve endorsed the idea that the trial will be extended,” added Jonathan Ford of the FA of Wales. "We’re also cogniscent of the fact that there are five Federations outside of Europe, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to run trials themselves,” concluded Nelson.
The scope of the fourth official’s duties was next on the agenda. For Valcke, enhancing these responsibilities is a way of providing additional help to the referee, who will remain the ultimate decision-maker: “The main change is that the fourth official can talk directly to the referee, in the event of him spotting something noteworthy on the pitch. His power has been expanded considerably; it’s now the same as that of assistant referees. But the head referee retains the authority to make the final decision on any aspect of the game.”
Finally, the issue of feinting by players at the conclusion of their penalty kick run-up – henceforth regarded as foul play and punishable by a yellow card – and the distinction with stop-start moves during their approach, raised several questions from the floor. “We saw some video examples this morning which make it obvious that it is very unfair. A player at the end of his run-up feigns to kick the ball, sending the goalkeeper in one direction, then pulls his foot back to kick the ball in the other direction – that is clearly unsporting. That is what has motivated the change,” noted Nelson.
“It’s considered unsporting behaviour and that is a cautionable offence,” pointed out George Peat of the Scottish FA. “It’s important to note that we are only talking about sanctioning players who stop, feign to hit the ball and then shoot, not those that hesitate or employ a stop-start motion during their run-up, without feigning to shoot. We will of course make sure that referees, players and coaches fully understand this amendment to the rules in time for the World Cup,” confirmed Valcke.