30 minute halves? What IFAB’s proposals could mean for grassroots football

Thirty-minute halves, dribbling from free kicks and penalty goals for handball could all be coming soon to a grassroots football pitch near you.

The radical changes are amongst a series of new proposals by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), who govern the Laws of the Game, in a bid to increase fair play and respect whilst make football more attractive.

The new proposals being tabled by IFAB aim to improve the game across three main areas:

  • Increasing playing time
  • Increasing fairness & attractiveness
  • Improving player behaviour and increasing respect

The proposals are all subject to the a two-thirds majority approval by the IFAB board – which comprises the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish FAs (one vote each) and FIFA (four votes) – and have been put forward either for discussion, testing – similar to the recent sin bin trial announced for grassroots football – or, in the cases of some of the less radical options, immediate implementation if approved.

You can read the full set of proposals online, but here we take a quick look over each of the three areas – starting with the most controversial – and what the changes might mean for grassroots football.

Increasing playing time

The proposals to have caused most controversy have centered on IFAB’s bid to increase playing time and cut down on time-wasting. These include:

Stopping the clock when the ball goes out of play

Football matches at the top level have less than an hour of ‘effective playing time’ (EPT) – i.e. the time that the ball is actually in play. IFAB suggests that time-wasting could be reduced if the clock was stopped either:

  • During the last five minutes of the 1st half and last 10 minutes of the second half – To prevent players from time-wasting at the time they are most likely to try it
  • For the whole game – The proposal to replace 90-minute matches with 60 minutes of EPT have caused the biggest stir in the game. Whilst the logic may be sound – suggesting more ball-in-play time per game – many in the game are angered by the prospect of such a change to one of the game’s traditions

The proposal – which is only at the discussion phase – is accompanied by plans to link the referee’s watch to the stadium clock, which shows that the focus for such a radical change lies at the top end of the game.

Time-wasting is a problem in professional football; less so in grassroots football, even accounting for all of the time spent retrieving balls teams can’t afford to lose, or waiting while a player relieves himself behind a nearby tree.

What is the average ball-in-play time at grassroots level? Do the authorities know? A match of 60 minutes EPT – or an equivalent reduction for games currently less than 90 minutes – may risk actually reducing ball-in-play time for a game at amateur level, so IFAB and the FAs must tread carefully here.

Speeding up the game

A series of topics will be up for discussion at the next IFAB meeting aimed at making the game quicker. These include:

  • Self-passing at free kicks, corners or goal kicks – By channeling the original 1863 Laws of the Game –  “in the ancient game of Harrow Football, the fouled player could carry on dribbling,” says the IFAB document – players will be allowed to take a quick dead ball to themselves, thus encouraging quick attacking play. Cue quick-thinking forwards, frustrated defenders and confused referees on park pitches across the country. This could make for an interesting change, but would require more clarity about how related issues – such as players being 10m from the ball and when quick free kicks (including shots) can be taken – would be refereed
  • Allowing moving balls at goal kicks – A goal kick being retaken for a moving ball both “annoys more people and wastes more time” admit IFAB – how good of them to notice – so don’t be surprised to see this one rolled out across the game
  • Goal kicks to be taken from the side they go out – This law could come full circle as IFAB now seem to think that allowing a goalkeeper to kick the ball out from the opposite side of the goal – something they ruled in many years ago – is now bad for the game as it encourages time-wasting

The above changes are all merely up for discussion by IFAB but, whilst waiting to find out if EPT will ever see the light of day, we could well see the following proposals applied to speed up the game:

  • Stricter calculation of additional time – IFAB correctly points out that the amount of stoppage time added rarely reflects the actual time lost during a game, so they propose that referees stop the clock between their decisions and play restarting for penalties, goals, injuries, red and yellow cards, substitutions and marking out walls for free kicks. No change to laws would be required, so this proposal could be implemented quickly
  • Quicker substitutions – Players could be forced to leave the field of play at their nearest point, rather than trudging slowly to the halfway line from the far side of the pitch

Increasing fairness and attractiveness

IFAB says the ‘Play Fair’ strategy should “make the game fairer and more enjoyable to watch, play, coach and referee”. To this end they have proposed the following changes, which they say are ready for testing:

  • Tennis-style order for penalty shootouts – Many people feel that going first in a shootout increases the pressure on the opposition, who have to follow each spot kick. To negate any advantage, IFAB propose shootouts follow the same order as a tennis tie-break: i.e. Team A, B, B, A, A etc. This seems fairly logical and there’s no reason why such a test can’t be applied at all levels of the game
  • Goal kicks can be received inside the box – Under current laws, the ball must leave the 18-yard box before defenders can play it. IFAB propose that this should change, allowing a bit more space and time to play the game, with attacking players having to stay out of the box until the ball is played. Grassroots football has arguably led the way here with the ‘retreat line’ employed in mini soccer, so don’t expect any changes for our youngest footballers, but maybe some more time for the grown-ups to play

Alongside these seemingly sensible changes, IFAB also offers a few more radical suggestions to make the game fairer and more attractive, with the following proposals up for discussion:

Handball infringements

  • Penalty goals – If a defender stops a goal being scored by handling the ball on or very close to the goal line, a penalty goal – rather than just a penalty – will be awarded
  • Red cards for deliberate handball goals – An attacking player who deliberately scores with their hands would be sent off, just as a defender would be for preventing a goal with their hands at the other end
  • Stricter backpass laws – Goalkeepers who handle a deliberate backpass (or throw-in) would concede a penalty rather than an indirect free kick

These changes could all be applied at grassroots level in theory. Whilst moves to punish cheating should be applauded, increasing sanctions creates more pressure for referees to get decisions right. Handball is already one of the areas of most debate in football, so do grassroots referees need any more pressure piled onto them?

Other infringements

Also up for discussion in a bid to make the game a better, fairer, spectacle are two proposals that would apply to all levels of the game:

  • No rebounds on penalty kicks – It’s rare that you find a penalty where at least one player isn’t encroaching and it goes largely unpunished as the referee is looking at the kicker, so IFAB propose to remove other players from the equation. If a penalty is saved or hits the post, a goal kick is taken. This might punish quick-thinking strikers, but it would make a referee’s life a bit easier
  • No time called on attacking play – IFAB propose that the half-time and full-time whistle can only be blown when the ball is out of play, thus preventing any attack being cut down in its prime. Not only would this give teams longer to build-up an attack, rather than just launch the ball into the box, but it could also provide defenders the satisfaction of booting the ball into touch to finish the game.  ‘Ave it!

Improving behaviour and increasing respect

First up in the IFAB document are proposals aimed at improving the behaviour of players. We put them last as they are the least controversial and have already been tried to some degree at grassroots level, but that is not is to say they are any less important.

  • Increased role of the captain – In a similar way to rugby, the captain would be given an increased role and become the main point of contact for the referee, particularly around controversial decisions. Such a change could be implemented within the current Laws of the Game and has already been tested to some degree by scheme’s such as the FA’s Respect programme
  • Points deductions for players ‘mobbing’ refs – Largely targeted at the professional game in a bid to remove ugly scenes of players surrounding referees, this change – which IFAB says is ready for testing – could see teams fined or deducted points for ‘mobbing’ the referee. Also expect to see more yellow cards for guilty players, if the proposals are passed (and delivered).

Other suggestions up for discussion in this area include a pre-match handshake between coaches and referees and a red card for substitutes leading to one fewer substitution allowed for that team.

You can read all of IFAB’s proposed changes in detail at play-fair.com.

Have your say!

What do you think about IFAB’s latest set of proposals? Do you think they would help to improve grassroots football or are they more geared towards the professional game?

Which would you most like to see introduced at grassroots level? Have your say in the comments section below and cast your vote on your club/league website – or here on our demo site.

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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