“Sin-bins”: Should football follow rugby’s example?

Image credit: Steindy

Earlier this month, it was revealed that rugby style “sinbins” could come into the eleven-a-side game as soon as 3 March, when IFAB, the FA’s law-making body, next hold their AGM at Wembley. Presented as a measure looking to encourage fair play, there are doubts as to the effectiveness of pilfering rules from rugby, a sport whose culture of respect sets it far apart from football, the world’s most popular, and most illdisciplined, sport. At long last liberated from the corrupting influence of Sepp Blatter – a man who once fired his own PR chief for making a joke at his expense – football has finally been presented with the opportunity to make a fresh start.

Too often in the past, proposals looking to make the game more exciting have run up against an ideological brick wall almost as solid as Ryan Shawcross. Case in point – the ridiculous struggle to implement goal-line technology in professional matches. The English may be fond of their traditions but, then again, tea and biscuits never prevented a deadcertain equaliser against Germany. Therefore, it is great news that for the last few years, temporary dismissals for yellow cards (the time is yet to be decided) have been tested in grassroots, youth, veterans, and disability football. However, we need to have a proper look at the evidence. In a moment of rare honesty for organisations pushing for change, IFAB admitted at the time that the “sin-bin” experiment was ‘by any means a success’, citing ‘an impact on flow of game and willingness of players to commit to tackles’.

Part of the problem is that what constitutes a bookable offence in rugby is generally far more clear-cut than is the case with football. As well as the grey area surrounding a player’s intention with regard to the already confusing rules on handball, a quick delve into football’s vast repository of clichés confirms the ambiguity of the rules: ‘anywhere else on the pitch that’s a yellow’, ‘you’d have thought on another day he could’ve just had a quiet word’, or, my personal favourite, ‘ten years ago that’s a good challenge…’ Of course, ill-discipline in football takes on a variety of forms ranging from challenges with no malicious intent to more aggressive offences in the form of shirt-pulling and diving.

However, this added deterrent against such offences could well be exploited to try to force players on the opposing team into an early bath – just think of any recent Clásico, where players roll around and managers run about waving cards in a display of amateur histrionics completely contrary to the spirit of the game. As long as players encircle the referee like vultures during the game and managers get away with criticising his every decision after it, we are not going to see any real change in the mentality of the players. Football is, I believe, unique in its toleration of poor attitude and dishonest players, and it is this very acceptance of ill-discipline that gives football its bad reputation amongst other sports.

Of course, it is not obvious how to set about searching for an antidote. However, if mutual respect is the end goal, so to speak, it seems sensible to target youth football, where impressionable boys and girls may come to internalise more favourable values. With one in five kids playing football at least once every few months, there is a great opportunity for well-trained coaches to hammer home the importance of fair play. Why go for the stick in the form of “sinbins” – which could be quite upsetting for some players – when the carrot could be greatly exploited to change mindsets? A much better idea emerged from the same IFAB conference – only allow the captain to speak to the referee during games, both at youth and professional level. That way, kids may have the chance to learn the important values of tolerance and respect that are lacking from the cultural make-up of this so-called beautiful game

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