OPINION: Blue Card Yet Another Thing for Referees to Get Wrong

Yesterday, football lawmakers IFAB announced that they were set to trial the introduction of 'blue cards' for sin-binned players. 

It is something that has been used successfully in grassroots football for dissent, but it is believed that this could also now be utilised for cynical fouls. If a player is awarded a blue card, they will then be required to spend ten minutes in the technical area. It is not yet understood where these blue cards will be trialled, with both FIFA and the Premier League appearing to rule themselves out of any potential trial phase. 

However, the idea of a sin bin is one that has often been touted as a potential law change due to its success in other sports for sometime. Its rollout into the elite game is however an unprecedented step, and one that would represent arguably the biggest rule change in decades.

Grassroots vs Elite

Football at grassroots level needs to be viewed as a separate entity. While maintaining a significant competitive standing, its main purpose is ultimately about participation. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense to have measures such as sin bins in place. The respect between players and officials at that level needs to be protected, and a quick scroll through the news often highlights violence or abuse subjected to referees or other officials, when they are often simply offering their time to the game they love. This is where the current use of sin bins work. 

Grassroots can demonstrate a high calibre of talent, but in reality those teams are often lacking in tactical nous. When a team is reduced to ten players, this has a detrimental impact on their ability to compete and so is a suitable punishment. This would however cause issues at the elite level due to increased levels of understanding and positional sense that professional players possess. As a result, many of these games are likely to be stunted and the free-flowing football that is so attractive on the eye negated.  

If we look at grassroots again, there is more evidence to support the use of sin bins; there has been a noticeable decrease in the levels of abuse directed at officials due to its implementation. It is also possible that participation could be intrinsically linked to that of scenarios like these. For instance, if a player is given a red card and subsequently misses the remainder of the game and potentially future matches, then they may become disillusioned with football and simply give up. However, if teams have to get through ten minutes only, this will feel a far more attainable target for the team as a whole, while still highlighting that there is no room for dissent towards match officials. This is not to say that yellow and red cards don't still have their place in grassroots football, because of course they do, but it gives officials an extra tool to control everyday individuals. 

This cannot and should not be said for those at the elite level. I spent this morning running through various examples of how to control behaviours on a football pitch in a professional setting, and I genuinely don't see why the current disciplinary actions can't be utilised more. If the FA for example, wanted to clamp down on dissent, a short period of harsh sanctions towards both clubs and players would likely resolve this. If a player argues with the referee, give them a yellow card. If they do it again, no matter how soon after, give them a second yellow and therefore a red. It really doesn't have to be more difficult than that. 

Timewasting is another aspect that presumably would benefit from a blue card system. But again, if they simply implemented the rules early then this wouldn't be necessary. How many times have we seen a goalkeeper booked in the 93rd minute after they have repeatedly delayed the restart, when a simple booking in the first instance would make it evident that this will not be tolerated. 

Current Refereeing Standards

The idea of a blue card is one that in principle seems reasonable; any means as to protect referees and aid the game can't be viewed in itself as a bad thing. The current ineptitude of officiating and the lack of confidence from the clubs and stands alike is perhaps the thing that makes me most nervous about the implementation of a new sanction. Weekly we are subjected to an array of controversial decisions, something that VAR was meant to put a stop too, yet somehow debates are more fierce than ever.

Faith in referees and the systems in place is currently at an all time low. Therefore, throwing another measure into the mix for the current incumbent of referee to manage seems like trouble waiting to happen. 

It does however, feel as if there is an inevitability to its introduction. There is no doubt that football has an issue when it comes to the respect shown towards officials, but with the right messages from above, then there is an able solution without the need to go blue.