Soccer players have been particularly rowdy as of late. The International Football Association Board (IFAB)'s answer? Penalty boxes, apparently.
On Tuesday, the IFAB approved trials for new rules designed to crack down on poor player behavior.
In fact, most of the approved changes from the meeting involve showing more respect for officials. These aren't just new rule changes for small leagues nobody pays attention to either. Some of the biggest leagues in the world will be implementing these new changes in 2024. Here's everything you need to know.
— The IFAB (@TheIFAB) November 28, 2023
What are the new changes being implemented?
The two biggest changes are the introduction of "sin bins" and the increased involvement of the virtual assistant referee (VAR).
What is a sin bin?
The sin bin will work similarly to the penalty box in hockey. When a player commits a tactical foul, the player will be forced off the field for a predetermined amount of time, after which the player may return to the field for their team.
Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the Football Association and director of the IFAB, explained the decision as such: "I think frustration for fans when they’re watching games when they see a promising counter-attack that’s ruined by that – and the question of whether a yellow card is sufficient for that – has led to us looking at whether that should be involved in the protocol as well." He continued, "Some players do commit a foul, and they do it consciously knowing they’re going to get a yellow card, and we think that really breaks up the game. So, would they not do it if they felt there was going to be a sin-bin?"
From this statement, it appears the point of the sin bin is to keep game flow upbeat. When a player commits a foul that won't get them ejected but will stop a promising counterattack for the opposing team, that slows down the entire game and is not fun for fans, sort of like when an NBA player is on a fast break but gets grabbed from behind in order to prevent the easy dunk.
Other sin bin-worthy fouls are getting into heated arguments with referees, unsportsmanlike conduct, and potentially handballs as well. Whether or not handball fouls will be treated as such is not confirmed yet, but there was reportedly a discussion about whether handballs could be punishable in the same manner as other fouls. If that change is true, it will also come into effect in 2024.
How will VAR be more involved moving forward?
The other change seems much more in line with where soccer has been headed for years. The VAR has been a big part of top-league play since around 2016. However, even as the VAR has made once-difficult calls much easier to uphold or reverse correctly, the results of VAR decisions have not been very transparent.
That changes in 2024.
Now, VAR results must be communicated to players and fans as well, much like when an NFL referee communicates official rulings to the fans and viewers at home. This change was given a test run during the most recent Women's World Cup, and was met with overwhelming support.
While this change sounds as though it will be critical for several key moments through matches, the agreement did not indicate that VAR will be used in any circumstances other than goals and red cards, in order to minimize interference to the game itself. Once again, this decision was made with game flow as the determining factor.
Which leagues will adopt these new changes?
The trial runs for these changes have been overwhelmingly positive within lower level soccer play in England. According to IFAB figures, the introduction of the sin bin resulted in a 38% decrease in players arguing calls with referees during games. You'd think that players would be upset at that, but that's not the case:
72% of players actually wanted to continue moving forward with sin bin rules
77% of coaches approved the change
84% of referees were happy with the implementation as well.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Get ready for sin bins in soccer as MLS, EPL ponder player punishment