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IFAB overhauls rules to make football more user-friendly

A row in the tunnel between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane before an Arsenal-Manchester United match in 2005 prompted a rule change about pre-match red cards.

The International Football Association Board in London this week approved re-written laws of the game, overhauled by football's rule-makers in an attempt to remove inconsistencies and make them more user-friendly.

A 22,000-word document has been halved to 12,000 words over the last 18 months. The new laws will be ratified at the body's March meeting, and will be in force for the European Championship in June. They include changes such as sending players off for pre-match fights, permitting the ball to go in any direction at kickoff, allowing more players to be treated on the field and stopping teams benefiting from players being punished.

David Elleray, who formulated the comprehensive revision of the laws, hopes rules will no longer be open to as much interpretation.

"We are trying to help situations which tend to occur very often and are a bit crazy," said Elleray, a former Premier League referee.

"We have tried to use much clearer language. We tried to avoid a lot of unnecessary repetition and we tried to make it up-to-date. Because the laws have evolved piecemeal and no one has done a comprehensive review there have been inconsistencies."

The Associated Press looked at the biggest revamp of the rules of football in 135 years by the IFAB, largely through Elleray's explanations:

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Kickoff

The current law says the ball must go forward at kickoff and players have to be in their own half. The rule is being changed to allow the ball to go in any direction at kickoff -- as long as it moves.

Pre-match red cards

Citing a row in the tunnel between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane before an Arsenal-Manchester United match in 2005, Elleray highlighted how they could not have been sent off in the event of a full-scale fight. The laws were written at a time before it was custom for teams to line up next to each other in the tunnel before kickoff.

In future, referees will be able to punish red-card offenses any time after the pre-match inspection.

Elleray: "[Fighting players] would be banned from playing the match, but both teams would still start with 11 because they would be able to use one of the named substitutes. They would lose a substitute."

Leaving field after treatment

Elleray: "If a player is injured from a challenge which is punished by a red or yellow card, he can have quick treatment on the field of play and does not have to leave. It always seemed unfair that the victim team was down to 10 men and the guilty team has 11 against 10."

Quick return

Elleray: "If a player goes off to change his boots, at the moment he has to wait until the game is stopped and the referee has to go and check his boots before he can play again. Now we are saying his boots or whatever can be checked by the fourth official, the assistant referee even, and [the player can] come back during play."

Grabbing opponents

Elleray: "Two players go off the field of play. One tries to get back on to play the ball, and the other one grabs him off the field of play to stop him going back on. At the moment the referee gives a red or yellow card and restarts with a drop ball, which is clearly wrong. So we will be giving a free kick on the touchline or the goal-line. If it's inside the penalty area, it can be a penalty kick."

Blocking goals

Elleray: "If a [non-playing] substitute at the moment comes on and dives and stops the goal, it's an indirect free kick." And then there is the unlikely but not unforeseen situation in which a team physician comes onto the field during play. "If the doctor does it, it's a drop ball, which again is wrong for football. Their team benefits from breaking the law. So they will become direct free kicks or penalty kicks."

Penalty shootouts

Elleray: "If a player gets sent off during kicks from the penalty mark, the other team doesn't also go down to 10. So if it goes all the way through, the guilty team's best player takes a second kick against the innocent team's worst player."

In future, both teams will be reduced to the same number of kickers.

Elleray: "We are trying to make sure the laws are fair and support the team that has been offended against and don't reward people for breaking the laws of the game."

Offside inconsistency

Elleray: "Part of the law book says when players commit an offside offense, you give a free kick where the offense occurred. The other part of the law book says you give a free kick where the player was when he was in the offside position. So a player can actually move 20 yards from being in an offside position ... and it's only the moment he plays the ball that he is penalized. The law tells you to give the free kick in two different places.

"So in future, the free kick will always be given where he commits the offside offense, even if he's in his own half, because you cannot be in an offside position in your own half, but you can go back into your own half to commit an offside offense."

Logo loophole

Club logos will be allowed on corner flags. Elleray: "It happens in the Premier League, but is actually against the laws of the game."

Common sense

Elleray: "We are encouraging referees to referee according to the spirit of the game and to use common sense. ... If you can play the game and there's a minor breach of the law, report it to the authorities and sort it out afterwards. Don't be too black and white in minor areas."

That means, for example, in the grass-roots game, not abandoning a match if one of the four corner flags is broken.

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