Learning from hockey
Soccer would benefit if it copied a few rules from the sport
LONDON — I went straight from the Field Hockey World Cups in June to watching soccer’s World Cup which ended this month.
I must be excused for yawning during many of the latter tournament’s matches.
Soccer is still the world’s most popular sport and its slower matches may be easier to report on. However, soccer does risk losing its entertainment value unless its world government body, FIFA, wakes up soon.
Hockey has two referees (more often called umpires) on the field instead of one. Four eyes see more than one and although soccer linesmen, called referee assistants can also intervene by raising their flags, they do not intervene enough. Hockey referees also have technological assistance 25 metres from the goals when teams can appeal to a “video referee” which carefully studies the incident and sees more than the referee. Soccer’s rejection of this tool is that video referee referral sometimes takes time to decide and would interrupt the game too often. Not necessarily if hockey rules are followed. A team has to be sure of its appeal. As long as it goes in its favour, it can appeal again, but if it loses the appeal it does not have another chance during the game.
The soccer linesman’s most important job is to mark off-sides ... and the most controversial one. In hockey, there is no longer any off-side. When it was eliminated some years ago, it was feared that this would produce a spate of goals and just shooting the ball up and down the field, spoiling the game. It never happened. Coaches soon found ways to counteract the lack of “offside.” There may be a few more goals and the game has become more exciting and with less stoppages.
Soccer games are interrupted by long arguments when players surround the referee. Argue with a hockey referee and if he/she does the right thing he/she shows the player a green card (2-minute suspension), a second or more serious offence would bring out a yellow card (5-10 minutes suspension) while more serious offences mean a red card. A sort of sin bin for non-serious offences has often been talked about in soccer circles without result. Even short suspensions would reduce fouls for which soccer players are generally not sent off — or under FIFA orders not to send off in international tournaments.
In hockey, there are rolling substations and play is not stopped as players run off and on the field. This may not be ideal for soccer, but too much time is wasted when substitutions are made. It is good that only three substitutions can be made by each team instead of any number in hockey from seven players on the bench.
Corners take less time in soccer, but only because referees tend to overlook the shoving and holding between defenders and attackers (this is where video would be badly needed). There is a difference in rules so this could not happen in hockey as attackers have to line up outside the circle (penalty area), while defenders stand on the goal line (inside the goal) after putting on safety masks. Hockey has yet to put a time limit on what are called penalty corners.
More important is something which soccer should copy immediately from hockey — the playing time clock. Soccer referees add on minutes at the end of the game for time wasted. One does not know how this is calculated and frequently spectators or coaches disagree.
In hockey, the clock is stopped for penalty corners and when the referee holds up his/her hand when showing a card to a player or when the game is stopped for injuries and protests. At the moment hockey is played in two halves of 35 minutes and the time clock ensures that there is 35 minutes play and no argument. Soccer has two halves of 45 minutes, but it is calculated that there is little more than 30 minutes play.
Hockey this year changes to four periods of 15 minutes each (of actual play) which, its authorities say will make it more interesting, although this is debatable. Really, it favours television which had requested similar breaks from soccer in the past, but now TV has become soccer’s financial God and has imposed several things.
It may soon ask for these breaks again. Hockey is making the change because it is trying to get more TV coverage to spread the popularity of the game.
The Olympic Games mark a controversial difference between the two sports. Hockey is in constant fear of being eliminated from the Olympics and it was a close shave recently.
Soccer, as the world’s most popular sport, has no fears and elimination would not hurt it as much as it would hurt hockey. It is watched by plenty of paying spectators which for the Olympics is a financial advantage. Yet the Olympic Games want the best participants in each sport.
Hockey sends its best teams and players to the Games. Soccer sends U-23 teams, including three players over that age, but many countries do not send their best players and FIFA does not want them to so as to not elevate Olympic soccer to the same category as its World Cup.
At the Hockey World Cups there were officials of the Dutch FA to study hockey rules, but FIFA’s president, Joseph Blatter was always against such radical changes.
A candidate at the forthcoming presidential elections is Frenchman Jerome Champagne who is more in favour of them.