Game needs to lay down its laws

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

Bob Callahan has spent a lot of time between the lines, controlling soccer games.

As a referee he's handled international friendlies in Canada, championship games, was a national instructor and is an honorary national referee. He's been retired since 1993 -- when knee injuries got the better of him -- but remains in touch with the laws of the game and those who administer them.

He's had plenty of discussion points since the conclusion of the World Cup, after all the heat the referees and their assistants came under for their calls and non-calls. Callahan has listened to the suggestions for improving the game and has a message for those who will listen.

"It's all there for referees, they just have to enforce it," said Callahan, who's lived in London for a number of years.

It's much like the changes the NHL made. It changed some rules and also directed its referees to enforce the rules already in place.

Soccer's offside rule is the biggest deterrent to goal scoring. It was initially written to prevent "poaching" from a player -- standing in front of the net waiting for the ball.

An offensive player cannot be closer than even with the final defender (not including the goalkeeper) when the ball is kicked. But what's happened is teams use the rule to make the field smaller for the offence. And assistant referees (linesmen) have added to the stifling of the game by giving the benefit of the doubt in most calls to the defence.

This space has always advocated the rule needs to be changed. It should allow for a player to be onside if any part of his body is even with the last defender when the ball is kicked. Many scoring chances are nullified when the official whistles the play dead because an attacker is ahead of a defender, even though part of his body is still even with that defender.

Guess what? That's exactly what the rule says, but it isn't implemented that way.

"In 1990, or thereabouts, the referees received notification from FIFA about the change of the offside rule," Callahan said. "It said exactly that, that an attacking player was not offside if any part of his body was even with the final defender. It also said that benefit of the doubt in an offside situation should always be given the attacking player.

"It was supposed to make the game more open but for whatever reason, the linesmen are calling the game more tightly. It's funny because the other day I ran into someone who was in a clinic I gave 20 years ago. He's now a referee and we were discussing this and he said, 'I didn't know that was the case.' "

Callahan also discussed respecting the referee and the tendency for players to confront the referee to try to persuade him to give out yellow or red cards. Anyone who watched the World Cup saw the number of times a group of players surrounded the referee after a contentious call, some of them even touching the official.

"The rule is clear about that as well," Callahan said. "Anyone laying a hand on the referee will be given at a minimum a yellow card. Anyone feigning injury or any simulated action intended to deceive the referee requires disciplinary action.

"And you've seen where players pick up the ball or kick the ball away and they are now getting cards, that's always been part of the laws of the game but FIFA made a point of emphasizing that before the World Cup."

Callahan's point is well made. The rules and their interpretation are already in the books. All FIFA has to do is to make sure its referees fully understand those rules and enforce them.


Videos

Photos