If you have ever watched a rugby match you are well aware of the difference in which the players approach match officials compared to football. When called over, players address the officials as ‘sir’. Rugby is known as a ‘hooligans game played by gentlemen’. For a long time, football referees have struggled with respect from players, causing various initiatives to be introduced to try and calm the constant abuse referees face on the football field. Players booked for dissent for surrounding the referees, the introduction of only allowing the captain to be allowed to communicate with the referees with regards to on the field misdemeanours. To put it simply, football referees have probably been looking at their rugby counterparts with growing envy given the constant abuse they have to take week in week out, from less players on the field of play. The FA have accepted that the behaviour on display has reached ‘intolerable levels’ and the plan is to try and curb instance of such, with various changes to the punishment various misdemeanours carry. Players are role models to every child and adult that takes to the field every weekend in leagues of all ages, across the world. Add the ever growing brand of the Premier League reaching further and further to audiences around the globe. It simply cannot continue if the brand is to continue growing.

Cue the FA and Drastic Changes for 2016/17 EPL Season

One of the major changes is that it has now become an instant red card offence to ‘confront an official using offensive, insulting and abusive language and/or gesture towards the officials’. If you are a regular viewer of the English Premier League, you don’t have to be a good lip reader to recognise that this change is going to be the most challenging to continue to uphold. Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand all have been guilty for using abusive language at an official when major decisions haven’t gone their way. This rule could end up being enforced tentatively; a bit like the shirt pulling in the box warranting a penalty that was introduced last year. There were constant discussions around whether there was enough consistency in that rule being enforced. We could see the same debates with this rule. The other notable change is players will now see a red card for physical contact with an official. This has not been too big an issue in recent times so it is expected that this will not be so controversial. 

Yellow card offences include ‘Running towards an official to confront a decision’. If you consider the personality traits of the majority of managers, along with the extreme pressures now placed on the playing and management staff in teams across the Premier League, this is yet another common sight. Whilst general offensive and abusive language towards referees will also warrant a yellow card. It is safe to say that the majority of playing and management staff are guilty of this from time to time. It has almost become second nature for players to use this sort of language towards the referee even when minor decisions go against them. It will be interesting to monitor how stringently these rules are enforced. If fully enforced then there could be a few games with multiple players sent off for breaking them.

Some of the new rules are vague and leave themselves very much open to interpretation. ‘An aggressive response to decisions’ will warrant a yellow card. Professional sportspeople operate close to the maximum level of mental arousal, some operate closer to the optimum than others. If multiple decisions start going against one team, or one individual player, it could be argued that being carded for showing a level of aggression should be understood within reason. If clubs challenge the card this could well be the stance they take when arguing in favour of overturning the card issued by the official in breach of this rule. Another vague rule reads ‘a yellow card for at least one player when two or more from a team surround a match official’. How does a referee interpret this rule, if you have two players from the same team confronting an official? If the referee randomly gives out a card to one player and not the other, how is this fair play?

R E S P E C T

It can be understood the need for reforms, and a push to change the language and behaviour used towards officials in Premier League matches. It is a concern the wording used for some of the rules, however, as they are very much open to interpretation. It will not be reasonable to expect footballers to start addressing officials as ‘sir’ anytime soon, but the perception that football is a ‘hooligan sport’, needs to start changing; some of the rules represent a positive move to that end. However such changes could cause mayhem in the opening weeks of the season if fully enforced. It can be expected that some of these rules will be challenged by multiple players/managers and clubs over the course of the season. However officials are humans and deserve to be treated with a level of respect. This should be a step in the right direction.

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