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IFAB recommends “sin-bin” trials in professional football starting next season

Hey, a good thing! Maybe?

New York Islanders v Seattle Kraken Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The news about Tottenham Hotspur is pretty bleak right now, so let’s talk about something else. Like officiating! That’s always a pleasant conversation that everyone agrees about and will never, ever go sideways, right?

But this might actually be a good thing. According to the BBC, the IFAB (International Football Association Board) is recommending expanding trials of penalty boxes (“sin-bins”) to professional football leagues in the UK starting next season.

The idea is this: certain challenges and situations (potentially yellow or “orange” card challenges, tactical fouls, dissent, etc.) will result in the offending player sent to the bench for a set period of time, similar to what happens in hockey. The offending players’ team would then play with a reduced number of players for the duration of the players’ time in the sin-bin, and after that amount of time has elapsed the offending player can re-enter the pitch.

There have been initial trials of this at the lower levels of both men’s and women’s football (up to step five of the National League system and throughout grassroots football), and after a recent IFAB meeting it was decided to expand that trial to professional football at some level(s). It’s not clear what that means quite yet — further levels of non-league football? The Football League? — nor is it entirely clear what would constitute an offense that would land a player in the sin-bin. Tactical fouling is one particular example that is currently not part of the trial, but could be added.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham had this to say about the idea:

“I think [there’s] frustration for fans watching games when they see a promising counter-attack that’s ruined by that [a tactical foul]. 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.

“The starting point was looking at player behaviour and dissent - we’re then looking at whether we should extend it into other areas, such as tactical fouls, as well.”

As with any rule change to the Beautiful Game™, it’s being met with resistance from some corners of the sport, especially from former players who were real shitheels during their playing days. John Terry was outspoken against it because of what he calls “inconsistency” with applying the rules by match officials.

Terry’s not wrong about inconsistencies in applying sin-bin rules across the sport, but 1) you have that same issue about ANY rule in football, not just this one and 2) methinks Terry doth protest too much since if sin-bins were in the game when he was playing he’d have spent at least half of each match watching his Chelsea teammates play with ten men.

Anyway, I personally am open to the idea. It doesn’t eliminate the concept of red cards — sending off a player for the rest of the match — but would probably do well to stop the sorts of tactical fouls on breakaways that you see in just about every game, as well as punishing so-called “orange cards” for challenges that are at the border between a yellow and a sending-off. The devil, of course, is in the details (and that’s typically where football falls flat on its face) but in theory this seems like something that could benefit the sport as a whole.

The IFAB also is considering a trial where there would be a “safe zone” around match officials that could only be encroached by team captains without penalty to avoid teams crowding and surrounding the official after calls are made, and will continue to look at developing and implementing semi-automated offsides systems to speed up those VAR processes. Sure, seems good.

What do you think of the idea of sin-bins in football, and would you like to see them in the Premier League someday?