Lots has been written in recent weeks on how society, and by extension football, will be different once the UK exits its lockdown. With a growing acceptance that the end of the 2019/20 season, if it happens, will take place behind closed doors, there’s another potential change to the game that might’ve gone under the radar that we’ll have to get used to.
The IFAB, football’s lawmakers, are considering FIFA’s proposal that teams should be allowed to make up to five substitutions per match, rather than the usual three, as a temporary measure to help cope with potential fixture congestion as football resumes after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should the temporary law change be brought in, it will be up to each national association and competition to decide whether or not to allow it in any resumed season.
That’s all well and good, but who are the IFAB, and how do the laws of the game get changed?
Who are IFAB?
The IFAB consists of representatives from the UK’s four football associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and four representatives from FIFA. Their first meeting was way back in 1886, when there was a need to codify the various laws of the games across the home nations.
FIFA joined the group in 1913, and since then they have fulfilled the role of setting out a unified set of laws for the game worldwide.
Each member enjoys the same voting rights, with a three-quarters majority required for a motion to be passed, meaning FIFA can effectively veto any proposed new law, but that equally any law change must have the backing of at least two of the UK’s football associations.
The IFAB considers proposals to amend the laws of the game at their AGM each year (usually in the early spring) with new laws brought in the following season.
So whether it’s minor tweaks to the interpretation of the handball or offside laws, the banning of snoods or approving sweeping changes to how football is refereed, such as VAR and goalline technology, every change to the laws of the game goes through the IFAB.
What is the new proposal?
The propsed new law will give managers the option of using upto five substitutes per 90 minutes, however each team will still only have three opportunities to substitute players during open play, to help avoid excessive timewasting.
An additional sixth substitution, should any cup games go into extra time, would be part of the temporary law in competitions which currently allow for a fourth sub to be brought on for games going beyond the 90 minute mark.
“When competitions resume, such competitions are likely to face a congested match calendar with a higher-than-normal frequency of matches played in consecutive weeks… [which] may increase the risk of potential injuries due to a resulting player overload,” said FIFA.
“In light of this and in light of the unique challenge faced globally in delivering competitions according to the originally foreseen calendar, FIFA proposes that a larger number of substitutions be temporarily allowed at the discretion of the relevant competition organiser.”
The proposal is that this change in the laws will last until the end of the 2020-21 season, which is also likely to be affected by the pandemic, with the potential for it to be included in the reschuled international competitions such as Euro 2020 and the Olympics next summer, should the competition organisers so desire.