Bishop & Sewell

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has decided against introducing a new blue card as part of trials of sin bins, writes David Little, a partner in our Corporate and Commercial  department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases too.

Football’s lawmakers announced in November measures to improve player behaviour and increase respect for match officials, which included temporary dismissals for dissent and specific tactical offences, and only allowing team captains to speak to the referee.

In addition, IFAB also approved trials of “cooling-off periods,” whereby if play is getting heated the two teams could be separated by the officials for a length of time before play is then resumed.

The protocol for the trial, including the use of a blue card, was due to be announced by IFAB in March but was shelved after a huge backlash following a leak the day before. FIFA had stepped in to issue a statement that stories of the blue card being introduced were “incorrect and premature.”

According to ESPN FIFA, world football’s governing body, was frustrated that IFAB was planning to go ahead with an announcement before its AGM on March 2. IFAB meets in November to discuss all ideas put forward by member associations, and possible changes to the laws, and decide on those which should go forward or be the subject of trials. While that list is usually approved, it still requires a vote at the AGM, this year held near Loch Lomond in Scotland.

The IFAB is comprised of the four British football associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), who have one vote each, and FIFA, representing the other 207 national associations, with four votes. Any change to the laws must gain at least six of the eight votes, which means no resolution can pass without the agreement of FIFA; at the same time, FIFA cannot make a change without the support of two of the associations.

Sin bins are not completely new to football

The sin bin was introduced to rugby union in 2001, where there has also long been a rule which means only the captain can approach the referee, and there is rarely any issue with players surrounding referees. The motive for the change was understandable. Football fans – sick of the disrespect and cynicism of the high-stakes modern game – often look at rugby with envy. In rugby, players address the referee as “sir”. Screaming expletives in the face of a referee or touch judge would result in an instant sending off in rugby, and probably a ban for several matches.

Sin bins have already had a successful implementation in the lower levels of football since 2019-20, with players ordered to leave the field for 10 minutes if they show disrespect to an official.

Grassroots football in England, which has a particular problem with referee abuse from players, has been using the yellow card to indicate the offence across junior leagues for the past five seasons.

Three new law changes which will be applicable from July

  1. Deliberate handballs, where there is no intention to play the ball, will be punishable with a red card where at present that only applies if a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity has been denied. Handballs which result in penalties will be treated the same as fouls, which will reduce the number of yellow and red cards for the offence.
  2. The ball must now be overhanging the centre of the spot on a penalty kick, which was not previously defined.
  3. The time limit for goalkeepers holding the ball has been increased from six seconds to eight seconds, otherwise possession will revert to the opposing team.

The IFAB also said that additional permanent concussion substitutions will be enshrined in football’s laws but it remains up to the organisers of individual competitions to implement the rule. The protocol allows a team to replace a player with a suspected head injury without it counting towards their allocation of substitutes.


Contact our Corporate & Commercial and Sports Law Solicitor

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team. If you would like to contact him, please quote Ref CB463 on either on either 07968 027343 / 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is accurate as at 05 April 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 5th Apr 2024

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