Some new directives have emerged from UEFA’s meeting with referees, which was held at its headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland last week. The referees recognised that there is an increasing tendency for the illegal use of arms in the penalty area, particularly prior to the taking of corner kicks and free kicks, and that this should be carefully controlled and the appropriate action be taken in the case of infringements.
Referees have been instructed to initially give a verbal warning to players who are using their arms illegally in this fashion and if there is further infringement, it should be punished by a yellow or red card.
Once the ball is in play, the referees agreed that their level of tolerance should not change and they should deal firmly with continued holding, pushing, etc. by awarding a free kick or a penalty kick depending upon which team commits the initial offence.
According to UEFA referees committee chairman, Angel María Villar Llona , the decisions were made to combat “aspects of the game which are harming its image”. ‘The penalty area is not a wrestling ring and shirt pulling is not part of football, so as Chairman of the UEFA Referees Committee I will support the referees who have the courage to punish holding and pushing in the penalty area.”
In addition, in many countries when a player is injured and in apparent need of treatment his team, or in some cases the opposing team, kick the ball out of play, to allow the injured player to receive treatment. The customary unwritten practice is that on re-starting play, the ball is returned to the team who put the ball out of the field of play. However, this is often used by a team as a time-wasting tactic late in a match when they are trying to protect a lead and need to disrupt the opposition’s attacking rhythm.
UEFA noted that some of its member associations have stopped this practice in their domestic leagues, and that players competing in UEFA-sanctioned competitions should leave it to the referee to decide whether a player’s injury is serious enough to stop the play in order to allow him/her to receive treatment. Consequently, when an injured player’s team has put the ball out of play, they should not expect the ball to be returned to them.
This may cause some initial confusion when clubs from different member associations, who may observe different practices, meet in UEFA competitions. To prevent any potential confusion UEFA has reminded the referees and clubs that under Law 5 of the Laws of the Game,
“The Referee: stops the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured and ensures that he is removed from the field of play. An injured player may only return to the field of play after the match has restarted.”
This change in practice will probably cause a few contentious moments early on but I suspect everyone will get used to the interpretation after a couple of matches. I think these are positive moves and should cut out some of the nonsense that is happening, at least in Champions League and UEFA Cup matches.