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My Proposal: No Yellows for Celebrations

This weekend, Tony Tchani became the latest victim of one of the dumbest soccer rules on the books.  After scoring his goal for a Toronto franchise that is probably at its lowest point, he ran off the pitch and jumped up to the stands to celebrate with the fans.  Already sitting on a yellow card, the referee gave him a second and sent him off.  Columbus took advantage and grabbed an equalizer, keeping the Crew’s unbeaten streak alive and denying Toronto a valuable three points.

This is not the first time something like this has happened this season – Eric Hassli was given a second caution when, after a goal against New England, he stripped off his jersey to reveal….another jersey.  Regardless, he was sent off for two cautions.  The issue of goal celebrations and harshness is receiving a lot of thought in soccer circles this week not just because of the Tchani celebration, but because of an EPL incident as well.  When Tamir Cohen scored the game-winning goal for Bolton against Arsenal, he raised his shirt to show a picture of his father, also a professional soccer player who had died recently in a car accident.  Referee Mike Jones issued a celebration yellow as Cohen was crying and honoring his father.

First, let’s establish the fact that by now players should know a simple fact – if they do anything besides a small dance or celebration on the pitch with teammates, they will receive a yellow card.  Tchani and Hassli should have known this and they deserved their punishments knowing that officials crack down on these things.  That said, officials should not punish goal celebrations, but especially in MLS.  In fact, I’d encourage MLS and USSF to have a chat with their officials and encourage them to let celebrations slide.

For my explanation, read on….

The FIFA Laws of the Game state that “reasonable celebrations are allowed, but the practice of choreographed celebrations is not to be encouraged when it results in excessive time-wasting and referees are instructed to intervene in such cases.” FIFA rules note (pg 133) that an official may must caution a player if:

  • a celebration includes inflammatory gestures
  • he climbs onto a perimeter fence
  • he removes his shirt or lifts his shirt, regardless of if a shirt is on underneath
  • he covers his face or head with a mask.

Obviously officials take these rules very seriously despite the fact they are only guidelines.  In Tchani’s case, he did jump onto a perimeter fence but it was in his own fan section at home.  The rule is in place for players in hostile arenas to prevent inciting opposing fans by taunting them and to prevent unnecessary delay of games.  In this weekend’s incident, neither happened.

In their defense, MLS has said Tchani should not have received the yellow, but I’d encourage them to take it a step farther.  I want MLS to come out and say that if a player has a creative or unique goal celebration that does not unnecessary delay a game or taunt fans, then they encourage the player to show their creativity.  Why should they do this?  Exposure.  What drives Sportscenter and sports highlight shows more than creative celebrations?  Those are the type of things that get MLS attention.  What was the main highlight in the DC United-LA Galaxy match?  It wasn’t Magee’s goal, it was Charlie Davies trying to drive a locked VW.  One of the most viral soccer videos of the past year was this incredibly funny goal celebration from Iceland; fan interest in MLS would be peaked if they saw videos on ESPN of funny celebrations or teams creatively honoring a goal.

Obviously there would have to be some limitations.  Celebrations away from home do have the potential to incite opposing fans, so referees should have the leeway to take that into account when deciding to issue yellow cards.  And of paramount importance is the clock; any celebration that goes on for too long or wastes too much time should be a yellow card.  The question is how long is too long, but I am ok with that being a subjective call as long as officials err on the side of allowing too much celebration.  Officials always have the leeway to add on time at the end of a half to make up for celebrations; I would say anything that takes a player away for over a minute is excessive.  And if the league is still concerned with what celebrations will do, Graham Poll has an excellent suggestion: fine a player for any goal celebration that includes removing a shirt (or I’d suggest jumping into the stands) and give the money to charity.

MLS is missing an opportunity to increase its media presence when in the modern media anything that goes viral on the Internet is picked up by major networks and cable stations.  Hits, as in web hits, are the name of the game and MLS should allow its players to show their creativity which consequently will attract attention to the league.  The league should want snippets of their games to be spread on Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter, and the best way to do that is to allow attention-grabbing celebrations.

Let the celebrations continue!

19 Responses to My Proposal: No Yellows for Celebrations

  1. cy says:

    Your link is to the futsal laws of the game.

    For actual football, it doesn’t say ‘may’, it says ‘must’.

    A player must be cautioned if:
    • in the opinion of the referee, he makes gestures which are provocative,
    derisory or inflammatory
    • he climbs on to a perimeter fence to celebrate a goal being scored
    • he removes his shirt or covers his head with his shirt
    • he covers his head or face with a mask or other similar item

    • cy says:

      Turns out the futsal says must too. So did you change the wording to fit your point or was it just a mistake?

      • Robert Hay says:

        I don’t think my comment posted, so just in case:

        There seems to be some leeway in the language. Goals can be celebrated but not excessively. Officials can define excessive. Players may leave the pitch to celebrate but not go into the stands. The line may seem obvious, but there is some leeway in there for USSF and MLS to tell officials “listen, follow the spirit but not the letter of the law.” It’s not the first time USSF has ignored FIFA

  2. Kevin Sutton says:

    Part of the reason players still don’t clue into this is because there are celebrations that don’t get penalized, (Like the aforementioned attempt by Davies to drive off in a car…or his attempt to incite the TO fans by running over to dance directly in front of the supporters section at BMO) Not that I’d like them to get penalised more for that –they shouldn’t be at all.

  3. DaveC says:

    Tchani, Hassli and any other fool who does an OTT celebration whilst already on a yellow card is just….well, a fool.

    However, I agree with your general point that as long as the act is not inciting anyone, or excessively delaying the game, then sure, why not allow a little over-indulgence. Especially in America, where segregated stadiums, partisan fans and crowd-violence aren’t really an issue.

  4. Chris Browne says:

    I agree with you on this. I think it wastes more time to card someone. Just let them finish their celebration. If they go too long, just let the other team kickoff. That will surely hurry the celebrations.

  5. Charles says:

    IF they are not being “bad sports”…let em have fun.
    Taunting, etc No way. Red card.

    Jumping into the stands to celebrate with fans that just paid your salary and bought your jersey….Hell ya.

    Should be mandatory.

  6. Alan says:

    I don’t see how this warrants a yellow. He had a shirt on underneath anyway. I agree, let them have fun as long as they are not doing anything offensive. Stupid rule.

  7. Sancho says:

    The referee on Toronto’s game acted within the rules, but it was a bad call.

    In Vancouver’s case, it was TOTALLY STUPID. The guy had two shirts. But, there should be no surprise, because the ref is considered the worst referee by far in MLS.

  8. Sancho says:

    I agree 100% with the text.

  9. SJfan says:

    Agree 100% with this. Duhhh, #winning.

  10. epicbutton says:

    i agree that players should express their creativity with their celebrations as long as its not totally rash (i believe players can take their shirts off so long as a text is not exposed. the shirt over the head celebration was revolutionary). goal celebrations are part of the game. its traditions. however i disagree with you reasons for letting players celebrate. to sell out? no mls may not be a strong league but it still should have some dignity left. and having MLS HQ to think of creative ways to celebrate so mls can market themselves to ESPN top ten most funny clips or whatever is wrong. if mls wants to market itself it should improve its quality, not become entertainment

  11. epicbutton says:

    i would like to add however my favorite controversial celebration was DC United’s Eskanderians celebration vs Red bull new jeresy when he pretended to sip a can of red bull then spitted out the drink. ha.

  12. Jason says:

    I’m a straight guy myself, i don’t want to see men running around taking their shirts off to celebrate a goal..why would someone do that anyway. Its so dumb. I’m glad they get carded for such idiocy.

  13. DLH says:

    It’s a rule for a reason. Many crowd and player injuries have occurred when a player attempted to enter fan areas after a goal, even supporting fans.

    This is why it’s also against the rules in the NFL (Lambeau Leap grandfathered in), NBA, etc. In college football it’s 15 yards for spiking the football after a touchdown, so this is hardly some cultural issue.

    Regarding taking off jerseys, lots of political, religious type statements have been made with shirts under jerseys and so forth, which given the political and sectarian nature of many rivalries, can be a real crowd safety issue; hence the bright line rule.

  14. The original Tom says:

    I agree with the original post and I like Graham Poll’s suggestion, I’d never heard that one before. To be fair to FIFA, the problem with taking off your shirt is that political messages under the shirt can be so cryptic. A player wears a shirt with a Palestinian or an Israel symbol, or even an American flag image can be controversal when one of our many military campaigns are hot. Not to mention various political and historical figures.

    Players should be allowed to jump in the crowd, though. I remember they did this in England in the 90′s before they did it in Green Bay- it was a great image. This should be up to individual leagues to regulate- and in the MLS they should allow it.

  15. Dave C says:

    To be honest, although I’ve already said I agree with the overall sentiment behind this article, I can think of a few reasons why it would be impractical, and simpler just to follow the hard, set-in-stone rule that currently exists.

    (1) Firstly, and I know this is unlikely, but what happens if a player climbs into the crowd, and some lunatic beats him up or worse? America can be a litigious place, and I imagine the fear of lawsuits is a good enough reason to prohibit the practice (I don’t know how Green Bay Packers get away with it).

    (2) We’re all pretty much in agreement that non-offensive things should be allowed….but who gets the responsibility of determining what is offensive? Sometimes it can be hard to tell – what if a player has a foreign-language slogan on his shirt? Or a T-shirt with a photographic tribute to his late grandfather, who has the misfortune to have a coincidental resemblance to some infamous and inflamatory historical figure? Or he makes weird hand gestures at the crowd that might be gang-signs? In short, the refs already have enough decisions to make every game, without also expecting them to be some kind of sensibility-police after each goal.

  16. rbny4me says:

    “The rule is in place for players in hostile arenas to prevent inciting opposing fans by taunting them and to prevent unnecessary delay of games.”

    no, the rule is in place to avoid wasting time.

    and obviously i see the humor in hassli having a shirt under his shirt, but whats more concerning to me, is that he was playing in two jerseys… i would think he would start to get kind of hot under that second shirt.

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