Explained: The FA's New Rule That Punishes Simulation
The Conference, or the National League as it is now known, may not have a reputation for being at the vanguard of footballing change, yet that is exactly the position it found itself in earlier this month. Sahr Kabba, a Welling United player, became the first player to be retrospectively charged by the FA for ‘exaggerating and feigning injury in order to deceive match officials’. The result of this charge was a three match ban and a £250 fine.
Hopes that this alteration to FA procedure could herald the end of gamesmanship and manipulation of the game’s laws are premature. The rule can only be applied in very specific circumstances, and the incident involving Kabba gives a clear indication of how it may be enforced. Firstly a charge can only be brought against a player if their deceit has resulted in an opponent being sent off for violent conduct. In the 1-1 draw between Welling United and Tranmere Rovers; Tranmere’s Richie Sutton was sent off for allegedly elbowing Sahr Kabba in an off the ball incident.
Tranmere submitted a written appeal to the FA along with video evidence supporting their claim that Sutton had not committed an act of violent conduct. The FA panel concluded that Tranmere had sufficient grounds for appeal, and gave the three game ban that was in store for Sutton to Kabba instead.
In this instance, the new rule worked smoothly but it is intriguing to see how this will play out in more complex cases. The first step in bringing a charge against a player for deceit is successfully appealing the original sending off. This has always been extremely difficult to do, with the FA committed the stance that ‘a claim will only be successful where the Commission is satisfied that the Referee made an obvious error in dismissing the Player.’ Moreover the Welling United case also involved an incident that the referee did not have full view of, and this has always been the type of case where appeals can be successful. What has been far harder to do is to get a decision overturned or changed when the referee has seen the incident clearly. The FA have been reluctant in the past to retrospectively alter the decision of the referee so flagrantly.
Moreover the laws of football, like laws in general, are typically designed to punish actions rather than the consequence of those actions. So if a player has ‘made the most’ of a slap on the face and rolled around on the floor resulting in an opponent being sent off, this decision cannot be overturned because the original slap was deemed to be a violent action regardless of the opponent’s play acting. A good example would be Ibrahim Affelay’s sending off for Stoke City against West Brom. Craig Gardner certainly exaggerated the extent of the contact made by Affelay’s hand against his face, but since he raised his hand there are no grounds to say that the referee ‘made an obvious error in dismissing the player.’
Another example would be Wayne Rooney’s retrospective ban for clipping Tal Ben Haim around the face during a Manchester United game against Bolton in 2004. Even under the new rules, the FA could still ban Rooney because any action involving raising your hand to the opponents face is deemed an act of violent conduct. In order for sendings off for violent conduct to be overturned, the first step in bringing a charge against a playing for exaggeration of contact, then it must be ‘clear that the opposing player had not, for example, been struck as implied/claimed or at all, then a disciplinary charge may follow.’
So any claims that this new rule means that ‘players can be banned for diving’ are wide of the mark. As stated, exaggerating injury and deceiving the referee has to result in an opponent being sent off for violent conduct in order for a charge to brought against them. Therefore, if a player dives and wins a penalty then they cannot be banned retrospectively. Even if a player dives and the opponent is sent off, such as in the case of denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, then a no retrospective action can be taken since it was not a case of violent conduct but of a professional foul.
However, a small precedent has been set by the FA that they are willing to use video evidence in order to retrospectively punish those guilty of one form of simulation. It is inevitable that at some stage this new rule will have to be applied to a Premier League incident, and that will result in a frenzy of controversy and discussion. Personally, though the desire to get every decision right is understandable and perhaps desirable, we must be cautious that the constant search for ‘justice’ does not sanitise the game. Football is played by human beings and officiated by human beings, both make mistakes and supporters need to be a bit less sensitive to perceived ‘injustices’.
There is a danger of making the game too clinical. Courtrooms, hospitals and parliament are places where maximum time and effort should be extended to arriving at the correct decision, not football pitches. Contentious decisions, and sometimes outright poor decisions, are part of the game. Every game of football is full of marginal calls, the direction a throw in is given can alter the course of a match for instance, and football watchers should accept this salient fact. The search for accuracy in every decision will result in a far more sterile, less spontaneous and therefore less attractive sport.
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