Why Football’s Gone Stupid

If you’re a football fan, then you won’t have failed to notice that top-flight football has gone stupid. The new handball rules are making football less enjoyable to watch and sometimes downright infuriating to watch. They are leading to absurd outcomes that spoil games and make match officials look like dummies.

To grasp why this is happening, we need to dig down into the underlying thinking (or rather unthinking) of football’s lawmakers whose changes have disconnected the rules from reality and any kind of sense.

The new rules work from the implicit premise that it’s always someone’s fault when the ball touches a player’s arm/hand. In other words, accidental and/or unavoidable contact between ball and hand is impossible and never happens. The fatal flaw here is that this is not true. Of course it isn’t. Unintentional and unavoidable contact between hand and ball can and does happen in football – pretty much every game.

So, what we have here is a false premise. And false premises must lead to false conclusions, which is exactly what we’re seeing in football right now. The new rules are forcing referees to draw false conclusions, disallowing goals that should stand and awarding penalties that shouldn’t be. Denying reality, acting as if it is true that all handball is unjust, leads to unfair punishments – which are injustices in themselves.

The rules of football, like the rules of society, must comply with reality, logic and reason. They must be based on what is, not what we think ought to be. Otherwise, absurd or bad outcomes happen.

Ball-hand contact isn’t always unjust, but football’s lawmakers have decreed it ought to be. Society’s lawmakers do the same thing. The real minimum wage, for example, is zero, but lawmakers decree it ought to be something above that. Regardless of the good intentions behind doing so, unintended consequences always follow when lawmakers attempt to defy reality with their rules. The problem they intended to solve is only made worse.

In this sense, football’s ‘lawmakers’ are very much like society’s lawmakers. They greatly overestimate the power of their regulations. They think handball will stop happening because they have decreed all handball unjust. But it won’t, because it can’t.

Luck or ‘the rub of the green’ is part of football (and indeed any team sport). It’s partly what keeps the game unpredictable and exciting. Luck is what gives the small teams hope against the big teams, how minnows sometimes beat giants and sometimes why the best team doesn’t always win (which would be boring). Unintentional or unavoidable contact between ball and hand is merely one type of luck, one which has now been eliminated. This will only work in favour of the big teams.

Sometimes the ball will hit a player’s hand and that will lead to a goal. And sometimes a shot or a cross will hit a defenders’ arm in the penalty area. If the referee decides it was unintentional or unavoidable, then the goal should stand or no penalty kick should be awarded. It’s fortunate for the team that benefits from the goal or the block, but, and this is the crucial point, it’s not an injustice against the other team. It’s not a wrong to be righted. It’s just football.

Football’s lawmakers are doing to the beautiful game what society’s lawmakers are doing to society: assuming they know best, imposing stupid rules and ruining things for everyone. Sadly, intellectual-yet-idiots with the authoritarian mindset aren’t only attracted to government and politics, they end up in positions of authority in large corporations and organisations too. Until they butt-out and let referees think again, the beautiful game will remain spoiled.

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