FIFA Law 4 and the Way Forward

The purpose of this report is to provide direction on the matter relating to a match between The Bees and Young Zebras on the 7th of November 2020. This match did not play and resulted in issues that require executive interventions. It is important and proper that such intervention be as transparent as possible, ensuring that all factored that the Executive Committee relied on to arrive at its decisions are flushed out, open to criticism and provide a learning path for the association.


What Happened

On the 7th of November 2020 prior to the commencement of the match between the Bees and Young Zebras, during the pre-match checks, the appointed Match Official correctly observed that some of the payers from The Bees had traditional bands on, and correctly requested them to remove those. The Bees refused to do so on the grounds that these are traditional and must not be removed under any circumstance as that could cause terrible happenings on the part of the players concerned.

This ensued into an argument for which the Match Official sought the guidance from the EXCO members. The Vice Chairperson in charge of Match Officials got involved, and later the Chairperson of the association also got involved. At this point the matter had escalated out of the Match Official’s control, well into the play time of the scheduled match. The arguments degenerated into emotional personalisation, use of foul language, perceptions of victimisation, as well as threats of withdrawal by the team involved from the association.

Ultimately the Match Official, during all the above, wrote a match report calling the match off. This report is in the possession of the association. The match did not play.

The crux of the matter is refusal by the team concerned to comply with Law 4 of the game.


The Deviations from the Norm

Law 5 of the FIFA Laws gives the Match Official full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game. That means, at that moment, the Match Official has all the power to rule on any aspect of the game. A Match Official’s decision is final.

In this particular case, the Match Official sought the guidance from the Office. Members of the Executive Committee got themselves involved on the matter before the Match Official to officially make his decision by calling the match off. This, in hindsight means that the duties and powers of the Match Official were intercepted by the Office, a highly improper conduct. This contaminates any decision of the Match Official and makes any perception of executive conspiracies seem true. Perception is reality in the eyes of the behold, especially if not explained and / or corrected.

The deviation from the application of Law 5 contaminated the “to-be’ processes, that is, the official and final decision of the Match about the match, the potential complaints by the aggrieved parties, and the formal review of the events by the relevant bodies of the association.


Factors and Merits

Law 4 of the FIFA Laws says:

All items of jewellery (necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, leather bands, rubber bands, etc.) are forbidden and must be removed. Using tape to cover jewellery is not permitted.

The Philosophy behind the FIFA Laws includes the following statement:

Football is the greatest sport on earth. It is played in every country and at many different levels. The Laws of the Game are the same for all football throughout the world from the FIFA World Cup™ final through to a game between young children in a remote village.

A debate in South Africa involving the then Head of Referees at SAFA, Mr Ace Ngcobo, emphasises that the FIFA Laws are sacrosanct must be enforce the same way regardless place and culture, and that it is impractical to accommodate all cultures in the Law of the Game. See the Video here-below.

The association recognises the above and will enforce the Laws as required.

With regards to the power of the Match Official in this match, it is observed that such powers were contaminated by the involvement of the executives prior the Match Official’s final decision was made. This in turn created a perception of impropriety on the part of the executive, which in turn lead to conspiracies of ill-intentions towards the club concerned. The matter could be taken through review through a Complaints Management Process after the Match Official’s decision, but because of the contamination mentioned here-above, it becomes necessary that the Executive Committee applies itself to correct the matter and give the process another try as educational dimension.

Rule 26.2 of the Association says:

The Association will apply the necessary disciplinary dimensions that are fitting to the type, nature and depth of the offense being dealt with, these being:

  1. educational dimension;

  2. corrective dimension;

  3. punitive dimension;

Rule 26.3 of the Association says:

Means shall be taken to ensure that if a member transgresses due to ignorance, or lack of knowledge, and demonstrates that there was no or sufficient opportunity for him / her to learn, he / she shall be educated on the correct procedures, rules and methods to be followed. And a variety of disciplinary actions shall also be taken as a value-add for the purpose of correcting the unacceptable behaviour.

Rule 26.4 of the Association says:

The General Principles for instilling discipline and dealing with disciplinary issues are: –

  1. The Leadership of the association has the accountability to apply discipline throughout the association.

  2. Discipline should never be seen as a substitute for sound management;

  3. Discipline is the responsibility of all members of the association;

  4. Discipline shall be enforced as soon as possible, when necessary.

Article 2.1.2 of the Constitution of the Association, which deals with the Aims and Objectives of the Association says:

to improve the game of football constantly and promote, regulate and control it throughout its jurisdiction in accordance with the principles of fair play and its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values, particularly through youth and development programmes;

Given the above-mentioned framework, it is therefore important to consider all factors leading to the above situation. Here are the factors:

  • that the same Law 4 was breached serially in the past without anyone pointing it out. A precedence has therefore been set and the team concerned has come from all those years of playing at PLFA to this point understanding that traditional bands are allowed.
  • that PLFA is a grass roots level organised where its Members must learn about the Laws of the Game, Rules and policies for the first time in football. There is no lower level where they are expected to learn than the LFA. So if our Members would have such a precedence for such a long time, a precedence that made them believe that something is correct when it is not, then it means as the association we have work to do educationally and correctively.
  • that the principles of “application of the Laws without Fear or Favour” must be balanced with the principle of “fairness”. That is, we as an LFA cannot allow a team to play with traditional bands throughout our leagues, only to stop them at crucial stages of a tournament. We needed to have educated them from the past. So we must take some responsibility on the aftermath.


The Executive Decision

The Executive Committee, after the incident, decided that based on the above-mentioned merits and factors, The Bees be allowed to play its remaining matches with traditional bands covered with tape. This decision will be applicable to other clubs as well. This is due to the precedence created and the need to apply a principle of fairness in the application of the Rules and Laws.

The above decision is however NOT a disregard of Law 4 and its applicability. As such, The Bees has been informed about the applicability of the law within the premise of the Educational Value.

The Correctional Value is that in allowing them to play until the end of the competition with taped off traditional bands, they have also been informed that should they will the competition, they will not be allowed to continue to play with traditional bands at the Regional Plays. In addition, such will also NOT be allowed by the association after this competition. This means if we have a competition succeeding this one, traditional bands will not be allowed. Ultimately, also from next season, in all leagues and competitions, such will not be allowed. We learn also from the above video that FIFA Laws are sacrosanct and cannot accommodate all cultures.

Consequently, the match between The Bees and Atteridgeville Young Zebras will be played with the above in place. Such will be scheduled together with the unfinished match between Heroes and Bakwena.


Way Forward

The above decision may not please everyone. It was however made with all factors considered. We considered the Laws of the Game where in the philosophy thereof it says “…a crucial foundation of the beauty of the ‘beautiful game’ is its fairness – this is a vital feature of the ‘spirit’ of the game…”. We have considered our Rules in trying to create a platform where the Match Officials are sole judges of whether the matches play or not, and our Constitution where we are drawn to the leadership responsibilities in directing the association. So we did not look at this just from a raw Laws of the game perspective particularly where Law 4 is concerned, although this has been a significant part of our consideration mainly with a corrective value of not only the Bees, but the entire association. This decision tries to educate, correct and unite the association and its Members. We therefore urge all Members of the Association to accept the decision and implement it accordingly.

A balance between the Laws where a compromise based on the local circumstances can be adopted, and the Laws where there must be no compromise at all must be stricken, and such must be documented for both clubs and officials to learn from so that there is less subjectivity in the application of the Laws of the Game in Phelindaba. Such must however not disadvantage our Members when they play outside of Phelindaba, like against other LFAs, at the Region, and elsewhere. The Association must do its research sufficiently to ensure that congruence is achieved in that respect. To that end, the Vice-Chairperson: Membership and Governance has been tasked with the compilation of a document that will detail PLFA’s ability to comply and the extent thereof with all 17 the Laws of the Game. Where there needs to be compromises, a rationale thereof to be provided, and such to be presented to the next Ordinary Congress for adoption.

We have also seen an unacceptably wide gap of the knowledge of the Laws of the Game between Referees and Coaches. Such gaps could be perpetuated by the fact that we do not have a permanent Head of Referees driving this function for such a long time. We need to have the following as a matter of urgency:

  • Head of Referees;
  • A strong Referees Forum with an effective Referees Committee;
  • A structured approach in Workshopping the Laws of the Game to Match Officials and Coaches alike;
  • A strong match review process; and
  • A working Disciplinary Committee and process.

We will do our best to recruit Head of Referees and get these programmes focused and driven with vigor.

Here-below some educational videos regarding traditional bands.

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