The month of June has been full of incredible international soccer, thanks to Euro 2016 and Copa America Centenario. It's also been full of suspensions, thanks to a terrible rule.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which is responsible for the Laws of the Game, thought it would be a good idea to set the yellow card accumulation suspension rules at tournaments so anyone who is cautioned twice before the end of the quarterfinals is suspended.
The result? Suspensions all around.
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Arturo Vidal had to miss Chile's Copa America semifinal, as did Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya for the United States. That was because they got two yellow cards in four matches, or two yellow cards in 360 minutes.
It's been even worse at the Euros. N'Golo Kante, Adil Rami, Thomas Vermaelen and Thiago Motta were all banned for their respective countries' quarterfinals. And because the Euros have a round of 16, players who get two yellow cards in their first five matches are also suspended. So Mats Hummels, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and William Carvalho will all be out for the semifinals.
Players are fighting for their countries to be crowned champions of Europe or champions of the Americas, and fans from around the world are tuning in to see what happens, but they're being hamstrung by a misguided rule that has taken some of the best players out of action. As of now, the same rules will be intact for the World Cup in two years too and threaten to wreck havoc at the biggest sporting event on the planet.
The intent of the rule isn't the problem. They don't want players racking up yellow cards and doing things that make the sport worse -- late tackles, professional fouls, etc. -- so punishing those that do it repeatedly will make for a better game. And that's true. Yellow card accumulation rules have been in effect for years. The problem is the specific rule the IFAB went with.
Setting the end of the quarterfinals as the mark at which cards clear so players are no longer in danger of suspension makes it too easy for a player, one who is not dirty or hurting the game with consistent unsporting play, to get banned. It serves one purpose -- keeping players from being suspended for the final due to yellow card accumulation like Michael Ballack at the 2002 World Cup, but it mars the tournament at each point before the final.
The IFAB's rule, one that applies across the board to all international tournaments, just went into effect on June 1. Now we have seen the results of it -- the same rule was in place at the 2014 World Cup and also resulted in unfair suspensions, but it wasn't standardized until this summer -- and it's clear that the IFAB needs to move to remedy their mistake.
In a short tournament, chronic fouling isn't so much of an issue and they should be looking for ways to keep the best players on the field. Injuries and fatigue after a long season do enough to weaken tournaments to begin with. There's no reason for suspensions to hurt it more. Obviously red card offenses are worthy of a suspension, but if keeping players on the field with sensible yellow card accumulation rules, ensuring players don't miss the final and discouraging thuggish behavior is a priority, then simply suspend players who are shown yellow cards in consecutive matches. After all, is anyone really upset that a player is ruining a tournament because they got three yellow cards in a six or seven match tournament? It's a good balance for all involved.
No one wants to see another summer of suspensions for fairly innocuous play. It's in the best interest of the players, the teams, the fans and the sport to get the best players on the pitch whenever possible. So change the yellow card accumulation rules and make sure that happens.
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