Home Global Football The Orange Card: brave or barmy?

The Orange Card: brave or barmy?

An example of a red card. Photo: theguardian.com
An example of a red card. Photo: theguardian.com

Cillian Dunn assesses whether the orange card proposal is a step in the right direction for FIFA or an unnecessary complication in the rule book.

Fifa presidential candidate, Jerome Champagne, recently sparked a new debate within football, in proposing the introduction of a new type of card – one that would allow referees to send players to a sin-bin.

Upon first reading about this on the BBC Sport website, I was immediately struck by two things. Firstly, the BBC really must think we are stupid – apparently they consider our powers of imagination so limited that we are not capable of imagining what this new, ‘orange card’ might look like, so they helpfully included a (photoshopped) image of a Premier League referee holding up an orange card (like a yellow one, but orange!), complete with the informative caption: ‘How Jerome Champagne’s proposal might look in the Premier League’.

Secondly, and far more startlingly, a candidate for the presidency of Fifa, an organisation right up there with the Russian government and The Royal Bank of Scotland as one of the most corrupt and inefficient in the world, appears to have made a genuinely innovative and sensible suggestion.  After all, the sin-bin is a measure that has been utilised effectively in sports such as rugby and ice-hockey for decades.

One of the greatest problems football currently faces is the lack of respect afforded by players to match officials; as Champagne noted in a document first published in March 2013: “More often than ever, matches are being marred by unacceptable scenes of players surrounding and haranguing the referee”.

When combined with another of Champagne’s proposals – the implementation of rugby’s rule where only the captain can talk to the referee with a free-kick advanced 10 yards for any dissent – the sin-bin would appear to go some way to solving this problem. Would footballers continue to swarm round officials like vultures whenever a decision goes against them, with the twin threat of further territorial gain for the opposition and a spell on the side lines?

Sepp Blatter: not the most popular man in football. Photo: theoffside.com
Sepp Blatter: not the most popular man in football. Photo: theoffside.com

Furthermore, as Champagne points out, the sin-bin could also prove a useful sanction for “in-between fouls committed in the heat of the moment”. For instance, if a player has already been booked, a few minutes in the sin-bin would seem a fairer punishment than a second yellow card – and a sending off – for a minor offence, such as taking off his shirt to celebrate a goal.

However, whilst we should applaud Champagne for showing the willingness to solve a problem that current president Sepp Blatter has succeeded in completely ignoring for a decade and half, the sin-bin is far from a flawless solution. For one thing, he really should have thought through the choice of colour better. Orange, as the enlightening image on the BBC article shows us, is a colour remarkably similar to both red and yellow.

From a distance, it could easily be mistaken for red, which might have the unintended effect of the referee being subjected to even more abuse by angry fans – and possibly even the more short-sighted players and managers. A less ambiguous colour, such as blue, would probably be more sensible.  Admittedly, one would hope this is a solution that would eventually occur even to the honourable gentlemen at Fifa, but it is also far from the greatest problem with the idea.

In fact, Champagne’s suggested sin-bin time of two to three minutes would likely create as much disruption as it would prevent, further hindering matches that are already stop-start enough as they are with the frequency of fouls, injuries and offsides. Players constantly being sent off and then back onto the pitch would not only add to this, but also most probably result in more negative tactics from the affected team, with the obvious temptation to time waste until their numbers are restored, making for a more boring spectacle.

It is also all too easy to envisage ridiculous scenarios, where large numbers of players are sin-binned for a shared offence, leaving the game temporarily devoid of players on one or both sides. Additionally, there is the argument that a period of two to three minutes is simply not long enough to make a difference – players temporarily go off with injuries for similar time periods with minimal impact all the time. Longer time penalties, however, would simply serve to make the game too one sided.

Taking all of this into account, the introduction of a sin-bin might solve several problems, but it would also create more of its own. Potentially, if Fifa were to create clear rules and guidelines (which would be something of a first in itself) stating how and when it should be applied, it is a measure that could be introduced.

However, there would always be ambiguity as to how to determine whether an offence warrants an orange, yellow or red card; referees, pundits and fans alike seem to struggle enough with just red and yellow. Overall then, though an interesting idea, Champagne’s proposal seems too complicated for what is ultimately a very simple game. It is, however, refreshing to see that someone is looking for a solution to one of the greatest problems faced by the modern game – keep trying Jerome, you may just be onto something.

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