FOOTBALL HISTORY (4): The first steps of the IFAB and the foundation of FIFA

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As we commented in the previous chapters of this serial that traces the history of football through the evolution of its rules, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), an association in charge of preserving football’s rules, was born on June 2, 1886 in London. The goal of its creation was to unify the different, although similar in essence, football rules that the four British federations had drawn up. From this moment, and already ignoring the conflict that occurred between the federations regarding the issue of professionalism, the IFAB emerged as the only entity responsible for developing and preserving football’s rules.

Since its creation in 1886, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held every first fortnight in June, a meeting held between the four IFAB member federations and in which the different proposals made to modify part/s of some of the rules of the game were discussed. We speak in the past not because these meetings are no longer held today, but because in the middle of the 20th century the AGM began to be held at the beginning of the year. Having made this clarification, we are going to review the most important modifications that have been applied to the football “manual”.

At the AGM of 1891 there were three important changes that have survived to this day. The first of them, at the proposal of the Irish and English federations, was not a change as such, but rather a clarification of one of the existing rules: penalties. Both federations proposed to clarify that, when taking a penalty, the goalkeeper in charge of trying to stop the shot couldn’t advance more than 6 meters from the goal line.

6 meters! And now we complain when the rival goalkeeper steps forward half a meter and the referee doesn’t order a repeat shot. Or what is worse, when the VAR tells the referee that the penalty must be repeated because the goalkeeper has gone a few centimeters ahead, as it happened to FC Barcelona’s goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen in the following video. How times change…

To this clarification was added another of the changes that have been maintained until now, and this one makes direct reference to our topic of discussion: the referee team. So far, as we already know, the matches have had one main referee and two umpires behind the goals acting as line judges. However, at the suggestion of the English Federation, these umpires were given the role of the current assistant referees: to determine when the ball leaves the field and to whom the kick belongs. With this modification the rule that said that the first team to take the ball after leaving the field would take possession of the game was annulled.

And, of course, in this way greater importance was also given to the assistant referees, fact that reaches our days and which is reflected in the interest that LabHipermedia has shown in the improvement of their formation with tools like VAR3D, our Virtual Reality app thought for the training of this important piece of the referees team.

The last change, although again it was more a clarification, referred to the place from which the matches were to start: the midfield. Therefore, it is decided to mark the center with a point, where the ball would be placed to start the matches. In addition, what we know today as the central circle was also defined. A circumference of 20 meters in diameter around the point that marks the center of the field, which cannot be surpassed by the players until the ball is set in motion. However, at this time, the central circle was not painted and the players were asked to respect it in an imaginary way. There is not much information about these first football matches, but it is certain that the players of the time respected this imaginary circle better than the current players who also, in an imaginary way, tend to generate certain problems to the referee team.

It took six years for two more changes to take place in 1897: the length of matches and the number of players who could take part in the match. Although from the beginning the duration of the 90 minutes of the match was a standard, this year it was made official and it was also added that the rest period could not last more than 5 minutes. It was not until 1995 that half time would be extended to the current 15 minutes.

For its part, this same year was also set officially that the teams could not be composed of more than 11 players. Both modifications were proposed by the FA and it must be said that the second of these changes had already been applied during the previous editions of the FA Cup.

The last major change before FIFA became part of the IFAB in 1904, which we will discuss below, was introduced in 1902. This year the creation of the area, the small area (or goal area) and the penalty spot would be proposed and approved. With this introduction, the sizes that these two new areas should have were specified and the place from which the penalties should be taken was clarified.

To end this new chapter of the serial with which we are getting to know football’s history through its rules, 21 May 1904 is a key and a very important date within this sport so practiced and followed around the world. That day, in Paris, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, known by all of us as FIFA, was founded.

Delegates from the football federations of Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain founded FIFA with the aim of unifying football’s rules and to spread the game around the world. Its first president was the French Robert Guérin, however, the failure of the first international football competition held in 1906 led to his dismissal. He was replaced by the English Daniel Burley Woolfall, who definitively opened the doors to British football at FIFA.

From its origin, FIFA was conscious of the need to create a set of rules that could be exported to all the countries where this sport was being practiced. The creators of FIFA were aware of the existence of the IFAB, its history and the group of game’s rules that had been applying for decades in British football. In this way, FIFA decided to contact the IFAB and, after its approval, FIFA became the fifth member of the IFAB. From this moment, its vote has the same validity as the one of the four British federations and it can also carry out all kinds of proposals to modify the game’s rules.

This relationship between FIFA and IFAB has continued to this day. In the next chapter of the serial we will continue learning how these football’s rules have been modified until those approved this summer for the 2020-2021 season.

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