Top ref Matt Conger floats ideas for rule tweaks to improve onfield behaviour

posted in: News, Referees

Top New Zealand referee Matt Conger says marching teams 10 metres for showing dissent could be a useful tool to improve on-field behaviour.

He says it works well in rugby and could be worth considering for football.

If moving the ball 10 metres took it into the penalty area, it could result in a spot-kick.

Palmerston North-based Conger (45), who has officiated at two FIFA Men’s World Cups, made his suggestions in a recent interview with NewstalkZB‘s Jason Pine.

His comments were part of a discussion about plans by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which governs the rules of football, to trial the introduction of a rugby-style ‘sin bin’ to tackle the rising number of disciplinary issues.

The ten-minute sin bin, triggered by the showing of an orange card, has been trialled in various countries, including New Zealand, at grassroots and community level.

IFAB has now agreed in principle to test the orange card option in elite competitions such as the English Premier League as early as next season.

Matt Conger referees the FIFA Men’s World Cup match between Tunisia and France in Qatar. Photo by Sarah Stier – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images.

Conger told Pine: “There are certainly elements of the proposal that are appealing, as a match official.

“It will be interesting to see in the implementation how the devil’s always in the detail.

“I’ve had the privilege of being able to study refereeing from a research perspective over the last few years, and while it’s important to recognise that we need to deal with the mobbing, the anti-social behaviour that is part of the sport, I just think we’ve seen a number of different actions that have tried to deal strictly with behaviour, not really looking at what is the underlying relationship between referees, players and coaches.

“And how do we change that? And on a deeper level, so there’s a much better understanding of how we all work together to enable the beautiful game.”

Conger said a lot of dissent happened when there was a lack of understanding between players, coaches and officials.

One option was for referees to train with teams of players, to create bonds and common understanding, he said.

Rugby had done this, attaching top referees to teams, so they could train together and get a better understanding of what the other was trying to achieve.

These referees could not be appointed to the team’s matches, but it broke down barriers.

‘There’s about 30% annual attrition of referees in every sport …’

Conger said he had received feedback that the rugby experiment had led to a greater flow of the game, more understanding and fewer controversial decisions.

While he was open to trialling the orange card, Conger said he liked the idea of a ‘half-step’, such as moving teams back 10 metres for dissent.

He said ‘mobbing’ — when players surround a referee to argue — was “unpleasant” and could be quite threatening.

“There’s about 30% annual attrition of referees in every sport, and it only takes two or three incidents of this anti-social or mobbing behaviour, dissent … sometimes it’s outright abuse … for young referees to say ‘I’ve got better things to do with my weekend’ and the game suffers.”

Main photo: Referee Matt Conger in the middle for an OFC Champions League match. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Listen to Matt Conger’s interview

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