Football: A game on the drawing board: Today's meeting of football's rule-makers could have momentous implications for the sport's future: Derek Hodgson looks at the subjects on the agenda for a high-powered session

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The Independent Online
A MEETING takes place in the village of Thundridge, Hertfordshire, today, which could change drastically the game of football.

The occasion, attended by such world luminaries as Joao Havelange, the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, the Fifa general secretary and Sir Bert Millichip, the Football Association chairman, is the annual meeting of the International FA Board - the ultimate arbiter on rule changes.

England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales each have a representative, as do four other associations from around the globe. As in cricket, where only the MCC can change the laws, so in football, where the home countries - owing to their historical standing - have what some might think a disproportionate influence on how the game is played.

On the agenda are some controversial topics, but in-depth discussion would appear to have been completed already as the meeting is scheduled to take only one hour and 45 minutes.

Item 1: whether coaches should be able to issue instructions to players from 'certain defined areas' during a match.

Item 2: an amendment to the law on fouls and misconduct aimed at tightening up the outlawing of deliberate or unfair tricks to circumvent the rule on passing back to the goalkeeper.

Item 3: a request from Fifa and Uefa for permission to experiment in youth competitions with kick-ins instead of throw-ins.

Item 4: 'sudden death' instead of extra time.

The first item amounts to little more than tidying up. Although some players would dispute it, coaches are human and will continue to shout and scream from the line or the dug-out, thus coming into conflict with linesmen and referees. If they were allowed to encourage their players from a defined area the officials would be relieved of an onerous responsibility.

The second item stems from an incident in Germany when a defender attempted to knee the ball back to his goalkeeper and the German FA had to rule it 'ungentlemanly conduct'. The back-pass rule, intended to cut down time-wasting by goalkeepers, was introduced last May.

Item three will kick up a fuss; the throw-in is the last vestige of the days when rugby and football were still adjoining; the first throw-in was one-handed.

The fear is that a kick-in, which gives a side what amounts to an indirect free-kick, will encourage those teams who specialise in set-piece plays. At every kick-in they will pack the penalty area with tall players and plant the ball in the middle - no names, no pack drill.

The Fifa hierarchy, however, are in favour. 'We're not changing the rules. We're just adapting them,' Blatter said. 'This way we're returning to the basics of our sport. In the beginning there was a kick-in. The throw-in came in as a penalty for the team which was unable to keep the ball between the lines.'

Sudden death, when the winners are the first team to score in extra time, is much favoured by the rising football nations such as Japan and the United States. The Japanese have already been given permission to introduce sudden death into their new league - Grampus Eight, Gary Lineker and all.

The Americans are keen to introduce the system into the early rounds of the World Cup finals in the United States next year. They are concerned that a repetition of the dreary draws seen in the last World Cup in Italy would be a turn-off for television audiences. American viewers have a tendency to reach for a six-gun when confronted with a 'no-result'.

There is no suggestion that these changes, if agreed, will be introduced overnight, but rather over the next 18 months. The kick-in will be on trial in the under-17 world championships in Japan in August. If successful there are plans to introduce it at all levels after the 1994 World Cup finals, but Blatter does not preclude the measure being introduced at an earlier date. 'If it's an overwhelming success in Japan, it would be a shame to hold off a spectacular improvement,' he said.

Another important change that the International Board may have to consider, although not today, comes in a further proposal from the Americans. They want women's football to be recognised as an Olympic sport and introduced into the Atlanta Games in 1996 (the US are the women's world champions).

If, as American television thinks possible, women's football takes off as a TV sport then the repercussions would be immense. Gad, sir, they'll be wanting a seat on the board next.

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