Timewasting tactic needs outlawing

icon cornerflag19 February ~ Of all football's dismal afflictions, is there anything worse than watching a player break free in the dying moments of a tight game, only to veer off towards the corner flag to waste time in a bout of ungainly wrestling while opponents take their frustration out on his ankles? Actually, yes. Many other things are much worse, including widespread match-fixing, giving the World Cup to Qatar and Stephen Ireland's house. But none of these has an easy and obvious solution, whereas the blight of corner-flag timewasting does.

That resolution does not need a change in the laws on timewasting (dealt with under the provision "delaying the restart of play") but instead simply to include the blatant refusal to keep the ball in open play under the definition of "unsporting conduct", which is already punishable by a free-kick and yellow card.

I can't see why anyone wouldn't want to eliminate the ugly pantomime that infuriates crowds and often causes tempers to fray on the field. I can see two objections to a new interpretation of the rules. First, it's too hard to define the offence because sometimes play becomes stuck in the corner in the normal course of events. Second, it's a bad idea to make rules that require the referee to judge the intention of the player – what is going on in their mind rather than what they do.

I don't think either is sustainable. We already have many laws that demand an interpretation of intent (though none that involve tackling, despite so many commentators' protestations). Whether a player has deliberately passed back to the goalkeeper, whether he or she has dived to win a free-kick, or stopped in their run-up to gain an unfair advantage while taking a penalty – all require a ruling on intent.

The same is true in other sports. In Australian rules, a code I've previously argued would repay study by football's lawmakers, players are not allowed to deliberately put the ball out of play. Naturally this leads to a certain amount of dispute at times over what constitutes "deliberate". But as with preventing the corner-flag farrago, the point of the law is not to eliminate all grey areas. It's to plant the seed of doubt into the mind of a player who wants to blatantly slow down the game.

This is where the first objection also falls down. Yes, there are times when a team defending a lead is happy to see the ball trapped at the other end of the field. But it's not hard to tell the difference between that and the times when a player has a clear opportunity to keep an attack going, yet chooses to run the ball to the corner.

Football's lawmakers have done a pretty good job of curbing the worst physical assaults in the past 20 years or so. Now it's time to get serious about the less dangerous but intensely irritating practices that interrupt the free flow of the game. Just don't get me started on kicking the ball out of play when someone goes down injured. Mike Ticher

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