Elleray’s constant meddling makes a mess of handball. What’s he ...

Sport

Elleray’s constant meddling makes a mess of handball. What’s he playing at?

Ifab’s technical director has inspired 178 law changes in four years. No wonder refs seem confused

Sam Wallace

Since the former referee David Elleray took control of the laws of football, at the start of the 2016-17 season - when his organisation Ifab assumed that jurisdiction from Fifa - the man whose own on-pitch career ended 17 years ago has overseen 178 law changes.

It is a quite astonishing number, from the colour of the tape on the socks of players, to passing the ball backwards from kick-off, to a complete revision of the handball laws that means the game finds itself in the handball chaos it does now. The former public school master, who refereed his last game in May 2003, may yet be the most influential official in the game and he certainly seems to know that. One might argue that football’s laws functioned quite well for 153 years until Elleray’s interventions, and yet his appetite for change has been something to behold.

What is he up to? No one can quite say for sure and he did not respond to requests for comment this week. What is not in doubt is that the man who is Ifab’s technical director has the power to shape the game’s laws. Some of those changes have been small. On corners, Elleray added the word “clearly” to the law that dictates, “the ball is in play when it is kicked and clearly moves”. That was intended to stop those surreptitious corners when, unbeknown to the defending team, the ball is live and a second attacking player dribbles towards goal. He instigated the law that the ball can be passed backward from kick-off, but the following year had to add an amendment that the player striking it had permission to enter the opposition’s half. He oversaw the introduction of the law that no longer requires a goal kick to leave the penalty area, paving the way for the white-knuckle passing sequences between Arsenal’s centre-backs that are favoured by Mikel Arteta...

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