A Red Card For Blue Cards

Earlier this month, the International Football Association Board (FIFA’s less Bond Villany
sibling) announced plans to trial blue cards. These cards would send a player off for 10 minutes for
cynical fouls or dissent, with two blue cards or one yellow and one blue earning a red card. While sin
bins/penalty boxes are an established part of two other sports I enjoy – ice hockey and rugby – I don’t
know whether to laugh or cry at adding them to soccer. The impact on a soccer game would be far
greater, and quite frankly we can’t trust even the highest-level referees with that kind of power to
punish something as nebulous as dissent.

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Impact On The Game

A blue card will have a far greater impact on the course of a game than either an NHL power
play or a rugby yellow card. Elite soccer and hockey have remarkably similar rates of scoring. This
season the Premier League is averaging a record-high 3.16 goals per game, while the NHL is
averaging 3.10 goals per game.

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While goals are equally valuable in both competitions, the common 2-minute power play in hockey is only 3.3% of game time. The 10-minute blue card sin bin would be 11.1% of regulation (not counting the ever-growing amounts of stoppage time, which itself is a different post for a different day). This means a blue card would punish a penalized team considerably more than in hockey, where each goal is of equal importance as in soccer.

Rugby uses a 10-minute sin bin in 80-minute matches (12.5% of game length), making its
man advantage more comparable to the blue card proposal. But there is significantly more scoring in
rugby, with major competitions averaging between 6 (United Rugby Championship) and 8 (Super


Rugby) tries per match. So while scoring with the man advantage is very important, it isn’t as decisive
a blow as an 11 on 10 soccer goal would be. Blue cards have the potential to be disturbingly
determinative of outcomes if they don’t such the joy out of the beautiful game by breaking up games
with periods of parking the bus.

Do You Trust The Refs?

Seriously though, do you? 2023 saw five apologies from Professional Game Match Officials
Limited (PGMOL) for major in-game officiating errors. 2022 featured eight PGMOL apologies. The
stand of officiating in elite soccer is shockingly poor – so much so that Angel Hernandez wouldn’t
even stand out from the crowd.

Soccer players are notorious for berating the officials, but the officials make it hard to trust their calls. From fouls that go the wrong way to VAR debacles to egregious non-calls, every fan of every team has a long list of beefs with these guys. Letting the refs clap back with blue cards might be a useful way of reigning in dissent if the refs were competent and impartial, but with the current sorry state of match officiating it seems likely that refs will hand out game-altering consequences (see above) for the flimsiest of reasons, then pat themselves on the back for “good process.”

Soccer would likely benefit from measures to reign in dissent and simulation, perhaps by only
letting the captain talk with the referee the way they do in both rugby codes. But blue cards? That’s a
proposal that deserves a straight red.

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
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