Media reports of a FIFA Meeting to discuss rule changes that took place during the UEFA Futsal Euro this month claim that some have already been approved. I have heard that these reports are not fully correct and there is a meeting in April when these issues will be progressed.

The four rules reported to have been approved were

1)     Option to take corners and kick ins as throw ins
2)     Fly Goalkeeper only to be used when losing
3)     Goalkeeper can’t throw directly into opposing half
4)     5 penalties instead of 3 in penalty shootouts

The response, on social media at least, has been mostly negative. I want to discuss why I believe these measures, if they were to be implemented, could be positive for the game.

The Need for Changes
Firstly, we have to answer the question why do we need rule changes at all? Even though futsal is growing fast, this has been more at the participation level than numbers watching the game which is relatively small compared to other sports and forms of entertainment. Personally, I know many people who play the game at a high level but still aren’t interested in watching it.

This is due to many factors but to increase its audience futsal needs to be as entertaining as possible to compete against all the other entertainment options that exist and are continually being created. Some have commented that the game has become too physical with a focus on defence and not as spectacular as before, partly due to a natural evolution and partly due to previous rule changes. For this reason, there is a demand for rule adaptions that will emphasise the core characteristics that make futsal so amazing.

Five years ago I wrote an article called 5 Rule Changes For Futsal with some suggestions of what I think could improve the spectacle without changing the core essence of the game. Number one on my list was the reintroduction of throw ins. When I first started watching futsal they were still using them in Spain until FIFA finally persuaded them to introduce kick-ins in 2006.

A few years ago I investigated further my impression that throw-ins were preferable than kick-ins. This included an analysis of the average goals per game in the Spanish League before and after the introduction of kick-ins to see if there was any change. These were the results;

Season – Average Goals Per Game

02/03 – 8.03
03/04 – 8.30
04/05 – 8.00
05/06 – 7.58
*Kick-Ins Introduced*
06/07 – 7.15
07/08 – 6.76
08/09 – 6.38
09/10 – 6.55

The first thing you notice is an immediate drop in average goals scored of 0.43 in the season after kick-ins are introduced. When you implement a new rule it will take time for teams to adapt and figure out strategies so you can’t read too much into the immediate effect.

The trend for goals continued to go down, ignoring all other variables (there was nothing obvious that changed during this period that could affect the goals scored), seems to suggest that defences adapted more effectively over time to throw-ins than the attack.

The average goals scored in the four seasons before kick ins was 7.98 and in the four seasons after it is 6.71, a huge reduction of over 1 goal per game. This increase in goals also includes the effect of throw-ins at corners as that was in place in Spain. The article reported throw-ins would be reintroduced for corners as well. At the UEFA Futsal Euro 2016 the rate of goals scored on corners was a paltry 1 in 46.

As we are looking at this from the perspective of a spectator, it is not only the quantity of goals that is important but the quality. More goals doesn’t add to the spectacle if they are from throw ins launched towards the goal in the hope someone deflects it in and I read some people are concerned about this happening.

From my experience watching games with throw-ins I never saw this strategy being employed. In fact, the goals were quite frequently spectacular, especially if you compare to the goals scored from kick ins. Watch the video below that I made from the 1997/1998 Spanish season to see some amazing volleys from throw-ins.

To examine further I decided to watch a random game from Spain when throw-ins were still in place and observe how they affected the game. I watched the semi-final of the 2003 Spanish Cup between Inter Movistar and Playas Castellon. From this I concluded the following;

1)     More Possibilities To Create A Goal Scoring Chance – The use of the hands gives more options to the thrower over the feet as it is more accurate and you can change where you distribute the ball more rapidly.

2)     Ball Returns To Play Faster – Throw-ins happen much faster than kick-ins. With kick-ins every team puts a defender by the ball to block the passing lanes and this often creates a delay as the taker asks for the referee to enforce the regulation distance of 5 meters. Sometimes this player comes too close as the player is about to take it and the referee has to reinforce the distance. This doesn’t happen with throw ins.

With attacking kick-ins many teams just smash the ball toward the far post (the equivalent of what some people are worried will happen with throw-ins) and sometimes the ball hits this first defender and goes out of play again for another kick-in which ruins the flow of the game.
One of futsal’s great characteristics is its high tempo and currently the ball is too slow to come back into play. One of the reasons for the increased goals may not be a direct result of throw-ins but the increased speed of the game which leads to a more open game.

3)     Minimal Risk of Collision – If you haven’t seen throw-ins in practise you may think that there is a risk of collisions with the head in such a small space. However, though there are some attempts to throw to the head of the player they are not as frequent as you would expect. A futsal ball doesn’t have much rebound so it is difficult to get power from the head and a futsal goal is small with heading not so precise. Both of these mean teams don’t look to create chances with the head very often.

Further, the way heading happens in these situations is very different from the 11-a-side game and much safer. In futsal, the defender is man marking tightly so the players are running together to the ball instead of in opposite directions. The ball doesn’t go high in the air so the two players don’t jump together to challenge for the ball where there is a risk of one player elbowing the other in the head, as happens occasionally in football.

If you wish to watch all the throw-ins from the game I saw I have made it public here but it didn’t render correctly so it is a bit jerky.

I wondered if a lot of the negative reaction is because futsal has grown so quickly that many have come to futsal never having seen throw-ins in the game and an immediate reaction is that FIFA is trying to impose football rules on futsal. The true story is actually very different.

FIFA introduced the kick-in into futsal in the late 1980s in order to differentiate the game from the FIFUSA version who were both fighting for control of the sport (for more on this battle read my article Past, Present and Future of Futsal). They also wanted to introduce kick-ins into football around that time, then General Secretary Sepp Blatter was a big proponent, so futsal was probably something they thought they could use to prove their case.

In the early 1990s they started to trial kick-ins in football including at the 1993 U17 FIFA World Cup in Japan (see below). However, it was widely considered a failure as they took far too long to be taken and it slowed the game down.

This wasn’t going to stop Sepp Blatter from trying to get his way. He proposed at a FIFA meeting in 1994 that “in two years the kick-in will replace the throw-in in the laws of the game.”

The trials continued in various leagues including in the seventh tier in England for the 1994/1995 seasons. Guardian journalist Jeremy Alexander wrote the following critique ”Blatter’s vision for the next century was played out in a picture of the last – brambles spilling on to crumbling terraces, the proper platform for spectators”.

Kick-ins were not widely welcomed in the countries where futsal was established such as Brazil and Spain and many feel the game has been damaged by their introduction. Spain managed to hold out and keep throw-ins until as long as 2006 before the pressure from FIFA became too much.

So it is actually historically kick-ins that were imposed on futsal by FIFA. With Sepp Blatter now gone, it seems FIFA is open to go back to futsal’s origins with the reintroduction of throw-ins though personally I hope they don’t give the option and they just get rid of kick-ins.

Fly Goalkeeper
The 2nd rule reported is that the fly goalkeeper will only be allowed to be used when losing though no details of how that would be implemented in practise were revealed.

Certainly, something needs to be done with the fly goalkeeper. No-one wants to see it eradicated or those dramatic comebacks that it can produce disappear. However, what needs to be prevented is the use of it to run the clock down with a standoff and no intention to create a goal scoring chance, damaging the reputation of the sport. We saw this by Romania against Ukraine at the end of the 1st half of their group match at the recent Futsal Euro.

I believe a better rule would be the backcourt rule where once the goalkeeper touches the ball in the attacking half, the ball can’t go back into the defensive half, as I proposed back in 2014 and revisited in 2015. I gave my opinions then (see here and here) so I won’t repeat them here.

Goalkeeper Throw

Another rule apparently proposed is that the goalkeeper can’t throw the ball directly into the attacking half. This is another historical futsal rule that was abolished by FIFA in 2000.

I was not involved in futsal before this so I have only seen it at youth level in Spain where it works well. With this rule I was worried that maybe it would be very difficult to escape high pressing but after speaking with several ex-players who played under this rule they told me this was not the case.

They are strongly in favour of returning this rule in futsal. I was informed that it promotes many of the technical and tactical things we love in futsal such as feints, quick thinking, combination plays and precision in skill execution. Teams used to work a lot on exiting the pressure which now they do less as they can just launch the ball high into the opponent’s half and try to win the second ball or gain a set play.

When I play in the sweeper role I have experienced playing against teams that continually launch the ball forward and most of the time they don’t gain possession but occasionally you will have to head the ball out or the ball drops favourably for them. Not the greatest spectacle.

I do appreciate the skills of a precise long throw from the goalkeeper but concede that there are too many low percentage throws into the opponent’s half. Further, people that I respect in the game tell me that it would be a hugely positive step so for those reasons I am in favour of seeing this trialled.

The other rule proposed is to revert back to 5 penalties for shootouts rather than the recently introduced 3. Not a change that has much impact but I would like to see penalties taken from the 10m spot and with the option to dribble.

The only thing exciting in a penalty shootout and seeing a ball smashed from 6m at goal is the uncertainty of the outcome rather than the action itself. Another of futsal’s qualities is 1v1 battles between attacker and goalkeeper so let’s create more of them and finish tied games in a more entertaining and engaging way. I have seen this in practice and it worked well. I’m sure clips of these confrontations would go viral on social media and help promote the game.

As I said, these reports are from all accounts partly misinformed and we will have to see what FIFA decide which I heard they will do in a meeting in April (Let’s hope that a 2020 World Cup host is finally confirmed as well). I know that at the meeting in Slovenia they consulted people within the game as well as administrators.

Inevitably, change is always resisted at first and it probably wasn’t ideal that these potential four new rules were all leaked at the same time without any explanation. Any rule change would ideally be trialed before being implemented so the effect can be observed and evaluated. We await official communication from FIFA.

In general, I believe futsal should take a more open approach to changing rules where necessary and only after careful consideration and consultation. Below I have put some rules I think should be studied.

No sliding – We are seeing less dribbling now and the court is small so that extra distance a slide allows a defender to cover makes a big difference to the space for a 1v1 or to shoot. Supplementary benefits may be fewer injuries, fewer incidents where sweat needs to be mopped up and supporting referees who have a difficult decision to make whether a slide tackle was a foul or not. Some say slides are also spectacular to watch but not, in my opinion, as much as those attacking actions they prevent (I covered this before here).

Goalkeeper Medical Treatment – Maximum 30 seconds medical treatment on court for a goalkeeper or they have to be substituted. There seems to be a new trend for goalkeepers to go down injured after a save whether genuinely, to give their team a rest or for more time for their saves to be replayed on TV!! Whichever it is, it is slowing the game down.

Dribble from Free Kicks & Kick Ins – Option to dribble to yourself from free kicks and kick ins. Could make free kicks more interesting and quicker if the attacker wants to take it quickly. Plus increases the advantage for the attacking team and thus the disincentive to foul in the first place.

Remove 1 player in extra time  – Play 4v4 in extra time as they extra space will increase the likelihood of a goal and the game not having to be decided on penalties. I mentioned this in the 5 Rule Changes for Futsal Article.

These are just my opinions & analysis. Let me know yours? Do you agree with the reported rule changes or any of mine? Comment below!

I also released my UEFA Futsal EURO 2018 Tournament Review post today so click here to see some key stats and analysis on the championships.

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  1. Christopher Horton

    Brilliant article. Well evidenced. Food for thought. Hope one day you are on a governing panel for the sport as clearly you have knowledge & passion for it and I certainly trust your rational & reasoning.

  2. Jeff Holmes

    How about another change regarding the final whistle? Right now there are so many variables to consider at the end of time. Was there a shot on goal, who touched it last, when does the shot end…. I suggest using the Rugby rule that once time has expired, the game is not over until the ball goes out of play, either over the touchline or over the goal line. That is, once the clock runs down to zero, play continues. If a foul is committed, play also continues. Once the ball goes out of play for a kick-in/throw-in, a goal clearance, a corner, or a goal is scored, then the referee blows the final whistle.

  3. Carlos Eduarte

    Very good article as always Doug. I definitely favor the introduction of the throw-in. It adds spectacular goals evidenced by your video that would Futsal even more attractive to watch. I also think this helps to fortify the skill of volleying in in the outdoor game. One technique which I have been teaching the young players I coach is to pop the ball up ever so slightly from a pass so as to be able to get higher velocity on the shot.

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