MLS could be be first pro league to trial ‘sin bins’ in football after lawmakers back trials

Major League Soccer could be the first major professional football league to introduce sin bins.

The sport’s lawmakers — the International Football Association Board (IFAB) — approved trials designed to clamp down on player behaviour at a meeting in London on Tuesday.

New protocols regarding temporary dismissals for conduct such as dissent and surrounding the referee, as well as tactical fouls, could now be in place for the 2024-25 season.

The annual business meeting (ABM) sets the agenda for the annual general meeting (AGM) on March 2, where potential changes to the laws of the game can be approved.

There is no date yet set for the start of the 2024 MLS regular season but the 2023 campaign began on February 25, with the 2022 season starting on February 26 making it the likeliest competition to trial the measures first.

Sin bins were introduced at grassroots level in England during the 2019-20 season, but FIFA head of refereeing and IFAB member Pierlugi Collina said they could now be brought in “at professional level, even high professional level”.

The exact protocol for a sin bin, should it be approved, remains to be decided. In the grassroots game, sin bins are indicated by the referee showing a yellow card and pointing with both arms to the sidelines. In the adult amateur game, an offending player is required to leave the field for 10 minutes.

The IFAB has also approved a trial where only a team’s captain may approach the referee during “heated” moments of the game, with a requirement for officials to communicate video assistant referee (VAR) decisions to the crowd — a measure already trialled at the recent Women’s World Cup — also gaining significant support.

A number of sports, including the NFL and rugby union, already implement similar systems. Rugby union has strict rules around in-game communication between players and officials, with only the captain permitted to seek clarity on decisions, while microphone-wearing referees communicating calls to fans in stadia has been a standard feature of North American football for several years.

The IFAB board agreeing to the change on Tuesday means any competition organiser that wants to adopt it will soon be able to do so.

There was no agreement, however, to extend the scope of the VAR beyond major incidents including goals and red cards. The potential for VAR to check free-kicks and corners arose after IFAB collated feedback for a review of the protocols, but the idea that the system would check every decision was deemed far-fetched. Lawmakers are keen to stick to an original principle of “minimum interference” and agreed that any new measures should not result in any additional delays to the game.

Strategies to potentially address time-wasting in matches were also discussed in relation to managing injuries and the six-second restriction for goalkeepers.

MLS Next Pro has already tested similar protocols including an off-field treatment rule — where players are removed from play for three minutes — and a timed substitution rule, which gives players going off just 10 seconds to leave the field of play.

The Athletic approached MLS for comment.



Sin bins: A good idea to improve player behaviour or a VAR-style can of worms?

(Photo: Getty Images)

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