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Exeter’s Rob Baxter urges football law-makers to be careful over sin-bins trial

Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter (Nigel French/PA)
Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter (Nigel French/PA)

Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter has urged football’s law-makers to be careful after they agreed that sin-bins should be trialled at higher levels of the sport.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has supported the move following a successful implementation in the grassroots game.

Temporary dismissals of players for offences such as dissent and specific tactical fouls were backed by IFAB at its annual business meeting.

Sin-bins have been used in rugby for more than 20 years, and they were introduced across all levels of grassroots football from the 2019-20 season in an attempt to improve levels of respect and fair play in the game.

“I will be honest with you, I am very surprised football are doing it,” said Baxter, who is one of the English game’s most respected voices.

“I was a bit surprised when football went to VAR, and I am not sure how much they realised they were letting the genie out of the bottle.

“We are meddlers in sport, and rugby is the worst of the lot. We have actually realised we want less TMO (television match official) intervention, the international game is saying we need less TMO intervention.

Sin-bins
Sin-bins for yellow cards were introduced in rugby union more than 20 years ago (David Davies/PA)

“All the commentators and ex-professional footballers are saying we need way less VAR interference, and if it does happen it has to happen quickly and the crowd need to know what it is about because it is just causing mayhem in big games.

“Once you start the process it is very hard to stop tinkering with it. They are tinkering with it all the time.

“One of the things that football has always had as its strength is that everyone can explain the rules within five minutes to your average new supporter and they will get it.

“My advice to football would be just be careful. Do you think you genuinely need it to improve player behaviour?

“Or do penalties, free-kicks and yellow cards as they stand, which can escalate to reds for a double yellow, have they got the sanctions already within their game to control player behaviour and they just haven’t been using them?

“That is what I see in football. They have got the sanctions available in their game, so use them. For player abuse you only need to do it in one or two games and things change very quickly.

“Introducing yellow cards and removing players from the pitch is something I would be very careful of.”

Baxter warned against the danger of quick fixes, and believes rugby has had its share of problems in this area.

“We have been guilty of starting processes without thinking about the repercussions,” he added. “We think they are quick-fixed, and actually are they?

“The big debate on the football radio this morning was to get rid of VAR completely because they don’t want two-minute stoppages while someone decides if it was a handball or not.

“We brought that into rugby and realise we’ve pushed it to the Nth degree. You have got to be careful with the card thing.

“When you start to say that taking players off the pitch is your way of controlling player behaviour, you’ve got to be careful about when you want to limit it.

“We brought it in the right way because it was for repeat infringements on the whole. It was something that was required in rugby to stop repeat, repeat, repeats in a cynical way.

“We’ve gone through the period of realising that taking players off the pitch at every available opportunity is not necessarily the way to create a good game.”