Blue cards, sin-bins and captain-only zones: New football trials explained

The International Football Association Board are set to announce the new trials on Friday but will exclude top-level competitions

England's Premier League has already ruled out the trials being implemented in their competition. PA
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Football's lawmakers Ifab are set to announce trials for sin-bins during matches whereby players will be shown a blue card and spend 10 minutes in the technical area.

What is happening?

The International Football Association Board (Ifab) is set to announce the new trials on Friday. Sin-bins have been trialled successfully at grassroots level and are now set to be tested higher up the football pyramid.

The trial phase will exclude top-level competitions like the Premier League and Champions League. This is to avoid confusion among players – for instance if their domestic league ran a trial but a continental competition they were involved in at the same time did not.

It is unclear at what level the trials would be introduced, if at all, in the Gulf or Mena region, but England's Premier League has already ruled out the trials being implemented in their competition.

World governing body Fifa said that reports of the ‘blue card’ at elite levels of football are "incorrect and premature”.

Ifab is scheduled to hold its annual meeting at Loch Lomond in Scotland in March and sin-bin trials at higher levels of the game are listed as a topic for discussion in the agenda.

What is a blue card offence?

The National understands referees will use blue cards to indicate a player must go to the sin-bin, much like a yellow card is shown in rugby. The criteria for committing a blue card offence includes dissent and tactical fouls.

An example of a tactical foul is Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini’s tug on England's Bukayo Saka in the Euro 2020 final.

Sent to the sin-bin

Players will be ordered to go to the technical area for 10 minutes. If a player has already been booked, a blue card will mean they are sent off. Two blue cards will also result in dismissal.

The introduction of sin-bins and blue cards, should it reach the top level, would be one of the biggest developments in discipline in the game’s history, following on from the introduction of red and yellow cards at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Sin-bins were introduced across all levels of English grassroots football from the 2019-20 season in an attempt to to improve levels of respect and fair play in the game.

The rule change was implemented up to step five of the National League system and tier three and below in women’s football in England.

'Captain-only zones' and other areas

As well as sin-bins, competitions will have the option to trial ‘captain-only zones’. These are to be used by referees when they feel threatened or intimidated and mean that once the zone has been created, only team captains should enter. A further trial is understood to centre on ‘cooling-off’ periods, where a referee sends teams to their penalty areas to calm down after a mass confrontation, for example.

Another trial will look at a new approach to how long goalkeepers can handle the ball, and how play should restart when they hold on too long. Currently goalkeepers can hold on for six seconds and anything over that is supposed to be penalised with an indirect free-kick, but lawmakers are concerned this is not being properly enforced.

Updated: February 09, 2024, 11:30 AM