The effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt in the sporting world for years to come. The International Football Association Board (Ifab) and the English Football Association (FA) have announced that starting next season, those who cough deliberately in the direction of other players and officials may be shown a red card.
After a season that dealt with a long hiatus and numerous Video Assistant Referee (VAR) controversies, football match officials will face a new challenge in the upcoming season. Because of the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus pandemic, referees will soon have the authority to send off those whom they feel are deliberately endangering those around them during a match.
According to a report by the BBC, Ifab said "If it were clearly accidental, then the referee would not take action nor if the 'cough' took place with a large distance between the players."
Coughing deliberately towards another person during a football match will be tantamount to other existing offences such as "using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures."
Calls may be extremely subjective and with such a harsh punishment involved, it is expected that there will be a lot of protests. Having a man sent off the pitch can really turn a game around. In this case, it will fall upon a referee's shoulders to decide if a deliberate, malicious action was committed. The FA issued guidelines for grassroots football assuring that before a player is sent off, referees may also issue a caution for "unsporting behaviour." It is unclear if the same applies to top flight football.
The ongoing pandemic has already wreaked havoc to the international sporting calendar. Most events were forced to take a months-long break in order to plan a feasible and safe way to resume. Most events returned behind closed doors with several other safety protocols put in place.
This new rule against coughing is only the latest among a host of new safety protocols. It remains to be seen if it will stir up controversies once the Premier League season starts in September. Other big football leagues have yet to announce if they will adopt the same rule.