Akateeminen urheilublogi

Rules define games. Football is not futsal or futsal football because their rules are different. Their rules state, for instance, that their fields of play and number of players are completely different, even though there is also some common ground in the rules.

Some rules are more important than others in this respect. For example, when passing the ball back to the goalie was prohibited, we did not have a new game instead of football. We had only a different game.

However, it is easy to see changes that would have more dramatic consequences. Consider for instance a big change in the ball. It would destroy football and create a new game – not only a different game.

Imagine that FIFA would change the rules so that football is played with a tennis ball. It seems clear to me that then we would speak about some other sport than football. FIFA would not literally be football association anymore.

The number of players and playing time are among such game defining rules, or rules essential to games. So at least big sudden changes to them mean changes to the identity of the game – that is, which sport we are talking about. If such a change is made, we play a new game that is not the same game as the one we had before. Here we are not speaking about a different game but a distinct game (for example football and futsal are distinct games: games that are not the same).

Take ice hockey, for example. Nowadays its rules state that a team can have maximum 22 players in a match and the playing time is three times 20 minutes effective time. Imagine a scenario in which International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) decides that in three years, every international tournament is played with the teams of maximum 15 players and the playing time of three times 15 minutes effective time. This sudden change includes the Olympics. Even in them, each team can have only three lines and two pairs of defenders (plus two goalies).

What would we say about what happens to ice hockey in that kind of scenario?

I am certain that the reaction would be that this is absurd. Only three lines and two pairs of defenders? Only three 15-minute periods? More would be prohibited? Are you serious?

What would be the fundamental reason for this kind of reaction? It seems to me that it would be unclear whether precisely ice hockey is played in the tournaments, for example the Olympics, anymore, or some game that is not the same as ice hockey. Notice that this is not dependent on the reasons or motivations for the rule change. It is about the identity of the game of ice hockey: which game is played under IIHF.

In floorball, this is not just fantasy, this is “flesh and blood”, reality. The Central Board (CB) of the International Floorball Federation (IFF) is about to propose that from 2021 onwards, suddenly, every international tournament including World Floorball Championships will be played with the teams of maximum 15 players (including goalies) and the playing time will be three times 15 minutes effective time.

The change is that more players and playing time is impossible, whereas the present rules allow 15 players and shorter periods. Although the proposal concerns only IFF tournaments and is mainly motivated by the goal of getting to the Olympics, it is a realistic risk that the proposal will affect national leagues in the long run.

Nowadays, the rules of floorball state that each team in a match consists of maximum 20 players and the playing time is three times 20 minutes effective time. So the proposal is that there will be 25% (one fourth) decrease in both the maximum number of players and playing time, which is proportionally a big change and nobody knows its consequences for the game. Anyway, many tactical options and possibilities for the development of the game of floorball would be ruled out.

This and the analogy with ice hockey shows, even if not perfect, that IFF is close to destroying floorball as we know it. Big sudden changes in the defining rules of a game mean destroying a sport and creating a new one. The proposal would result in a distinct game that is not the same as floorball. That sport could not be played with more than 13 players and a goalie and longer than 45 minutes effective time.

I presume that every friend of floorball likes floorball very much and wants to play and watch it, rather some distinct game, in the future, too. No true friend of floorball wants to destroy (one of) his or her favorite sports. Whatever the reasons and motivations for the proposal are. Neither want floorball people the divided situation where we would need a new federation nationally and internationally under which floorball and not something else is played.

 

The author used to coach floorball for 15 years mainly on the top national level. Since then, in the last decade, he has analyzed floorball matches in Finnish media. He works as Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Tampere, Finland.