The International Football Board (IFAB), the sole body tasked with football law changes, is about to discuss the next round of possible changes to be effected, or not.

The games’ law-making body will meet on March 5 with Fifa and a specific topic, marked “V.1.b” on the “Any Other Business” section of the annual meeting agenda, will be of interest to referees and some football players wearing certain garments, called snoods or neck warmers.

Arsenal player Samir Nasri wearing a snood, soon to be out-lawed by Fifa?

Fifa raised health and safety concerns, citing the issue as follows: 

“We want a debate whether it could be dangerous. There may be a safety issue – if for example a player was running though on goal and an opponent grabbed his snood, that could pose a potential danger to his neck,” a FIFA spokesman was quoted.

Players Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Argentinian Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) and Emmanuel Adebayor (loaned to Real Madrid) are among the adherents in the professional game wearing the snood winter accessory. Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has banned his players from wearing them. Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, is of the opinion that snoods actually protect against injury, in reference to thermal characteristics of these garments on a player’s neck.

Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment, states:

“A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).

It is debatable how dangerous the wearing of snoods really are, given snoods are made of soft clothing and are nothing more then a warm scarf wrap-around, usually used in those countries where players play in close to zero temperatures. This argument is apart from the issue whether players should be fashionistas, or not, in today’s modern game. The use of certain player apparel – gloves – are defined and interpreted by referees, while not mentioned anywhere in Law 4, as posing no risk of injury to player and opponent. Most referees allow snoods to be worn, being of the opinion, based on their interpretation of Law 4, that these items pose no risk to players. Or do they?

They’ve all gone soft – Roy Keane, former Manchester United Captain, on players wearing neck warmers

A scarf or snood has a higher chance of getting snagged onto a cleat, a boot, a hand, a finger, an arm.  There is a risk of neck injury, a very susceptible, exposed and weak body part due to the proximity of vertebra.

Though the chance is admittedly small that this might occur, the danger to players’ safety can be considerable. Parallels can be drawn to the Roman Law of Delict, where one of the defining principles of negligence can be summed as follows: If the chance of an incident occurring is quite remote or unlikely, but if does occur and then result in major/serious damage to property or person, then steps must be actively taken to negate or diminish such possibility of remote damage. In the absence of such active steps to prevent injury, a party or person can be held liable for negligence.

Although Law 5 (Decision 1 of the International F.A. Board) define the role of match officials, inasmuch that they cannot be held liable for any kind of injury a player might suffer due to a match official’s decision to “….allow or not to allow a player to wear certain apparel or equipment”, Fifa is of the opinion that player safety is of tantamount importance and should outweigh any thermal benefits – or fashion trends – of snood-wearing players.

Fifa wants to give guidance and clarity to referees in allowing these specific garments. By wishing to define Law 4 with possibly concrete examples of clothing items that should or should not be allowed on the field of play, Fifa endeavors for consistency in the exercise of a referee’s discretion. The issue of defining the Laws for clarity and consistency, whether such considerations to do so are based on player safety or uniformity, is akin to IFAB’s ruling a few years ago that “jerseys or shirts”  must have sleeves.

The snood has been an popular piece of kit for the professional footballer and shot to fame after Manchester City star Carlos Tevez began wearing one.

I venture to say Fifa, couching their rationale into player safety and health terms, will have a greater chance in having IFAB agreeing with their opinion in possibly having these items out-lawed. Players, for the most part, did and still do without them, and the benefit of neck protection certainly is negligible, despite their thermal attributes. Contrast this with thermal undershorts, where the player’s leg muscles are constantly stretching and flexing due to running and kicking motions, where the player is at far greater risk of pulling a leg muscle than having a neck muscle going into spasms due to lack of thermal clothing.

There is no empirical incidents detailing injuries by opponent’s studs or body parts snagging onto thermal legging under garments, as a safety hazard, and causing thus serious injury. Can the same (soon) be said for snoods if their use become more prevalent, especially since they are close to a very vulnerable part of a player’s body, his neck? I doubt it.

In my humble opinion, neck warmers are potentially far more dangerous then their benefit as thermal wear, and certainly unimportant, irrelevant, immaterial, inconsequential and trivial if snoods are to be worn for fashion reasons on the football playing field. Ultimately, referees should adhere to the following FIFA guideline pertaining to extra equipment used: thoroughly inspect said equipment  before kick-off and ascertain whether the extra equipment worn are to

(1) physically protect the player (e.g. from adverse weather elements,  or from further injury during the match where the injury was sustained earlier etc.)

(2) and  are, in the opinion of the referee, not dangerous to the player or anyone else.

If the above conditions are not fulfilled, then the referee must instruct the player/management of the team to do away with the “snood goods.” For good.