Thursday, November 6, 2014




The proposal to impose Prohibition in Kerala is a retrograde step indeed. It may possibly help in winning the next election, as any emotive and divisive step could (and it is both), but the State will pay a heavy price – in the short term certainly, and maybe for decades to come. It’s certainly not a well-thought through decision. It is as if politicians refuse to learn lessons from the bitter experiences of other States in India and of other Countries. Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in India and steps must be taken to curb it – but to impose Prohibition is to throw the baby out with the bathwater; a dangerously simplistic solution to Alcoholism.

Oommen Chandy’s stated aims are laudable – they relate to crime, health; and most notably productivity. And so too is his unstated aim – to prevent the poor from wasting their meagre emoluments on alcohol to the detriment of their family’s well-being. As also drunken ill-treatment of wives, who presumably will all vote for the Congress. But his method smacks of a sheer desire to win the upcoming election and then repeal Prohibition when its widespread ill-effects start to become tangible, since he’s too intelligent not to know the consequences. And since he’s prepared no grounds by taking other actions to address the problems he mentions.

The case of the United States of America is illustrative. They imposed Prohibition in 1920 till 1933. It led to the rise of “La Cosa Nostra”, an FBI pseudonym for the Mafia, who amassed so much wealth and power during those years that they dominated American crime for most of the 20th Century. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, their vast assets (money and the well-organised Syndicates) were astutely redeployed in prostitution, narcotics, extortion and in every other aspect of organised crime, including organised murder. Their power weakened only in the late 20th Century with the sensational disclosures and testimony of Joe Valachi, a Syndicate member, who broke the Mob’s ‘omerta’, the code of silence.

And drinking in USA in the Prohibition years certainly didn’t stop – it merely reduced marginally and went underground, leading to large-scale smuggling, huge loss of revenue for the State (but a spurt in revenue for Canada and Mexico), a rise in home-made ‘stills’ and spurious liquor (and consequently deaths from it), increased crime because of gang and turf wars, a surge in costs and potency of liquor (because of reduced availability), problems of law-enforcement (including massive corruption among politicians and law enforcement agencies) and the end of Self-help societies. Prohibition created a black market that competed with the formal economy, in sheer size and volume – unseen and below the surface, but virulently malevolent.

With such well-documented evidence available on the destructive nature of Prohibition, it’s a wonder that first Andhra Pradesh and then Haryana briefly experimented with and then quickly repealed Prohibition, after starting to experience the same consequences. Worse in their cases, because a Country can seal its borders to some extent; a State cannot. A classic case of “a fool learns from his own experiences, a wise man learns from the experience of others”.

Gujarat is the only State in India that has had an unbroken Prohibition law since its creation in May 1960, presumably to honour its greatest citizen – Mahatma Gandhi. From all the written evidence available, Gujarat faces the same problems that the US did (albeit, in lesser measure) and reportedly, alcohol is freely available in the State. Because there is no excise duty on alcohol, IMFL (regular brands) in Gujarat is cheaper than in the rest of the Country inspite of being smuggled in (unlike in the US, where it became costlier – because Duty on alcohol in India is very high; at 30 – 50 %). Today, Prohibition is so deeply entrenched and such a lucrative business for all the important players, including politicians and the law enforcement agencies, that it can never be lifted.

Tamil Nadu, which had Prohibition since even before Independence and lifted it briefly in the 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s, finally repealed it in 2001. Excise Minister Viswanathan informed the Assembly in August this year “the State government is aware of the ills of liquor, but it allows regulated sales only to prevent hooch tragedies, and because of the impracticality of total prohibition. With no prohibition in force in the neighbouring states, Tamil Nadu cannot go for it, as it would result in flow of liquor into the state from Kerala, Puducherry and Karnataka.” Shortly, it will be a flow from TN to Kerala, since only three districts in Kerala do not have a contiguous border with Tamil Nadu (or Karnataka).

In AP, Chief Minister N T Rama Rao imposed prohibition in the State on January 16, 1995 and his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu continued the policy after taking over as Chief Minister by dethroning NTR. But on April 1, 1997, Naidu lifted Prohibition. His contention was that the sale of liquor was fetching as much as Rs 3,000 crore per annum to the State and that could be spent on various welfare schemes in the State (and drinkers be damned !!). In fact, during the Prohibition years, AP went into debt and had to borrow at prohibitive rates from private banks.

Does Kerala insist on wanting to be the next crucible of this vitiating experiment ? Which has invariably failed ? Can’t it learn from AP and from the most recent failure – Haryana ?

Prohibition was imposed between 1996 and 1998 for a period of 19 months by Chief Minister Bansi Lal, based upon an election promise he had made to his voters. The illegal trade in liquor from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab spawned a mafia-like network that had the protection of politicians in the state. After a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections for Bansi Lal's HVP, prohibition was reversed in Haryana. To offset the loss of revenue, the government raised taxes and fees for various state-provided services – power tariff was increased by 10-50%, bus fares by 25%, and petrol sales tax by 3%. New taxes were levied on businesses and self-employed people. There was an alarming increase in deaths, resulting from the consumption of spurious liquor especially by the poor. Illicit brewing and liquor smuggling into the State became one of the biggest industries in the state.

The effect of Prohibition on Law enforcement is extreme. When politicians need money to fight elections, they turn to the Mafia and thereafter become indebted to them and protect them. Honest policemen register myriad cases against violators, while dishonest ones feather their nest. The Judicial system breaks down – in the face of thousands of complaints, and prosecution of the guilty is rare. Since there is no special Police force to fight Prohibition, demands on them become exorbitant. Law enforcement therefore becomes the first casualty and Prohibition can never be effectively enforced.

Occasional, casual or moderate drinking is certainly not ethically or morally wrong by any reasonable standards, even of health (though not by some religious standards). In the absence of alcohol – ganja, heroin and other psychotropic substances will gain currency. And these will have a much greater negative impact, in addition to being cheaper. The ways to counter the impact of Alcoholism are laid out by the WHO – education, banning of advertising (even ambiguous advertising, which is prevalent), age limits, time limits and availability, and increasing social awareness are some of the methods advocated. In Kerala, Labour reforms are sorely needed – to induce some industrialization and are the solution to low productivity and unemployment – since Tourism, on which Kerala is heavily dependent will take a huge hit, because of Prohibition. In a lose-lose situation, the State will lose heavily on revenue, and illegal hooch makers, smugglers and distributors will gain immensely and the poor will suffer. Oommen Chandy’s stated laudable aims relating to crime, health and productivity can never be achieved. Crime will increase, and neither health nor productivity will be affected. No hard-core drinker will give up, only the moderates, who in any case were doing no harm – to themselves or to others.

The “Kerala Model” has unique social positives, because while its GDP and per capita income are low even by Indian standards, its Human Indices are more akin to the USA than to India. It is this ‘Model’ which made the UNDP work on HDI as the basic for developmental policies, rather than GDP. Even the Millennium Development Goals incorporate many of the “Kerala Model's” unique features. It is these enormous social strengths that eradicated illiteracy, that the Govt must work on to combat the scourge of Alcohol, rather than banning it – an easy but totally ineffective method, smacking of ulterior motives.

In the final analysis, making illegal what many people really like to do is counter-productive. If someone wants to drink – rich or poor, then he will drink – come hell or high water. The desire to not want to drink or to drink in moderation must come from within and can never be imposed from without.

The Goal of the Govt and of Social Reform groups must be to try and instill this desire in the common man.

Sunday, October 12, 2014





In one of the most significant developments in the Middle East in recent years, a Coalition led by the US, carried out air strikes against “Islamic State” targets in Syria, on Monday, 22nd Sept. Game-changing, it may be called – because the Coalition consisted of five Sunni Arab Countries, apart from the only Western power – the US. They were Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. A remarkable diplomatic achievement by the US. Apart from Qatar, who was in a supportive role, the other four actually participated in the attacks. This is an unprecedented move and it sends a powerful message to the Islamic State, the Arab nations and to the entire World. That the Islamic State is illegitimate and a misnomer – it is neither Islamic nor a State, and more importantly – not representative of Arabs or of Muslims. In days and weeks to come, this message will reverberate across Islamic communities and Countries across the World, especially because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia – the home of Islam.
     The scale of these attacks was also unprecedented in this ongoing War, starting with 40 Tomahawk Cruise missiles, followed by the first ever use of the most advanced fighter aircraft ever, the F-22 Raptor, with the third wave being dominated by the Coalition partners. The targets were diverse – Islamic State HQs (Raqqa), training camps, logistics and communications centres, barracks and the Raqqa oil-fields, apart from armoured and other vehicles. The US (and France) carried out about 190 attacks over four weeks in Iraq – this single night had as many. While Raqqa was the focus of the attacks, other Syrian cities like Deir Ezzor, Al Hasakah and Abu Kamal were also hit, stretching from Aleppo in the West to Raqqa on the Euphrates. The War against the Islamic State has now well and truly begun. And according to the Pentagon it was just the “beginning of a sustained campaign” which could go on for years. And maybe eventually, some “boots on the ground” (whose?) – although hotly denied by the US.
     Another significant attack was against the Khorasan, an Al Qaeda splinter group (this attack was by the US only) in an area just East of Aleppo. So who are the Khorasan and why are they important ? They are a break-away Group of the Al Qaeda, who were based in the Pakistani tribal areas, who shifted to Syria recently. They consist of veteran Al Qaeda fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Their Aim is to attack the US and Europe. The historical region of Khorasan comprises parts of present-day Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in prehistoric and early Islamic times, hence their name. And according to the US – “ an attack in Europe or the Homeland was imminent”. Another major danger of the Khorasan is their attempt to recruit Western IS fighters – to carry out attacks in their respective home Country. Considering there now about 15,000 fighters from US, Europe, the Russian Federation, India and Islamic Countries, this is a serious threat. No visas required, just a plane ticket.
So Who Didn’t Fight?  The two biggest Countries in the region – Turkey and Egypt. Why ? Turkey – possibly because 49 of their Diplomats (including wives and children), were captives in Mosul. They were released on 21st Sept, and hence they were not included in the planning and execution of the attacks of 22nd Sept. They are now willing – according to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, their Prime Minister and must form a crucial part of any future plans. Egypt, who are suffering Islamic pangs, because of their recent political events, decided to stay out. Britain and France, natural members of any US led coalition also didn’t participate. Why ? David Cameroon didn’t find political consensus and the French didn’t get an invitation from Syria (which they got from Iraq) !! A valid point by the French, because the strikes in Iraqi territory had legal sanction, while the ones in Syria did not. In fact, Syria was not involved in the co-ordination, merely informed via the UN.
What’s the Future?      

Now that the seriousness of intentions of the US and Arab coalition partners against the Islamic State is clear, this is a long-term fight to the finish. And with very little support from across the world, (except for young committed fighters from just about everywhere), the Islamic State’s days are numbered. Stuck in a limited geographical area, their ability to hide tanks and Artillery is limited. Any Military-like actions against either Iraq or Syria are ruled out and only guerrilla operations are possible.

The sudden influx of two lakh Syrian Kurds into Turkey, on the day of the attacks was either fortuitous or part of the plan. It reduced the chances of collateral damage and now prevents the IS from hiding themselves or their military hardware within a civilian population. The return of the Turkish diplomats (a secret deal or ransom?) also cleared the way for Turkish participation. And this is important. Democratic Turkey has an Islamist Party in power and Turkish actions will have sanction from the people. It suits Turkey to vanquish the IS, so that Kurdish refugees can return to Syria.

The fight against the IS must continue, at different levels. Financial sanctions, reclaiming the Islamic space from the fundamentalists, a ban on weapons reaching them and making it difficult for fighters to reach or leave Syria/Iraq.

Finally, the US insistence on arming the Free Syrian Army (Sunni rebels) and removing Assad is a debatable decision. The removal of any Dictator is a laudable aim, but it could plunge Syria into a huge Sectarian crisis. We saw it happening in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. And it is a moot point if all the foreign fighters have migrated to the ranks of the IS or are still fighting alongside the rebels. Arming them would be disastrous. Apparently, the Arab world is not yet ready for Western style Democracy. If they could reform and embrace globalization, like China has done, the glories of its civilization, respect and pride would similarly surely return. This is something they steadfastly refuse to do. That is the root of the problem that the World is grappling with.

President Obama addressed the Nation (and the World). You can watch the address at (Strangely this 41 minute video doesn’t start until 36.45 – so just FF uptil then).

President Obama’s Address to the UN was also seminal and gripping. The guy can really speak well. This may well have been his best speech ever. No issues evaded, no problems skipped, solutions clearly articulated – albeit at a philosophical level. Hard-hitting words, spoken with candour and appearing to come from the heart. It helps, that he has a Muslim father and step-father. His harsh words against Muslims were taken at face value. Bush or Clinton wouldn’t have had such an impact.

Thursday, September 25, 2014




The rapid rise of ‘The Islamic State’ has brought a disturbing paradigm shift into an already troubled Middle East. So who are they, what are their Aims and Capabilities and what could the possible course of events be, over the next few months and years ? Any analysis now would require frequent revisions as events unfold on virtually a daily basis. But let me try anyway.

The information we have about them or their Leader is scant, and from diverse sources. To summarise – they comprise Sunni Muslims of Iraq and Syria, sworn to establish an Islamic Caliphate, under their Supreme Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now calling himself “The Caliph Ibrahim”. They have been augmented by fighters from numerous Countries, including UK, Germany, France, Holland, USA – and India, amongst others. All told, they today reportedly number more than 10,000 fighters. They have captured arms (including tanks/ICVs from the retreating Iraqi Army) and assets worth about $ 2 Billion, making them the richest Jihadi organisation. Baghdadi is a fierce looking fighter and  tactician, which infuses in him more appeal than has the Al Qaeda Chief – the mild-looking, bespectacled Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Islamic theologian. Al Qaeda has condemned them – ostensibly for their brutality, but in reality it’s more likely to be a turf war.

Started in 2003, to oppose the US invasion, they have steadily grown in numbers and commitment, after they announced themselves in 2006 or so. So they are neither a new nor an unknown phenomena. Just ignored. Their rapid ascent drew strength (and Headlines) from the Israel/Hamas war, the Syrian rebellion and the political turmoil in Iraq, although not directly linked to any of them. They have reportedly declared the Hamas as Apostates and have vowed to destroy them, before tackling Israel. They have harmed the rebellion against Assad by attacking genuine Syrian rebels and thinning their ranks by getting recruits into their own militia. Prime Minister Al Maliki’s obdurate refusal to run an inclusive Govt in Iraq has considerably exacerbated the Shia-Sunni divide and consequently Baghdadi’s development and short-term Aims. However, the new Govt, led by President Fuad Masum (a Kurd) and Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (a moderate Shia) may be a game changer. While many key posts went to the majority Shia community, Sunnis and Kurds were also well represented with Saleh al-Mutlaq (a Sunni) being  Dy PM.

Aim.  Their long-term Aim is to establish an “Islamic Caliphate”, under a single Leader, in the Levant. Their morphing name indicates how their Aim has evolved. From AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) to ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to ISIL (Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant) and on 29 June 2014, to ‘The Islamic State’. It’s interesting to note that their Aim has now expanded out of the Levant, to include the entire world. A measure of their confidence. Their short-term Aim is to establish their dominance over other Sunni groups, especially those who do not follow the extremist Salafist doctrine and to fight a sectarian war against Shias.

The Levant. The Levant core region historically comprised of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Cyprus and Hatay (a province in southern Turkey, on the Mediterranean coast). Expanded to include the Sinai and Iraq and finally the entire territory of Turkey and Egypt. Interestingly, the British had an English Levant Company, founded in 1581 to trade with the Ottoman Empire.

Capabilities.        Never assess an adversary on his Aim. Assess him on his Capabilities. Aims can change overnight, capabilities cannot. The ‘The Islamic State’ has about ten to twenty thousand fighters, captured arms, adequate recourses and deep, almost fanatical commitment. Their well trained Army has already routed the Iraqi Army and adversarial Syrian rebels. And captured many major towns, including Raqqa in Syria (their HQ) and Mosul (the second city of Iraq). So what can the they do today. Frankly, in their current avatar, with their current resources – not much more. But their real threat lies in their ability to attract new volunteers from all over the World, using their appeal and social media skills. This will also cause disturbances in host Countries, as we saw in The Hague recently. Open demonstrations, flaunting the black Islamic State flag. 
So they’ve done a lot, since they burst out of their relative anonymity in June this year. So what else can they do ? Let’s see their SWOT analysis.

Strengths.   Firstly, their immediate resources of committed fighters, captured arms and ammunition, equipment and vast wealth (if they hold on to the N Iraqi oilfields). Secondly, their insidious appeal of being able to attract large numbers of volunteers from across the World. And one of the reasons is the promise of a Caliphate, with a charismatic Leader. And the fact that they are actually holding territory and administering a virtual Country, which no force is likely to be able to easily recapture.

Weaknesses.         For the first time, a militant organisation is fighting openly, a conventional war, confining themselves to a geographical area. Which is easily attackable. From the ground and from the air. This is their biggest weakness. While the Al Qaeda’s terror tactics work because of their nebulous existence, any terror attacks by The Islamic State outside their borders is likely to lead to massive retaliation, by any number of enemies, of which they have created plenty. A case in point is the increased US strikes in retaliation to the killing of the two US journalists. They have no known sources of replenishing their arms, ammunition and equipment, since they’re shunned even by the Al Qaeda. A self-declared Sunni Caliphate, they are surrounded by Shia ruled Countries. In the West by Syria, a Shia (Alawite) dominated and ruled Sunni majority, (however, even the Syrian Sunnis are fighting them) in the South by a Shia dominated and Shia majority Iraq and in the East, by Shia Iran. The first two have an Army of about 250,000 each and Iran of 800,000. With plenty of tanks, artillery and a reasonably modern Air Force. And in the North, they have Turkey, a formidable NATO member. And the Iraqi Kurds, with their Peshmerga (militia) are their immediate Northern adversaries. Fighting an active war on three fronts (less the Iranian one) is an impossibility, even with enhanced resources.

Current enemies. Currently, The Islamic State is actively fighting only the Peshmerga, who are aided by US air power, with skirmishes in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, there are three forces fighting each other – that is, the Syrian State vs the Syrian rebels and The Islamic State. This stalemate can only be broken by Assad, if he chooses to do so. He is more likely to wait and watch his Sunni rivals fight and weaken each other. The Iraqi Govt has lost much of its US support and till their political squabbles are over, can make no positive move. However, they are unlikely to be pushed any further South. Their Army, aided by Shia militias is likely to secure Baghdad and areas around, witness the bombing on 22nd August in a Sunni Mosque in Diyala. Skirmishes will continue. Iran is plagued by problems of its own and is unlikely to make any move, for the present.

Current backers and financiers.     No Country overtly supports The Islamic State. Their covert financiers are reportedly wealthy individuals, mosques and charities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and possibly Qatar. However, their declaration of a Caliphate with a credible Leader appeals to Sunni Muslim fundamentalists worldwide. And there are numerous pledges of support from Indonesia to Kashmir to Saudi Arabia and from Europe and the US.
US Options.        

The US have two major restraining factors – one, their decision not to get actively involved in Iraq again (no “boots on the ground”), and two, a commitment to bring stability to a united Iraq. The latter is a virtual impossibility, since the chances of a Shia-Sunni rapprochement in Iraq (or for that matter, in Syria) are extremely bleak and the Iraqi Kurds have virtually declared independence. But that is the stated position of the US and they will stick to it unless the situation changes dramatically. Any major increase in air/drone-strikes, which causes “collateral damage” to civilians will turn the entire Sunni population against them and by inference against the Iraqi Govt.

Enemies of your Friends and Enemies of your Enemies.     Are your friend’s enemies automatically your enemies? And do enemies of your bitter enemies automatically become your friends? In the Arab world, as the US is finding out –not necessarily. Their biggest enemy in this region used to be the Syrian Govt under Assad and they were about to assist the rebels against him and to start air attacks against him. Till the Islamic State suddenly surfaced. So they dropped that plan and instead are attacking the Islamic State, who include many Syrian rebels, who they were about to arm ! Which anyway would have been a disaster, since the rebels were infiltrated by foreign fighters, at the behest of the Al Qaeda. Right now, the US is helping the Shias against the Sunnis, which is frowned upon by their allies – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain (though not if they keep their actions  strictly restricted to fighting the Islamic State) and applauded by Iran and Syria – their sworn enemies.

They are also helping the Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurds), which is frowned upon by their NATO ally Turkey, who are worried about a demand for a more inclusive Kurdistan by Turkish Kurds, who they have been repressing for decades. A Kurdistan in this area would be appreciated by Europe and Israel, who have a large Kurdish diaspora (about 1.5 million), who presumably would migrate there. All told, there are about 30 million Kurds (who are basically Iranian Sunni Muslims), distributed in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Russian Federation, Europe and Israel. Any significant success by the Peshmerga would open yet another can of worms in this troubled region.

For the US/UK, to look at this conflict from an American or NATO perspective (which they are currently doing) would be short-sighted indeed and the problems in the Middle East would mutate and acquire new and dangerous dimensions and complexities, so-far unseen and unanalysed. The only Super-power should behave as a World leader and not as a protector of American interests. If they want to take a world leadership position. The US is at an important cross-road here. They’ve left a mess in Afghanistan and Iraq – will they do it again?

Verily they are faced with a Hobson’s choice. Every option is fraught with larger unforeseen implications. Extreme caution and introspection is needed here. Diplomacy before military action. Any “Coalition of the Willing” (formed after the NATO Summit in Wales), which has only NATO Countries is meaningless. It has  to include the Arabs and Iran. A holistic right-brained solution is needed, instead of a bits-and-pieces left-brained military/strategic one. The consequences for the World are enormous. We wait with bated breath.

Saturday, August 23, 2014



(By Ajit Nair : Strictly Personal Views)

          Most games evolve with time – to keep in sync with the changing circumstances of modernity – and the last 20 years have seen the greatest changes that humanity has ever seen. Sports too have changed immeasurably – changes in equipment, in stadia, in surfaces, in the efficiency and reach of TV coverage, in commercialization, in the fitness and resolve of sportsmen and the high stakes involved, with the consequent competitiveness. But the greatest change has been in the modern generation’s  attitude to life – and to sports. The last generation was used to an easy-paced, but skillful and aesthetic way of playing a game. The younger generation wants an instant fix to everything – they want speed, strength and a quick result. Some games re-invented themselves to remain relevant, others merely changed their format or rules.

          Cricket was about to die of old age, but a blood transfusion of One Dayers to Tests saved the day, and pandered to the impatience of modernity. 20-20 came in even before the One Dayers reached adulthood and proved to be an instant success. In Billiards, old-timers made thousand point breaks – today each game finishes at 150 – to counter the challenge of colourful and fast-paced Snooker – and Snooker itself has introduced a 6 ball variant. Hockey changed umpteen rules, some to break the hegemony of India/Pakistan and to suit the Europeans/Australians and some to speed up the game – but all for the better. Squash, Badminton and Table Tennis changed their scoring formats and rode the crest of the wave. Some games were free flowing and fast-paced to start with, and had to make minimal changes – Basketball (3 pointers, triple free throws etc) and Tennis (line call challenges, tie-breaks) amongst others. And most Games enthusiastically embraced Technology.

          But the most popular game of them all – Football – remains rooted in obstinate and arrogant anachronism. Footer is such an entertaining and exciting global obsession, that its popularity has survived its archaic resistance to change. Everybody can and does play it and everybody loves to watch it. As Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly famously said “Football is not a matter of life and death – it is far more serious than that….” The Footballing mania may well survive its restrictive and out-dated rules and regulations – but who knows when the modern youth just switches off. FIFA and King Sepp must think proactively – the writing is not yet on the wall, but it doesn’t take much time to fetch the chalk. The youth of today are demanding, but not too forgiving. Changes are required not just to entertain, but also to remove arbitrary and patently unfair decisions, to reward the better, more skillful and hard-working team, the more talented player – on the day, and to remove cynical gamesmanship. And finally, to use the benefits of technology to improve the quality of refereeing. In this World Cup, goal-line technology is being used, but video referrals and the full gamut of available technology is not. They must be used, without slowing the game down too much.

My take on what is wrong and what needs to be done, if Football is to remain the King of Sports.

Red cards/Yellow cards.   The biggest Anachronism. Both Cards have completely unintended consequences. Invariably, Yellow Cards are too mild and Red Cards are too harsh. And the worst thing is that the time at which they are given has a huge impact on the game. A Yellow Card early in the game has no immediate effect, but puts the player on tenterhooks for the rest of the game, while a Yellow Card near the end has almost no immediate effect (only long-term). A Red Card at the beginning kills the game and a Red Card for the same offence near the end has very little effect. Two Yellow Cards for two ‘not too serious’ fouls – equals the Draconian Red Card !!! And both illogically carry their effect onto the next game as well. A Red Card – and you miss the next game. A Yellow in two successive games and you miss the third.

Both Yellow and Red Cards must have an immediate effect and it should be even at any stage of the game and always commensurate to the gravity of the offence. Today, there are many different fouls of differing gravity, but only three types of penalties – Free Kicks, a Penalty and the two Cards.

My solution – an immediate three or five minute send-off for a Yellow Card and a 10 minute (or 15/20/30 – at the discretion of the Referee) send-off for a Red Card. And NO carry-forward at all.

Off-sides.    Off-sides have their origin in the late 18th Century in English Public Schools. They’re archaic in the 21st. They’re completely incomprehensionable to the average watcher and barely comprehensionable to the informed laymen (like me). Many an off-side decision in this WC has been patently wrong, denying what looked like a sure-shot goal. On 30 June 2014, I was astounded to hear a Legend of the Game, Robbie Fowler say “I’m not sure about the off-side Rule, but I think that should have been a Goal” (France –Nigeria). Laying the off-side trap is fraught with danger – suppose the linesman gets it wrong ? And beating the off-side trap has become a artificial and technical expertise, unnatural to the beautiful game. Absolutely no reason for them.

I say – abolish the Off-side Rule, Hockey has already done that. Let the poacher wait in ambush !! It will add a delicious element of surprise….

Back passes,        Back passes, especially to the goal-keeper, seriously detract from the flow and beauty of Football. To some extent, FIFA recognised that 20 odd years ago and banned Goalies from handling a ball that was back-passed by the foot (as opposed to the head or body). But the bane of back-passes continue. It slows down the game and leads to audience fatigue.

Back passes to the Penalty area must be banned. In addition, back-passes from ahead of the Centre-line to behind it must also be banned (like in Basketball).

Throw-ins/Free Kicks.  A throw-in is an unnecessary and artificial expertise, which slows down the game. Instead of throw-ins, have a kick in, to be quickly taken by the closest player (instead of waiting for the ‘so-called’ expert to arrive – and his speed of arrival depends on whether his Team is ahead or behind !!). And both for Free Kicks and for the Kick-in the player must be allowed to carry the ball, instead of looking for a pass (again, like in Hockey).

Time of play/Injury time.      The clock keeps ticking when the Referee calls a foul. Why? Then extra time is given to compensate the delays. Then players delay during extra time and the Referee has to re-calculate.

Why not stop the clock every time the play is held up and blare a bugle, when time ends – at exactly 45/90 minutes (like in Basketball)………….Time to be kept by the Time-keeper, and not by the Referee.

Replacements/Substitutions.  The Replacements/substitutions rule has remained unchanged for Decades. Three substitutions per match. We see slow Football and tired legs near the end of every match, especially during extra-time. And if a player is injured after the substitutions are made ? What then ? Play a man short ? Patently unfair. Hockey has a rolling substitution rule, which is so wonderful (also Basketball). Fast paced action till the very end.

My take on it - Substitute all you want – to keep each player fresh. And to give every player a chance. And to cater for minor injuries, which necessitate a rest or treatment for a few minutes. It will also give great strategic legroom to the Coach (Imagine : Van Persie starts; the Dutch two goals up in 20 minutes – withdrawn for a defensive player. The enemy equalizes, Van Persie back…..and so on). Games will oscillate between all-out attack and balanced defence.

Challenges.    Any challenge, especially from the rear where the ball is not targeted, only the man, must invite immediate retribution – in the form of a send-off (for a limited duration). It will act as a huge deterrent and prevent unnecessary injuries. Any callous, professional foul must come to the attention of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee (like the Suarez ‘bite’). Remember Andoni Goikoetxea, "The Butcher from Bilbao", whose vicious tackling nearly ended the career of the sublime Maradona ?

Video Referrals. The reluctance to use available technology is just not understood by a lot of us. Similar to the Goal-line technology being used for the first time, back-line and sideline technology can be used. In addition, each Team can be given two (or three) referrals per Half, to challenge the Referee’s call. And the dialogue between the on-field Referee and the video Referee can be telecast, along with the video footage being seen by the latter. In Hockey, this has generated great interest, with the audience virtually participating ! Wrong decisions are the bane of modern Football and leads to huge on-field animosity. Hard to blame the Referee – he gets a split-second to make a game changing decision.

Penalty.      The Penalty kick is too serious a matter to be left to the on–the–spot discretion and judgement of the on-field Referee. In this World Cup, the mistakes in awarding (or in NOT awarding) a Penalty have been numerous, and the fate of a Country has been wrongly decided, leading to National despondency. (Even Robben’s last minute Penalty award against Mexico has been contested by many experts – like Robbie Fowler, after watching many replays). Before awarding a Penalty, a video referral must be made compulsory (and irrespective of a Team’s decision to challenge it). This could be applied to Red Cards also.

Number of Referees.     The referee is the only one who has to run from one goal–line to the other continuously, for the full 90 minutes (no substitutions allowed !). The Football field is large – 100 yards and this must put a huge strain on him. Even to the point of affecting rational decisions.

Why not have two Referees (like Hockey – where the Field is smaller) – one for each Half.

Brigadier (Retired) Ajit Nair