The Rational Ref

Play the game, by any means possible, anytime, anywhere

Futsal is just one of many short-sided forms of soccer enjoyed around the world, and has a strong Hong Kong link

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 8:49pm

It is hard to believe, but Hong Kong has a successful track record in hosting a Fifa World Cup finals tournament.

This was the 1992 Futsal World Championships, the second rendition of Fifa's standardised, sanitised and sterilised version of small-sided soccer.

Despite this lofty beginning, over the past two decades futsal has failed to take off and remains relatively unknown and unloved in Hong Kong.

Children should be introduced to futsal at an early age to help develop their technical abilities
William Lai

It seems players just want to play small-sided soccer in the same unfussy way as the full 11-a-side game.

Futsal is played with a smaller ball with less bounce and there are different rules.

This is perhaps the reason why futsal has largely been ignored here, coupled with having to pay for two to four referees per match.

Simply looking at the top end of the futsal world rankings, the absence of certain countries - England, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and France - reveals it is not very popular in places where perhaps technical ability is relatively overlooked compared with the physicality of the game.

Conversely, the top-ranked futsal teams of Brazil, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Argentina are the countries where technical skills are encouraged and championed, thereby making futsal relatively easier to become well established.

In fact, futsal started in South America in 1930 and is the most popular form of soccer.

Futsal players are greatly admired and Argentine Lionel Messi, Brazilian Neymar, Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo and Spaniard Xavi started out early in futsal and then successfully transitioned to the regular full-sided game.

Although futsal is the only five-a-side format that Fifa recognises, everyone knows there are other versions of the small-sided game that are accepted.

For a start, there are seven-, six- as well as five-a-side variants. Plus kicking a bright, green, furry, bouncy ball reminds many people of indoor soccer.

The great thing about these variants is the flexibility that allows players to just play without necessarily having to book referees or to be bound by rules specific to futsal.

When the iconic green ball is not available, other balls can be used, whereas for futsal you can only use a small, heavy ball with a low bounce.

Also goals, which can be portable, may be of various sizes depending on whether gyms stock handball goals or mini hockey goals; and the multicoloured lines painted on the gym floors inevitably confuse players, which can sometimes make the games more entertaining.

Having balls bounce and ricochet off gym walls, curved columns and angular ceiling beams add to the excitement.

Therefore for the pragmatic reasons mentioned, five-a-side and seven-a-side soccer are the popular forms in Hong Kong and much more common than futsal.

Outdoors, the seven-a-side game is prevalent and many locals reckon this variant originated in Hong Kong.

There is even an established seven-a-side local league in Hong Kong that started out years before the HKFC Citibank Hong Kong Soccer Sevens tournament became well known.

Indoors, there are many amateur five-a-side leagues of which Power Soccer is one that caters to a mixed crowd of foreign and local players.

These five-a-side leagues could be bigger than they are but, unfortunately, playing capacity is limited by the lack of available facilities.

Nevertheless, the popularity of five-a-side soccer in Hong Kong has caught the international attention of Duplays, a sports company based in the United Arab Emirates that is hosting the first Football Five World Championship (F5WC) for amateur players in Dubai in June.

They have sanctioned Hong Kong to host a qualifying tournament for amateur five-a-side teams on April 26 with the champions earning an all-expenses paid trip to Dubai to represent Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the HKFA is organising its own futsal competition for primary schools.

Advertised only in Chinese on the HKFA website, this competition is open to children under 13 years of age.

The belief is that children should be introduced to futsal at an early age to help develop their technical abilities before they start playing in conditions where the physical element becomes more of a factor.

It is a good concept and schools have until April 11 to enrol their teams. However, if futsal is to establish a genuine hold in Hong Kong a significant amount of development work is needed to raise its profile.

Whatever the format, it appears the popularity of the small-sided game still has not reached its full potential.

Since the HKFA is focused on promoting futsal to a small proportion of players, it is understandable that other competition organisers are offering other variants that allow players to enjoy the game anyhow, anywhere, anytime and at any age.


A final note: Compared with soccer, rugby referees are allowed to do their jobs without any hint of hounding, harassing or harrying.

The Rugby Sevens was also a reminder that video technology is simply a tool for assisting referees and not necessarily the ultimate decision maker, as two incidents demonstrated.

During the England-South Africa Cup quarter-final, a South African player was close to scoring a try and asked the referee for a video review.

"No. No need, I had a good view," said the ref and that was that.

Then during the scrappy France-Portugal Bowl quarter-final that saw three yellow cards and one red, the assistant referee spotted an off-the-ball incident and informed the referee a France player had punched an opponent in the face.

Everything was discussed rationally and calmly, and then the referee spoke with the captain and the player was sent off. No fuss and no technology; just great teamwork and great officiating.

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