Discretion with application of COVID-19 substitution changes

Thu, Jun 04 2020

None Credit: Larry McQuillan (ETPhotos)

As football across Europe begins to return, only some leagues will be implementing the temporary COVID-19 rule changes around increased substitutions that were proposed by FIFA and approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

The Bundesliga returned applying those changes and so will La Liga and the Premier League (who on Thursday noted they would allow the number of subs on the bench to increase from seven to nine for the remainder of the 2019/20 season). 

However, the Portuguese Primeira Liga will continue with a maximium of three substitutes in 90 minutes. It remains to be seen what will be implemented by the FAI, who have yet to set a date for the return of football (although collective training is approved for the ‘Top Four’ clubs from next Monday).

Rule changes

The temporary amendments allow each team to use a maximum of five substitutes and, to reduce disruption to the match, each team has a maximum of three opportunities to make switches during the game (substitutions can also be made at half-time). If both teams make a substitution at the same time, this will count as one of the three opportunities for each team. 

Extra time

Away from league competitions, unused subs and opportunities to make switches are carried forward into extra time and where competition rules allow an additional substitution in extra time, teams will each have one additional substitution opportunity; substitutions may also be made before the start of extra time and at half-time in extra time. 

Condensed period

The changes are being brought about in recognition from the IFAB that “when competitions resume (following the COVID-19 competition suspension), matches may be played in a condensed period (e.g. to reduce the impact on future competitions)…which could have an impact on player welfare.” 

These law changes relate to competitions scheduled to be completed in 2020 but the IFAB and FIFA will determine at a later date whether this option will need to be extended for competitions due to be completed in 2021. Competition organisers have discretion as to whether or not to apply this temporary amendment – with Portugal not applying the changes after their clubs failed to unanimously support its implementation last week.

League of Ireland squad size

There is a discussion in other leagues that the rule switch will favour clubs with larger squads. Looking at the League of Ireland Premier Division last season, St. Patrick’s Athletic (22) and Sligo Rovers (23) had the fewest numbers of players starting in the league while Finn Harps (31), UCD (31) and Cork City (36) used the largest number of players. St. Pat’s (12), Bohemians (18), Waterford (18) used the fewest number of players as substitutes.

For the top flight in Ireland so far this season, the most players with starts are at Bohs (20), St. Patrick’s Athletic (18) and Shamrock Rovers (18), while Dundalk, Sligo and Waterford have all used the fewest (14).


The IFAB is the body who decide and agree changes to the laws of football. The organisation is made up of the football associations from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and FIFA. Passing any rules amendments requires a three-quarters majority. The UK football associations have four votes with FIFA having four votes. 

Additional reporting by Gareth Penrose


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