Medical breakthrough aids FIFA fair play campaign.
While Sepp Blatter it seems still needs prodding into the 21st century when it comes to video replay technology, a remarkable story doing the rounds in Switzerland claims illegal shirt tugging between players may soon be a thing of the past.
The number of cameras now used on top matches reveal in stark detail how powerless officials are currently to prevent the incessant shirt pulling seen at every free-kick and corner delivered into the box.
Impeding an opponent unfairly, and outside the spirit of the game, has reached epidemic proportions. It goes on all over the pitch, but predominates when players come together in the jostling, unseemly scrum of a crowded penalty area.
This ugly side of football was never more apparent than in the recent World Cup, provoking dismay from commentators and disgust for the FIFA mandarins present in South Africa. Were referees to be given a serious mandate from Zurich to stamp out violators, games would turn to farce, seeing one hell of a lot of penalties, and red cards galore.
For all their good intentions, administrators know they are powerless to eradicate this blemish from the beautiful game. That was, until now.
A Swiss plastics company are testing FIFA’s resolve with a radical solution to the problem. By adapting revolutionary techniques developed in their laboratories for the medical application of a ‘second skin,’ to aid burns victims and the severely scarred, they claim a ‘simple spray-can application’ directly onto a player’s torso will do away with the need for conventional team shirts.
“It does indeed sound bizarre, but is in fact quite a simple thing to do,” says spokesman Dr. Norbert Hautnah at the company’s Interlaken HQ. “In medicine, the application of a synthetic skin for patients is not new. Dermatology units all over the world use them. The on-going challenge for medical research has been to refine the ‘breathability’ of synthetically manufactured membrane, and of course to make it waterproof when used as a replacement for human skin.
We have now done this to a degree where the product is very adaptable. During the World Cup while watching TV I realized we had the answer to football’s problem. We eliminate the shirt entirely!”
The company has spent 8 weeks on trials since the end of the World Cup and the product is now being assessed by FIFA’s technical panel. The actual hypoallergenic agent gets applied to a player’s upper body 30 minutes before a match. Non toxic pigments replicate team colours – traditional stripes, hoops and other combinations are no problem apparently, with simple template masking units being used. “To add a player’s name and number on his back takes no time at all,” says General Manager Michael Thakien.
“Club crests were a problem. The designs are too small, so for this we provide an appliqué. Here in Europe the captains wear an armband, this they don in the normal fashion.”
Not surprisingly, Hautnah’s invention faced, not just incredulity at first, but a number of reservations. One by one, over the course of the summer, the company has, with typical Swiss methodology, demolished them.
“Firstly, the solution is designed of course to be weather proof. Torrential rain has no effect. Neither does sweat from the body. In fact, players and coaches welcome the freedom of not playing in conventional kit. In high altitude tests here in Switzerland we found players do need to warm up before a game – which they tend to do anyway. Coming from the dressing-room initially can feel a little chilly. Once a game is underway the players are energized, physical activity quickly raises their body temperature, and in clinical trials all outfield players exhibited greater stamina over the course of 90 minutes. And, of course, not one incident of shirt pulling!.”
Only the goalkeeper plays in his usual jersey. But, I hear you ask, no more shirt swapping at full-time for starters. And how do you get the damn stuff off?
“That was actually the final piece in the jigsaw. The chemical engineering was long established,” says Thakien. Our patented solution breaks down after approximately 3 hours, and under a hot shower the player simply scrubs it off with a course brush. It’s a simple molecular process of reversing what we produce for the world of medicine.”
So will clubs resist? In practical terms they still retain their lucrative income from selling replica shirts, even if the first team are not actually wearing any out on the pitch. Preparing a full team, plus substitutes, prior to kick-off should take two men no more than 15 minutes with practice, according to the firm.
There is one drawback to date that might diminish its appeal, especially in the Latin market. An excess of upper body hair apparently gives a rather unpleasant orange peel effect. “Players will want to shave or wax, that’s not an issue,” say the company.
How far this develops will depend primarily on what the pros think, and if it gets the backing of football’s authorities. The company, unsurprisingly perhaps, say players used to trial the product to date have been ecstatic. Now we wait to see if FIFA are ready to endorse a development that seems more science fiction than sport – but it definitively ends the shirt-pulling syndrome once and for all!
This article was prepared with help from the Graubunden Forschungsinstitut fur Medizin and the Zuercher Morgenpost