Whenever the coronavirus hiatus ends for the dozens of domestic soccer leagues around the world that have paused due to the pandemic, they will have some help in keeping their players healthy to finish out their seasons. Today, FIFA approved a temporary amendment that allows for clubs to have 5 substitutions per match. This rule change is to take effect immediately, clearing the way for leagues who are returning to play to use it for the rest of their matches.
The leagues must start or restart and complete their 2019-20 or 2020 season by December 31st to take advantage of the rule change. That means MLS must have its entire season, including playoffs, completed by December 31st if it wants to use this rule when it restarts the 2020 season. Leagues and competitions who begin the 2020-21 season this summer or fall will not be allowed to have 5 subs per club per match for those matches.
Another caveat of using 5 substitutes is that you can’t do them all individually. Teams may only stop the match 3 times for substitutions, which means that to use 5 subs in a match, teams will have to switch multiple people at once to remain within the 3 stoppages allowed for the substitutions. Halftime can also be used for substitutions.
This change was made with the realization that leagues will be forced to finish their seasons in truncated timelines, and the ability to keep players fresh for sometimes 2-3 matches per week is essential. Most leagues around the world have been sidelined since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with the restart date of most leagues still uncertain, this rule can help keep players from being injured by the wear of so many matches in a short period of time.
Finally, included in the rule change is the ability for competitions which used video assistant referee (VAR) systems to stop using them when the leagues restart. It’s not mandatory to stop using VAR, but competitions were considering this option to keep matches moving and completed as quickly as possible. If a competition decides to continue using VAR when it restarts, they must continue to use the system they had set up for that competition.
The K-League finally began its 2020 season this morning in South Korea, while the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga will restart next weekend in Germany. That will likely be the first time most fans in the United States will get to see this rule implemented for the first time as the sports world attempts to slowly reboot.