OPINION: The three witches of football are leading the game alarming towards its demise.
The wretched, connected triumvirate of handballs, offsides and VARs are turning The Beautiful Game into a tragic farce.
The women's World Cup is the latest big stage to suffer from a series of horrifying spectacles that are making this viewer and many others lose their footballing ardour.
Just a week into the tournament in France and there's already been a slew of decisions that have frustrated players and fans alike; chiefly because of a ridiculous new edict of what constitutes handball and offside, in combination with all the worst aspects of video refereeing.
Defenders are being constantly penalised for the ball hitting their arm. Penalties are resulting from either the referee ruling directly or through the Video Assistant Referee.
For more than a century, footballers knew the laws of the game ensured handball had to be deliberate. Therefore, if some clueless attacker whacked an aimless cross that struck your arm as you closed them down, you wouldn't - or at least shouldn't - be penalised for it.
Not any longer.
Among the new ludicrous handball qualifiers that will lead to a free-kick or penalty are the following:
- The ball touches a player's hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger. - The ball touches a player's hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm).
Clearly the lawmakers haven't watched sport closely. Bodies do unusual things when in physical motion. They don't operate predictably. When you're constantly forced into rapid changes of posture and direction, there is no such thing as making yourself "unnaturally bigger".
Slow those movements down incrementally on video and they'll appear grotesque - yet the game is not played in slow-motion.
So the "unnaturally bigger" wording brings a Trumpian level of stupidity. Players use their arms for balance. Defenders are now having to close down opponents and make challenges as if their arms are tied behind their backs. It's the most unnatural position a player a can have, unless they're being held hostage.
The penalties awarded against Scotland's Nicola Docherty early in her side's clash against England when a cross his her outstretched arm, and against a Jamaican defender when a ball struck from close-range hit her elbow as she was moving it out of the way versus Brazil, were momentously bad for the game.
"Playing with VAR was different, interesting, disappointing when it went to VAR with handball," said Scotland's Erin Cuthbert in a meritorious contender for Understatement Of The Year.
The decisions won't get the same intense, widespread analysis as the VAR penalty in last year's men's World Cup final against Croatia's Ivan Perisic, which appeared vastly different in a slow-motion replay, or the decisive spot-kick to open the recent Champions League final given against Moussa Sissoko when he broke two of the above-mentioned rules despite appearing to be pointing out a rival player to his team-mates.
But the rulings against Scotland and Jamaica make a mockery of the game.
Offside decisions have equally infuriated with similar recent 'fine-tunings'.
Italy's Barbara Bonansea thought she'd put her team ahead against Australia, only to discover her head was seen as being in an offside position as she leant forward, preparing to pursue the through ball that sent her in on goal.
Bonansea's feet - incredibly, the most important part of a footballer - were behind the last defender, as was the majority of her body, yet her goal was over-ruled due to a non-conforming noggin.
We learnt all this minutes after she'd scored, celebrated, delighted the Italian fans - and it's that post-incident bringdown which hurts football deeply.
We've seen video officiating become ingrained in other codes with mixed success - but the time/delay factor isn't as jarring as it is in football. In rugby and league, after tries there's always a lull that contains the conversion, while in cricket there's always room to breathe between deliveries. Fluency is the heart of football.
Michel Platini was a poetic, graceful footballer and an ugly, pitiful administrator, but he did get it right when warning that excessive technology would change the character of the sport.
The VAR system was designed to eliminate officiating howlers - like Ali Bin Nasser's failure to spot Diego Maradona's handball in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England.
Instead, it's used too often and is as accurate and incisive as a political poll.
Football has been, and should remain, as easy to love as a new puppy, complete with over-sized ears and paws and pleading eyes.
But handballs, offsides and VARs have turned it into that damned dog that has chewed through seventeen shoes, destroyed the vege garden and is one duvet diarrhoea dump away from permanently falling out of favour.