He’s not God, he’s just a naughty boy

Despite the potentially damaging nature of the bad refereeing decisions (suffered by England and Mexico) in the second round, the controversy was fairly short-lived. There’s always another controversy round the corner, and the hot issue is now Luis Suarez’s deliberate handball in the dying seconds of the Uruguay-Ghana match.

However, I just can’t understand why this is controversial at all.

FIFA’s Laws of the Game are clear on this. From page 32…

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following three offences:
- handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own
penalty area)
A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences is committed by
a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play.

And then, on page 35…

Sending-off offences
A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
- denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity
by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
- denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving
towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a
penalty kick

And that covers every aspect of Suarez’s offence. The deliberate handball, normally punishable by a direct free kick, was in the penalty area, so Ghana were given a penalty. In addition, Suarez prevented a goalscoring attempt, so he was sent off.

The controversy in the press has involved frequent use of the word “cheating”, and that’s where I think it all starts to get a bit hysterical. Cheating is a tricky concept in football, because just about every in-game transgression we can conceive is already covered by the Laws of the Game. To me, “cheating” implies activities outside of play… doctoring urine samples for drug tests, poisoning the opposition’s drinking water, taking a bribe to lose a game. It’s also a very emotive word to use, whereas Suarez simply committed a foul and received the appropriate punishment.

Admittedly, Suarez hasn’t exactly helped his country’s PR efforts by comparing his handball to Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal in 1986. But again, that’s another situation where emotion (and as an Englishman, I assure you I’ve debated this incident from every possible angle!) has taken precedence over the Laws of the Game.

If Maradona hadn’t scored, he would still have been guilty of the same offence… deliberate handball, outside his own penalty area, for which he should have received a yellow card. Of course, he did score, but the fact that the goal stands, and the fact that he didn’t receive a yellow card, are first and foremost errors in REFEREEING. Of course, he could have owned up to his illegally scored goal, but that’s an issue with fair play, not the rules of the game. The same goes for Thierry Henry’s “Hand of Frog” against Ireland. Don’t blame football, blame the player’s attitude, something that can’t be governed by the rules of a game.

In comparison, the Suarez incident is far simpler. There was no issue of good grace… Suarez was caught and his transgression was punished accordingly. Uruguay had to complete the game with ten men and will have to play the semi-final without Suarez’s help. Ghana were given the penalty; it seems cruel that Asamoah Gyan then failed to score, but that’s no fault of Suarez. Perhaps the combined offences should result in a penalty taken without a goalkeeper, or an automatic goal?

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3 Responses to He’s not God, he’s just a naughty boy

  1. Maltjerry says:

    Agreed. Cheating is anything deliberately done outside the rules, I suppose. But there’s a sense of injustice causing the emotive language.

    A penalty goal, mirroring rugby rules seems a good idea, but I can’t see the laws being changed.

    Another rugby rule I’d incorporate is retreating 10 yards when a free kick is given, otherwise advance the free kick.

  2. Andrew_s says:

    I’ve come to your blog a bit late on this one. As others have said there are places where Football could learn from Rugby. The awarding of “penalty goal” could be one. The one I’d like to see football adopt is the Citing Commisioner. This person would have the power after a match, using all the video evidence available, to examine players actions for fair and unfair behaviour. Players could then be cited and banned if their behaviour is found to be in breach of the rules/laws of the game. With a citing commisioner and a liberal use of “ungentlemanly conduct” you could probably stamp out the rolling about histrionics and the clutching of faces which are only attempts to get opponents booked or sent off. Players may know they can con a ref & linesman, but they would also know they couldn’t con someone in the cold light of day, who uses all the best video technology. While this wouldn’t change results, it would certainly change beviours. And that can only be to the good.

  3. adrian says:

    Good points, Andrew. The daft thing is that they already have powers a bit like the Citing Commissioner you mention. A red card (or rather the disciplinary points resulting from it) can be reversed after the fact, or the suspension can be added or increased for a dangerous foul. However, they won’t use this power to reverse yellow cards (which also add to disciplinary points) or to pick up on simulation. FIFA seems to change direction about as quickly as an oil tanker!

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