The Corinthian football club of the nineteenth century, so the story goes, was so staunch in its commitment to the spirit of amateur fair play, that when an own goal was scored by one of their opponents, they would immediately reciprocate the gesture by scoring one of their own. Penalties for them were anathema, missing them deliberately. And they refused to join the Football League or compete in the FA Cup for years because their founding rules stated that players were forbidden to “compete for any challenge cup or prizes of any description.” My, how the times have a-changed…
The fallout from Luis Suarez’s self-styled ‘Hand of God II’, which so cruelly denied Ghana a place in this year’s semi-final, has resulted in much gnashing and wailing in the world’s media and has rightfully or not tainted the perpetrator with the label of ‘cheat’ for the remainder of his career. However, in many respects, it is difficult to truly condemn the rationale behind Suarez’ instinctive reaction. If he had not put his arms in the air, the net would surely have bulged and the resulting Ghanaian celebrations would have provided this World Cup with one of its truly heart-lifting and memorable moments. If the hands had not obstructed the ball’s flight, then Uruguay would not have been left with an adequate amount of time with which to draw themselves level for a second time. What Suarez did was sacrifice his own personal glory for the good of the team by giving them a faint glimmer of hope that their World Cup ambitions would remain intact. The horror that befell Asamoah Gyan, however distressing that may have been, could have been avoided if he had kept his nerve (as he so remarkably did in the shoot-out) and despatched it with his usual aplomb (see childs-play). With that miss, Uruguay remained in the competition and on the balance of play, rightly so. However, distasteful his methods, the ensuing condemnation of Suarez seems to have been slightly overcooked. What would Gerrard have done in such a situation? Or Cannavaro? Or indeed, Gyan? Would the victors be so empathetic to the despair of their opponents?
What is apparent is that there is an expectation that football should somehow position its moral compass above those that we experience in our daily lives. If you have followed this blog in its entirety, you will have perhaps noticed that I believe that although football has the most amazing power to transcend boundaries and cultures, it nevertheless mirrors what we all experience in the day to day. No more, no less. Hence, why such exaltation of the game’s demi-gods has gone so infamously awry in South Africa (see individuals-united).
Can anybody truly say they haven’t broken the rules when they thought they could get away with? People fare-dodge on trains, park on double yellow lines, tell white lies and even claim extravagant expenses on work accounts with almost indiscriminate ease every day. If rules are rules, they are breaking them and if we’re being consistent those very people should also be tarnished with the ‘cheat’ brush. Life is not as morally simple as that; despite what the guardians of the mythological moral highground may tell you. With all its attendant shades of black and white, humanity cannot be defined in such definitive terms.
We all like heroes but we equally all enjoy hissing and spitting at a perceived villain. I can only assume that the public image of Suarez in Montevideo is at an all-time high. So with such apposite opinions, who can truly be held account for the injustice suffered by Ghana last Friday?
All of us, operate and live our lives by sticking and obeying certain laws and rules. If caught bending or breaking these we can all except admonishment and reprimands befitting the ‘crime’ we have been found guilty of committing. If anybody needs to be condemned for their failure to uphold such rules in that fateful game, then it should be the very organisation that enforces how the game is played in the modern era. The referee did nothing wrong per se. He did exactly what FIFA’s rulebook told him to do; he sent off the culprit and awarded a penalty. However, the punishment of a penalty simply does not replicate the certainty of a goal. Therefore, instead of profiting from the situation, Ghana were actually handicapped. This is where FIFA is falling short of its self-appointed role as guardian of fair play.
If the game was fair, the referee in England’s ill-fated match against Germany would have been allowed to change his mind upon seeing the video evidence and start the second-half with the scores level. If the game was fair, Paraguay would have been given another shot at taking their missed penalty against Spain because the Spaniards were encroaching the area; a situation that befell Spain a minute later which led to Xabi Alonso missing a penalty which he had converted seconds before. If the game was fair, the referee in the Brazil vs Ivory Coast match would not have shared a chuckle and a joke with Luis Fabiano after his blatant handball (see sambas-and-tangos) which resulted in a goal. If the game was fair, there’d be no diving. Or waving of imaginary cards. Or pulling of shirts. The game is not fair. But what incontrovertibly is, is the forensic lens of the camera. And if FIFA do not want the game to descend into a litany of perceived injustices and finger-pointing, this World Cup has surely provided the authorities with all the evidence they need to ensure the game continues to flourish.
In an ideal world, the players would take responsibility for their own actions too. How refreshingly audacious would it have been, if the German players had refused to carry on until England were awarded their goal and have the knowledge that they would defeat them regardless of it? Or if Fabiano had admitted to his misdemeanour and had the goal chalked off? Or if Uruguay’s players accepted that the ball crossing the line would have indeed eliminated them from the tournament but safe in the knowledge that they had tried their best? How idyllic an image is that? How Corinthian. How unrealistic…
Suarez’s unsportsmanlike gloating after the match is the truly reprehensible act; not his handball. Here we saw the ugly side of the game. His ungracious remarks (“I made the save of the tournament”) have left a bitter taste and have tainted a Uruguay team that has done so much in the tournament to rid itself of the reputation of purveyors of the game’s ‘dark arts’. Tomorrow, against Holland, they will once again, be cast in the role of pantomime villains. All because of ’The Hand of God II’. Now that really isn’t fair.