Saturday, 3 July 2010
Breaking rules: doing and being
I wasn't going to come back to football. Vain hope! The competition is still on and I watch when I can. But this post is not entirely about football. Football is just the occasion.
As I said earlier in a comment box my affections had been transferred to Ghana for much the same reasons that the affections of many others had. The competition is in Africa, Ghana was the last African team, and they were very good, in fact quite spectacularly good in patches - tough, fresh, full of skill, intelligence and heart while remaining touchingly vulnerable. Yesterday evening they were playing Uruguay
It was a marvellous and dramatic match, now one, now the other side in the ascendancy, the greatest drama coming with the last touch of the match in extra time. Ghana were awarded a dubious free-kick, the ball pinged around the penalty area at very close range and as the ball was about to go over the line, the Uruguay forward, Luis Suarez. handled the ball to keep it out. The ball was coming from close range. He raised his hand (distinctly not the Hand of God) and knocked it away. Suarez was immediately sent off, Ghana were awarded a penalty and that should have been that. It should have been but the leading player on the Ghana side, the admirable Asamoah Gyan, missed it. The ball hit the bar and went over.
So it went to penalties and Gyan, with remarkable courage took the first and scored. But others missed so Uruguay won in the end.
What followed was odd. It was far from the first time in football that an outfield player had handled on the line to prevent a goal. Such incidents are not uncommon and every supporter of every team will recall such occasions. What normally happens is that the player gets sent off, a penalty is awarded and either it is scored or it isn't. Those are the rules. There aren't any other rules.
What followed on this occasion however, was cries of CHEAT! and demands for the goal to be retrospectively awarded. The cheat story ran and is still running this morning.
Suarez can have had less than a second to do what he did. He was behind another player who had instinctively raised his hands. He raised his. He cannot have thought through the consequences because there wasn't time. People break the rules of a game and they are punished for it. Suarez did wrong and was punished.
The terms for breaking a rule in football are committing a foul or committing an infringement. The word cheat is not used because it has moral implications beyond the occasion. It refers not to action but to character.
The point is this. Had Suarez not been South American, had not most people wanted Ghana to win, there would have been nothing of this. If it had been Ashley Cole or Matthew Upson on the line he would not have been called a cheat. If it had been one of the Ghana backs he would not be called a cheat either. But then Suarez is a villainous South American isn't he, a (whisper it) greasy dago. So it is not what he did but what he is that counts. He did not commit a foul. He is a cheat.
We know what the rules are. But we take a normal incident and direct all our hatred at the 'greasy dago' we want to disgrace above and beyond the rules. That is called prejudice.
We know the rules regarding handling on the line. But we want the rules changed just on this occasion so it suits us. That is called cheating.