Raul’s hand ball goal for Real
Madrid against Leeds United in last week’s European Champions’
League match raises again a dispute over the Laws of the Game that has
plagued international football since its beginnings.
The dispute has persisted because it is rooted in cultural
Northern European countries,
and particularly the United Kingdom, the modern game’s birthplace,
traditionally put a high premium on a physically aggressive style of
play marked by shoulder charges, hard tackling and rugged combat in
Latin American countries have long criticized what they view
as the brutal play of Northern European teams. They regard it as deliberate
destruction of skill and artistry in the game.
Shoulder charges were outlawed in effect long ago, and recent changes in
the Laws and their interpretation have continued to favour the Latin
view. Tackles involving
physical contact now draw heavy sanctions, and crippling or hobbling
tackles have all but disappeared from the game.
The result has been a more free-flowing and entertaining game
in which artistry is given every opportunity for display.
On the other hand, in some
in violating the Laws and getting away with it is admired and
slyness is regarded as another form of artistry in play.
Almost every match is marked by shirt-pulling, concealed fouls
of all sorts, and diving and
dramatic writhing on the ground in pretended agony to draw
free kicks and penalty kicks. Occasionally we even see what Maradona made infamous in
Argentina's World Cup 1986 quarterfinal match against England in
Mexico, a “Hand
of God” goal. In
Northern European countries, these ploys, far from drawing applause, have long been condemned as cheating.
Even so, presumably on the theory that if you can’t beat
them, join them, many Northern European players now themselves
routinely employ these methods, and they now threaten to overwhelm the
approaches to the game—the one depending on relatively unbridled physical aggression that
often hobbled opponents, the other making a virtue of violations of
the Laws of the Game—are contrary to fair play, the overriding
principle governing the game. UEFA
has acted properly in fining and suspending Raul.
Having already moved to curb physically aggressive play, both FIFA and
UEFA must now take immediate action to prevent the elevation of
deliberate violations of the Laws into an acceptable tactic in the
game. Only then will we enjoy at the highest levels of the game
the beautiful football all of us presumably want to see.
UEFA's descent into absurdity
an astonishing turnabout, UEFA's Appeals Board yesterday reversed the
one-match ban and fine its Control and Disciplinary Body had imposed on
Raul for his hand ball goal. The decision is an appalling piece
of illogic and constitutes, in effect, an astounding declaration that
UEFA will not deal with violations of the Laws of the Game, no matter
how outrageous, if offenders successfully conceal them from the
noting that use of the hand to score a goal constitutes a deliberate
violation of the Laws of the Game, the Appeals Board states that
UEFA's regulations authorize post-match disciplinary action if the referee has not
seen grossly unsporting conduct and has therefore been unable to make
a factual decision. But it then construes what constitutes
inability to make a factual decision in an absurdly restrictive manner
and applies the rule of finality for refereeing decisions in a ridiculously expansive fashion.
Since the referee said he had
followed the play and considered Raul's goal scored by a
header, the Appeals Board held he made a factual decision that must
be accepted as final even if wrong.
other words, UEFA will impose discipline for gross unsporting conduct
the referee has missed only if the referee was looking the wrong way
entirely, which is highly unlikely as to offences committed in the
vicinity of the ball. If the offending player's effort at
deception is successful--if he does in fact deceive a watching
referee--UEFA will not impose discipline because the referee's failure
to see the offence is presumed to be a factual decision that there was
none and that factual decision, albeit the product of deliberate
deception, is accorded finality. The reality, of course, is that
the referee made no factual decision because the deception prevented a
upshot is that UEFA has rendered itself powerless to deal
with the most pressing on-the-pitch problem in the game, the epidemic
of violations of the Laws of
the Game accomplished by deception or concealment. Following the
illogic of the Appeals Board's decision, if a watching referee allows
play to continue because he has missed seeing a player deliver a
vicious yet surreptitious blow to an opponent's stomach, he has made a
factual decision that no foul was committed, and UEFA must accept that
decision even if video tape evidence conclusively demonstrates the
blow was delivered. Disciplinary rulings based on this sort of
hair-splitting technicality and contradicting the reality evident to
millions of television viewers themselves bring discredit to the game.
for the referee's decision is required only if the question is whether a goal should be allowed to
stand. Whether a goal has been scored cannot be determined after
the final whistle is blown. Otherwise, when a disputed goal is
decisive, the result of the match would hang in the balance for days and possibly
weeks while deliberative bodies weigh the evidence to determine if the
match must be replayed. But this rule of finality should
not be extended beyond its rationale, and there is no reason it should
control the question of whether a player should be disciplined
for a gross violation of the principle of fair play.
giving post-match immunity to those players who accomplish by sleight what is
forbidden by the Laws, UEFA has done a grave disservice to the
game. UEFA, on reflection, may recognise the bankruptcy of this
ill-conceived decision. Whether or not UEFA does so, FIFA must
move with dispatch to make it plain that players who violate the Laws
by guile are not beyond the reach of those Laws.