Thursday, 10 January 2013

Deliberate handball or not, cheating is wrong

Regular readers will appreciate that perhaps two or three times a year I stray 'off piste', as it were, with the content of my blog. Forgive me, this is one such occasion - and once again football is responsible. This time, though, it raises a question that dovetails with many other themes aired on this blog.

On the back of the latest controversy involving Luis Suarez, I want to ask: what sort of society do we inhabit when the actions of the Liverpool player are lauded as professional?

I refer, of course, to the striker's handball in last Sunday's FA Cup Third Round tie against Mansfield Town. Suarez took a fine pass from Stewart Downing in his stride and shot on goal, only for his shot to be blocked by a Mansfield defender. However, Suarez never gives up and kept running - so much so that the rebound came his way. Into his right hand's way, that is. Having controlled the ball with his hand, it fell kindly in his path, enabling the player to smash the ball into the bet.

Deliberate or not?

Was it deliberate? It seems that the match officials thought not. They felt that this was a case of accidental handball, of ball to hand rather than hand to ball. Suarez's goal stood, and Liverpool went 2-0 up. They went on to win the tie 2-1 despite valiant efforts by their non-league opponents.

After the match there was plenty of condemnation of Suarez. But leaving aside what only Suarez can know (whether his action was deliberate or not), I found the verdict of a number of seasoned former footballers extraordinary. The majority suggested that Suarez had no obligation to own up to having cheated – if, indeed, that is what he did. Their view was that as a 'professional', Suarez was duty-bound to do the best for his team, so that even if he had cheated his duty was to keep quiet - to get away with it if he could

This brings to mind the 'professional foul' in football, that which is cynically inflicted but which everyone who watches the game seems to accept is a natural part of its fabric.

For football, read the professions

Why should it be? Why should we allow the so-called 'Beautiful Game' to have ugliness at its heart? And what does it mean for society when the country's most popular game either blatantly, at worst, or tacitly, at best, condones cheating?

There is a parallel here with professionalism in other walks of life, notably law and politics. Too often, we appear to turn a blind eye to breaches of ethical codes and rules. It seems that we only object when something is outrageously bad - or when a journalist exposes the truth. As in football, it is almost as if we expect a degree of cheating. This cannot be right. For football as much as the professional sector, the highest standards of fair play and ethical rigour should prevail.

I appreciate that there will be other equally legitimate views on this vexed topic, and would welcome hearing these, as well of course as any more supportive views.