I must admit that I did not see the original incident during which the Uruguyan striker Suarez swatted the ball off the line with his arms in the final minute of extra time in the World Cup Quarter final match against Ghana. It is only now, having seen the incident some 24 hours later that the manifest unfairness of what subsequently happened to Ghana has become clear to me.
True, Ghana was correctly awarded a penalty and Suarez was quite rightly sent off – and if Gyan had scored Ghana would have won. But the question remains: did the punishment really fit the crime? Was not a penalty and sending off too lenient for what was undiudtedly one of the grossest acts of calculated cheating on aninternational football field?
Consider what must have gone through Suarez’s mind in that split second: he must have calculated that the price that had to be paid in order to keep the ball from crossing the goal line at all costs was not so high compared to the potential reward, namely the chance – always a possibility with any penalty kick, but especially so in the last minute of a World Cup quarter final with history beckoning – that Ghana might not score. And his gamble paid off. A sending off, a missed penalty and a place in the semi finals is not a bad return, so his action – given the current rules – is understandable even though totally unethical.
FIFA needs to address the various manifest unfairnesses and injustices and forms of cheating that occur regularly in professional football – from diving, to getting an opponent carded through feigning serious (usually facial) injury, to the debacle of England’s disallowed goal against Germany, and now this egregious deliberate handball – if the sport is to retain any credibility and be worthy of being called a sport.
In this instance there is a very simple solution. Instead of being awarded a penalty kick, Ghana should have been awarded a penalty goal. The price that Suarez would have had to pay would then have been equal to the crime: Urugauy would have been out of the World Cup in addition to his sending off and suspension. Perhaps he might not have cheated in that case.
Let’s be clear, the case for a penalty goal is more easily definable than for rugby’s penalty try, which is notoriously difficult to define and adjudicate, mainly because it is usually awarded for persistent and deliberate collapsing of the scrum near the try line and no-one can really tell what goes on in a scrum. In football a deliberate handling of the ball when it is clearly heading into the goal by any player other than the goalkeeper (obviously) can be seen by anyone in the stadium. South Africa is more known for being a rugby rather than football nation. Perhaps football’s governing body could lift a leaf out of rugby’s rulebook?