Archive for July 3rd, 2010


Ghana Got Screwed

July 3, 2010

Roger, that little devil’s advocate, asked me what I thought of this piece on the Ghana/Uruguay match today, in which there’s a call for an ethicist.

With Uruguay’s advancement through such a weird turn of events confirmed, the debate over whether Suarez was a genius savior or a Thierry Henry-level cheat rages. It’s obvious Suarez used his hands with purpose, but unlike Henry, he was immediately caught and punished and will now miss the semifinal against Holland. However, Ghana is now out of the tournament because of Suarez’s decision to break the rules. Though Ghana did have a golden chance to make Suarez’s efforts irrelevant with that Gyan penalty. Is there a correct moral view of this situation? Or is it just an unbelievable turn of events within a game that should be appreciated for its complexities? Luis Suarez doesn’t care. His team plays on.

This was an amazing bit of football, if I do say. I was watching live and could hardly breathe as events unfolded. Jasper, my four-year-old, seemed worried: “What happened? What happened? What happened?!”

It’s hard to explain these things to a four-year-old when gasping for breath. Since Roger asked, I might as well say what I think. “I don’t know!”

I think Uruguay’s win was total bullshit. Ghana rightly won this game.

Okay, right, rules are rules; but rules that allow cheating of this variety are rules that the game can’t stand. And make no mistake. This was cheating. Let’s trace the logic:

If one subscribes to the rules regulating play, and assumes that rules are mere contingencies, it would appear that Suarez made a very smart and calculated decision. He won the game for Uruguay… or at least, prevented Uruguay’s defeat, thereby creating the conditions that made possible their win.  He did this by using his hands to block the shot from entering the goal. This block is an automatic penalty, resulting in his immediate ejection from this game, as well as his ejection from the next game. Under normal circumstances, this is a stiff penalty. Under these circumstances, it’s clear first that the penalty wasn’t stiff enough, but second, that any response that doesn’t undo what was done — that is to say, that doesn’t grant Uruguay the goal — basically reasserts the contingency of the regulative rules, thereby suggesting that the rules are practically inconsistent.

It would be tempting to see this violation of the no-hands rule as wrong for the reason that it might create hostile play, resulting in a free-for-all in the penalty or the goal box. It introduces the possibility of winning by any means necessary, so long as one is willing to suffer the consequences. One can imagine a state of play where dangerous tackles will be taken strategically. If I were a coach and rules like this were allowed, I’d swell the size of my team by bringing in some decent but not great players — pawns, basically — and having them slide tackle the good players on the other team to take them out. Tonya Harding offers a slightly gruesome parallel. That’s a very bad rule, and so a rule like that ought to be changed.

More importantly, however, is that this is a rule that simply isn’t fair, since its deployment suggests that the no-hands rule isn’t a rule at all. It suggests that the no-hands rule is only contingent, not constitutive, of play. It suggests that it can broken when it suits a person.

What do I mean?

Well, what’s one of the first things you learn about soccer? Here. I’ll answer for you. You learn this:

The game is played on a rectangular grass, or green artificial turffield, with a goal in the centre of each of the short ends. The object of the game is to score by driving the ball into the opposing goal. In general play, the goalkeepers are the only players allowed to touch the ball with their hands or arms, while the field players typically use their feet to kick the ball into position, occasionally using their torso or head to intercept a ball in midair.

That’s right. You learn that what makes this game soccer (or football) is that it is a game played primarily with the foot. Apart from the goalie, all players must use their feet (and any other appendage not resembling a hand). So the rule is this:
No player, apart from the goalie, may use his hands to field the ball.
That’s soccer. Now imagine this game with Suarez’s rule:
No player, apart from the goalie, may use his hands to field the ball; but some players may use their hands when it suits them.
That rule is weird. And it’s not just weird. It’s contradictory. It suggests that one both can and cannot use one’s hands.
My use of the pawns to slide tackle the powerful players above illustrates the practical implication of this contradiction; and should probably help explain why Uruguay’s win was cheating. The Suarez rule’s deployment may result in a dangerous pitch for players, but that isn’t its main problem. It’s main problem is that it is unfair.