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Hand of Gaul goal, the gall


 

It appears to be business as usual in Europe: The Irish are never happier than when they are miserable, while the French are hiding their mauvaise foi nationale behind a fog of bureaucratese. Oh, we’d love to replay the game, they say. Except FIFA won’t let us. Les règles sont les règles and and all that.

I’ve written about cheating in soccer before — mostly with respect to diving, or what the Europeans charmingly refer to as “simulation”. There are key differences between diving and a deliberate handball (one is an attempt at drawing a penalty in the absence of a foul, the other at trying to avoid getting called for an actual offence), but both are symptoms of the very serious problem with professional soccer.

I actually think that Henry is being honest when he says that the handball was instinctive, but that’s precisely the problem. All manner of cheating has become second-nature in soccer, to the point where the shame is not in trying to get away with it, but merely in getting caught. Everyone is expected push, tug, dive, poke, swipe, and otherwise do whatever it takes to gain the slightest advantage, while players who eschew these tactics are generally seen as old-fashioned gentlemanly suckers.

Soccer has a culture problem, but at least part of it stems from the incentive structure of the game. Goals are so hard to come by that any behaviour that achieves any advantage at all is seen as fair game.

What can be done about  it? The obvious answer is that the risk/reward calculus needs to be fixed.  One possibility would be to change the game to make it easier to score. Another would be to make the cost of being caught cheating too high. The first solution is probably not on (it would hardly help to make the goals wider) while the second just misses the point: the problem is not that referees aren’t punishing cheaters harshly enough, it is that they aren’t catching them at all.

That’s why, in the uproar since the French “victory”, people are calling for a change to the refereeing system — either bringing in more refs, or adding video replay or other technological aids. That should be done regardless. But that is an indirect way of addressing the  fundamental problem, which is that soccer is a sport that continues to reward and even celebrate dishonourable behaviour.

France should insist that FIFA allow a rematch. And if FIFA refuses, then France should refuse to go to the World Cup.

 

 


 
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Hand of Gaul goal, the gall

  1. I don't believe there is a conspiracy or anything but there is no way FIFA will sanction re-match – France in World Cup is way better audience-wise than Ireland because Les Bleus have world class players.

    One of things I would change is refs call fouls even if player is not knocked over – many refs don't call fouls if the player stays on his feet.

    Top athletes are hyper competitive, they will cheat playing uno with their four year old daughter, and it's one of the main reasons why they are at the top of their profession. No way should we expect players to stop doing all they can to win the match. A couple of Ireland players said they would have done the same thing if situation was reversed.

  2. Throw major dollars at ANY sport – and you tempt this.
    NHL and NFL these days are no better than Wrestling IMO.
    Heck – even cricket – the original sport (that I used to play quite well) that was used to describe the "right spirit of sports"…that wasn't cricket old chap…has become tainted once big business got involved. Accusations of throwing games abound…
    A close relation is director of a major British soccer club – his dad was a director. When the team was promoted to the Premier League (it slipped back down again since) it added 20 million pounds to revenues each season – just from the share of TV revenues…

  3. UEFA officials have bigger worries than a handball now.

    "Around 200 games across nine countries have been implicated in the biggest match-fixing scandal to hit European football, with German police yesterday warning the cases they had so far uncovered were "only the tip of the iceberg".

    Fifteen people were arrested in Germany and two in Switzerland following more than 50 raids across those two countries, Austria and Britain during which cash and property worth more than €1m (£900,000) was seized. At least 200 people, including 32 players, are suspected of being involved.

    None of the affected matches were played in British leagues, or in France, Spain or Italy. Among the games believed to have been manipulated are three Champions League matches and 12 Europa League games, all in this year's early qualifying rounds. A qualifying match for the European Under-21 Championship is also under suspicion." Guardian, Nov 20 '09

  4. This handball incident was a travesty.

    I don't agree with the risk/reward argument though. Most incidents of cheating do not result in goals. It just so happened that this incident was quite successful. However, the reward is generally low, and that is because goals are hard to come by, so cheating usually results in little gain, and it is widespread anyway.

    I think it is a cultural thing. Cheating without getting caught is now considered the right thing by teams and coaches. A long time ago it was considered the wrong thing.

    • This is a better articulation of the cultural aspect of this issue, than the one I offered below. Think of it this way – where is the majority of FIFA's constituency (or at least a really big part of it)? In countries like the ones you describe. That is why we haven't seen change.

      My big hope is that FIFA might one day realize that they will never fully penetrate North America as long as the game's players continue with this behaviour. It simply doesn't sell in North America where we like to see our athletes get pulverized and limp off like men.

  5. forget the handball. with nothing to lose he wouldn't have been playing if he didn't try it.

    it's the offside that wasn't called that spooked me.

  6. Andrew, I think you're way off here.

    Let's carry your conlcusion (that France should not attend SA) to its conclusion. Should England give back the 1966 World Cup? Should Canada demand that the 1972 Summit Series be replayed because Clark intentionally hurt Russias best player? Should the KC Royals give back the 1985 World Series? Seriously – Henry unintentionally handled the ball, didn't hear a whistle and kept playing. Just like everyone else does in every sport. Certainly Damien Duff would have done the same thing.

    With respect to cheating, there is a larger problem I think. What those of us with North American sporting sensibilities view as "cheating", don't share a perspective with some other cultures (e.g. Latin and South America). There are genuine cultural and language issues here that aren't so easily bridged. Were we to all agree, the solution wouldn't be that hard – just define cheating (e.g. diving) and impose draconian penalties on the guilty (e.g. Eduardo could have been suspended for 10 games for his Champions League dive – over the top? Yes. But, the players would figure things out pretty quickly).

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