Two recent cases that challenge the ethics of football’s sporting integrity that have made it into the spotlight, with Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland in a playoff for a place in the World Cup but also Luis Suarez’s handball in the 2010 World cup Quarter final which resulted in a Ghana exit with the semi-finals at stake.
Of course, there is a difference between the two cases yet so many similarities. Whilst both cases broke the law, Henry was not punished, yet both were not publicly shamed. They faced damaging their reputations, although the irony for Suarez is he further performed misconduct with a series of biting’s, so it was perhaps clear that reputation was not something Suarez was ashamed of diminishing. Both cases are incidents of clear cheating, but neither did “cross the line” in the respective outcomes.
This begs the question whether cheating alone is punished enough in order to warrant further misconduct in the future, because if sportsmen/women can get away with cheating and still cross the line with a positive outcome, do the fair play rules still need to be in place? The Suarez handball during the 2010 is a prime example of this and one where a negative outcome individually actually turned out to be a positive outcome for his nation Uruguay, in progressing to the semi-finals of the World cup. Suarez did and was rightly punished by receiving red by clearing the ball off the line using his hands. This complies with IFAB’s Law 12 concerning ‘Fouls and Misconduct’.
But as a result of that Ghana, who would have scored a clear goal and one of huge significance, missed the resulting penalty and end up getting knocked out after extra time of penalties. Suarez knew what he was doing, he was happy to take the punishment in return for Uruguay having a second bite at the cherry. The issue there lies with the law there because it allows the line to be crossed whilst not really punishing the misconduct to full effect.
There are several grey areas within sport, particularly within the fair play rules, “gamesmanship” and cheating. If there is a grey area between gamesmanship and fair play, then the one between gamesmanship and cheating is a minefield. Cheating isn’t ethically correct, but at the same time as part of human nature, we look to gain an advantage illegally or legally. Ideally in a utopian world there would no cheating and everyone upholds values of moral acceptability, but we don’t live in this type of world. It is more important than ever to establish tougher boundaries, to make the line clearer for those who wish to breach it, and to set out what the consequences will be if they go too far.