One key incident that springs to mind was during the infamous clash between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2004. The most controversial point of the game was the dubious penalty that was awarded for Wayne Rooney despite Sol Campbell seemingly making little if any contact at all. Manchester United went on to win 2-0 and bring to an end Arsenal’s incredible run of 49 games unbeaten. It would be a knock-on effect for the form of Arsenal as they would finish 2nd to Chelsea despite being league leaders before the game.
“I would prefer even to fail with honour than to win by cheating.” – Sophocles
A wise quote from a great Greek tragedian reverberates the importance of gamesmanship and honesty within sport whilst also demonstrating that the majority of people who participate in sport would much prefer to lose knowing they’ve given their best, rather than take the route of cheating in order to win. It is about the beliefs of the individual and how highly they value fair play and equal opportunity within the sport. When we talk about crossing the line when participating in sport there is a real indistinct cloud over the difference between cheating and what we call gamesmanship. Gamesmanship can be defined as bending the rules and using doubtful tactics in order to gain an advantage, whereas cheating is full of intentional actions that result in the breaking of rules.
Whether you’d call them positives or not is personal value but when it comes to gamesmanship, that will to win and to push it to the absolute boundaries in order to achieve the result you want without necessarily breaking the rules could be considered that way. The Rooney incident can be considered both sides of the coin as he has ‘done what needed to be done’ in order for his team to get the win although did he dive and therefore break the rules in order to win.
According to Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct in the FA rulebook, under the ‘cautions for unsporting behaviour’ it reads, “attempts to deceive the referee e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)”.
From a neutral perspective, you have to question whether the contact Rooney received was enough for him to be brought down or was it an attempt to deceive the referee. We have to ask the question of what classes as ‘enough’ contact? The negative to seeing this increasingly happening now in football is that the youth of today look up to these players as role models and try to emulate what they do, are we now going to be seeing the future generations of footballers carrying out these acts?
What I propose is that goal-line officials be employed at every game or as many as possible as well as having VAR too. The figures for simulation have been on the increase which is part of the reason why VAR was introduced fully in 2016. There will be many ideas for solutions to the problem although sometimes human nature needs to be relied on, you’ve got to hope that honour and honesty will pull through and that when a poor decision is made, that the player may own up to it and correct it.