World Cup: Uruguay defeats Ghana on Suarez hand ball: cheating or smart soccer?

The World Cup has offered a lot of exciting soccer plus some serious controversy. The most controversial incident came in the quarter-final match between Uruguay and Ghana, in the 120th minute (that is, the last minute of overtime).

Ghana had been awarded a free kick, and the Ghana player unleashed a strike toward the net. The Uruguayan goal keeper leaped and missed the ball. It was the game-winning goal, until…Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez stretched his hands up and slapped the ball away.

Suarez’s action violated Law 12 of soccer’s official rules:

A player is sent off if he …denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

So Suarez was sent off (i.e., kicked out of the game) and Ghana was awarded a penalty kick—an unchallenged kick from twelve yards from the goal. Penalty kicks are converted to goals about three quarters of the time, but Ghana’s star striker, Asamoah Gyan, hit the crossbar with his kick. The game then proceeded to a shootout (alternating penalty kicks by either side), which Uruguay went on to win, 4-2. Ghana was eliminated from the World Cup, while Uruguay goes on to play the Netherlands in Tuesday’s semi-final match, but without Suarez, who was suspended for one game.

Did Suarez cheat? Not according to his coach, Oscar Tabarez::

“Yes he stuck his hand out, but that’s not cheating. I don’t like that word, I don’t think it’s fair. When there’s a handball in the penalty area, there is a red card and the player is sent off. To say we cheated Ghana out of victory is too harsh, we abide by the decisions of the referee.”

Ghana’s coach, Milovan Rajevac declined to condemn Suarez:

“I don’t know what I would tell him (Suarez). In the last minute, there was a penalty but we were unlucky today…All I can say is that’s football”

Suarez broke the rules to give his team a chance to win a game that would have been lost had he not.  Cheating? In golf, breaking the rules to win a match would universally be considered cheating. On the other hand, in American football breaking the rules is part of the game: if a defensive back pushes a receiver to prevent a touchdown pass he’s broken a rule, incurred a penalty, like Suarez, and praised for his act.

Ethics doesn’t provide a clear answer. We can’t label Suarez’s hand ball unethical. We can, however, label it bad for the game (just as the pass interference rule is bad for American football). It’s bad for the game when a team can win by breaking a rule. The soccer rule should be changed:  the penalty for “intentionally denying a goal by deliberately handling the ball” should be a goal awarded to the other team and the offending player sent off. That will remove a major incentive to violate the spirit of soccer and win a game by breaking a rule.

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2 Responses to “World Cup: Uruguay defeats Ghana on Suarez hand ball: cheating or smart soccer?”

  1. oasis Says:

    That’s football.It’s happen in everytime.

  2. World Cup: How to stop the kind of cheating that got undeserving Netherlands to the final « Ethics Bob Says:

    […] duly penalized, but smart. Bad for the game, but not something one could brand as unethical. I proposed a rule change that would eliminate such […]

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