Sport Soccer

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Rachel Wyse: Suarez handball controversy shows no one wants to live by a higher code of ethics

Rachel Wyse

Mansfield Town and their fans probably felt sorry for themselves this week. Who could blame them? Dreams of an FA Cup run are over. Gone is an opportunity to escape anonymity for those 15 minutes of fame. The annals will ultimately show a third round defeat to the mighty Liverpool.

They will tell of the outcome, but nothing of the story. Don't expect to see a hovering asterisk or a footnote detailing the circumstances of Luis Suarez's winning goal. It won't be there. If you are not affiliated to Mansfield Town, do you really care?

Suarez and his colleagues are professionals, yet do we expect them to adhere to a code of ethics expected of our accountants, lawyers or doctors? Ethics are a cornerstone of every profession, but do we even associate the concept with sports? In an ideal world, match referees or race organisers would be sufficiently competent to ensure ethical calls are not forced upon the competitor. Unfortunately, this is far from an ideal world. Just ask Mansfield Town.

Why is it some sports and their participant's can self regulate in accordance with the rule book? At the very highest level, golfers have consistently displayed an ability to declare a personal foul even when it is unknown to everyone else. Michael Hoey in the 2012 US PGA championship was case in point. He had just shot one of the finest rounds of his career in brutal conditions around the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

His joy turned to despair, though, when he learned he'd inadvertently breached Rule 12-1a after his ball was embedded in sand on the ninth. After brushing away a few grains of sand to identify his ball, he failed to try and recreate the lie as perfectly as possible before playing it.


A breach of this procedure incurs a two-stroke penalty, which should have been added to his score on the hole. Hoey discovered his error later after reading the relevant rule and brought it to the attention of PGA of America rules officials. He knew disqualific-ation was inevitable as he'd already signed for the wrong score at nine.

One of sports greatest acts of sportsmanship was witnessed at Birkdale in 1969, when Jack Nicklaus conceded a putt to Tony Jacklin ensuring the Ryder Cup ended in a tie.

In 2010, Brian Davis gave up the chance of a first US Tour win by handing Jim Furyk victory in a play-off in the Verizon Heritage Championship. Davies called over the rules official to tell him he'd made contact with a reed on his backswing. A two-shot penalty handed Furyk victory.

Even when the consequences are at their greatest, golfers over generations have displayed an honesty of the highest standards that is sadly lacking in many other disciplines. Is this due to the traditions of the game? Respect players have for the game's founding fathers? Respect for the game itself and fellow competitors? The integrity of the individuals who play the game? Whatever the reasons, it is admirable behaviour.

Occasionally, similar levels of ethical behaviour have been witnessed on a football pitch. Fifteen years ago when Robbie Fowler went down in the box in Liverpool's game with Arsenal, the referee awarded a penalty after an apparent trip by 'keeper David Seaman. But Fowler turned to the referee and indicated that it wasn't a penalty, that he'd fallen and hadn't been tripped.

In December 2000, current Swindon boss Paolo Di Canio, then a West Ham striker, opted to catch the ball rather than shoot when Everton 'keeper Paul Gerrard was lying on the ground injured. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and Di Canio was presented with a FIFA Fair Play award.

In 2004, Yeovil striker Lee Johnson attempted to pass the ball back to Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick, while a player was being treated for injury. But the 'keeper was off his line and the ball went in and the goal was given. In response, Yeovil manager Gary Johnson allowed Plymouth striker Steve Crawford to walk the ball into the net to score an immediate equaliser.

Is the sport better off for such acts? Most definitely. However, any expectations that such episodes may become common occurrences are unrealistic. In the history of the game, it has seldom happened.

There is no will among the game's professionals to conform to higher levels of ethical behaviour. Within the game, a deafening silence descended around the Suarez incident, as it similarly did following Thierry Henry's 'basketball' display in Ireland's World Cup play-off match in Paris. The prevailing attitude clearly is that such incidents are acceptable providing 'my' team is not on the end of such an injustice.


Just because it has not happened in the history of the game, would it be wrong to try and shape the future differently? Would it lead to a greater sense of justice? A greater sense of unity on and off the pitch? Heighten respect for the game's professionals when it is at an all-time low?

Football is engaged in an on-going debate about referring decisions and the need to introduce technology as an answer to eliminating controversial game changing moments. Would a change in attitude to ethical responsibilities have a similar effect?

Over the last few days, the controversy that surrounded Suarez owed much to his reputation and past events since his arrival in England. It is unrealistic to blame Suarez when he behaved within the norms of his profession.

Commentaries on such incidents may be better served by altering their focus. If improvements are sought, the issue should not be about individuals, but the standards and expectations of the profession.

Mansfield Town might just agree.

Rachel Wyse can be seen presenting Sky Sports News

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