The Rational Ref

Game marred by culture of denial

Whether it be a referee, player, manager, official or politician, refusing to admit one has been wrong is pervasive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 10:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 11:29pm

For all its exquisite entertainment, excitement and excellence, the World Cup has also shown some ugly facets of the beautiful game. The cause arises from a culture of denial that has spread malignantly throughout the game where most of the stakeholders, including as referees and Fifa executive members, are incapable of accepting the facts and telling the whole truth.

The ultimate manifestation of this is the fallout over Luis Suarez's
Jaws moment on Giorgio Chiellini. Fifa's disciplinary committee took decisive action based on video evidence and yet those loyal to Suarez dismissed the charges and defended him to the hilt. They included Argentine Diego Maradona, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, captain Diego Lugano and even their president Jose Mujica.

"This gang [Fifa and the English media] will not forgive Suarez because he never went to university. He isn't educated, he grew up on the field, he is a natural rebel and expresses his anger naturally," said Mujica.

"We have seen all the games and this is the most indignant punishment. Here they add everything together, but the boy really shouldn't be blamed. It's a match and these things happen. There's no need to look into every incident because if we did that in each game we'd be playing five-a-side."

On the contrary, the modern way is to scrutinise every incident that occurs before, during and after a match. This is especially true of losing teams who will stop at nothing to find any excuse, even outlandish conspiracy theories, to explain away their loss. Accepting personal responsibility is the ultimate denial.

Even the victim Chiellini supported his attacker by saying Suarez's punishment - a four-month ban and a fine of 100,000 Swiss francs (HK$866,500) - was "too harsh". This has shades of Stockholm syndrome, where the victim develops an emotional bond with their abuser.

The irony is Suarez later apologised - although rather than being morally motivated to do so he was apparently coerced in return for a mega-transfer move - and in that moment made his loyal supporters fall on their own swords.

Suarez, a hero to many misguided people, will feel not one shred of remorse for his behaviour because the 27-year-old's career is still on the ascent.

Deniers in soccer are everywhere. Russia manager Fabio Capello claimed a green laser shone into the eyes of his goalkeeper before his team conceded a goal was the reason they were eliminated at the group stage. Never mind that his team played poorly.

Mexico coach Miguel Herrera blamed the referee's performance because one decision - a last-minute penalty - did not go in his favour as they crashed out against the Netherlands. "Today, it was the man with the whistle who eliminated us from the World Cup," said Herrera, who conveniently forgot the referee failed to award a penalty to the Dutch in the first half.

Franz Beckenbauer, having received a worldwide ban from all soccer-related activities, denied he was unwilling to help independent investigator Michael Garcia in his ethics probe of Fifa. Bizarrely, Beckenbauer and Suarez, having been forced to publicly backtrack on their denials, believe they are morally sound and arrogantly assumed their punishments would be instantly lifted or reduced. But in Beckenbaur's case his 90-day ban from all football-related activity was lifted a day after Suraez's was imposed.

This culture of denial has been repeatedly reinforced in the modern era because players and coaches have been encouraged to vociferously complain when decisions go against them. Even when it is blatantly obvious that a player has tripped an opponent, the guilty party wags his finger at the referee saying, "no foul". Like an arms race, is it any wonder that referees defend themselves using denial tactics, too?

Fifa referees chief Massimo Bussaca defended Yuichi Nishimura, denying the fact that the crucial penalty decision awarded to hosts Brazil in the opening match was incorrect. Bussaca's action in not awarding any further appointments to the Japanese referee reveals what he truly thinks.

Fifa does little to protect and uphold good morals and sportsmanship, especially when its own executive members are under suspicion of foul play.

Article 57 of Fifa's disciplinary code states that any player "who violates the principles of fair play or whose behaviour is unsporting in any other way may be subject to sanctions".

Considering the controversies - biting, head butting, diving, fracturing vertebrae and surrounding referees - by definition many in the game are guilty of unsporting behaviour.

Even Colombian Juan Zuniga, who kneed Neymar in his back, denied any wrongdoing. "It was a normal move. I never meant to hurt a player. I was on the field, playing for the shirt from my country, not with the intent to injure. I was just defending my shirt."

Although referees do their best to discipline players while simultaneously being instructed to let the game flow, off the pitch Fifa should take retrospective action on those who fail to uphold the spirit of fair play.

So for Fifa to take retrospective action on Suarez's challenge and then refusing to act on Zuniga smacks of incompetence and denial.

The fact that there were 54 fouls in the ugly Brazil-Colombia quarter-final, with 31 unfair challenges committed by Brazil, and the referee only awarding four cautions is a massive hint that referees have been told to be "card shy".

In 60 games, 168 yellow cards have been issued, an average of 2.8 per match. In contrast, there was an average of 3.8 per match in 2010, and 4.8 in 2006.

Fifa's spokesman Walter de Gregorio responded defensively by denying this fact, too.

"There is a story ... that there is a secret plan from Fifa telling the referees not to sanction with yellow or red cards to have more entertainment or television shares," he said. "In other words, that Fifa is risking and tolerating that players like Neymar and others are injured. This is just unacceptable."

One lesson we must learn is that actions speak so much louder than words because listening to the official rhetoric from players, coaches, the referees chief and Fifa's spokespeople shows soccer to be in a state of total denial.

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