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Abdalla M. Taryam: As if you wouldn’t do it
May 19, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

In the last few weeks the football world has been bombarded with the word ‘cheat.’ Opinions were being forced on people by coaches, referees, pundits and common fans. He’s a cheat; they are a bunch of cheaters; that’s unsportsmanlike and many more phrases that are too explicit to write.

Of course this argument stemmed from the recent 4-part Clasico series that was far from a ‘classic’ football spectacle that everybody hoped for. We all saw what happened and everybody had their chance in pointing their fingers at the culprits that they deemed “cheats.” The question I would like to raise is what defines cheating in a football game and who decides it?

Cheating has many analogous definitions but the ones that most relate to a game are simply: the act of violating rules deliberately or the act of deception.

During the Barcelona-Real Madrid series, the cheating claims revolved around the Barcelona players’ playacting and the rough tactics of Real Madrid but there is a lot more not talked about.

Many people will agree that trying to deceive the referee to gain an advantage is cheating. An example would be a dive in the penalty box to win a spot kick. Fair enough but what about when the defender actually fouls the attacker and gives away a penalty, is that cheating?

Lets go back to the rules to solve this one. The rules state that if a defender impedes an attacking player during a goal scoring opportunity then the result is an automatic red card and a possible penalty if the incident occurred inside the box. Understandably some fouls may be unplanned but most of the ones that happen on goal scoring opportunities are intentional. Hence we have a deliberate act of violating the rules. Now why would you argue with me if I say that’s cheating?

Both incidents, the dive and the foul, are rule violations that are punishable if the referee sees and judges correctly, so why is one considered cheating and unsportsmanlike and the other is not?

Going back to a famous World Cup incident when Luis Suarez chose to play goalkeeper in the dying moments of a quarterfinal match. Many Ghanaian fans still accuse him of cheating but is clearing the ball with your hand a far cry from pulling a player back from his shirt? With both cases, the handball or the shirt pull, a penalty would be awarded and Gyan would have missed it either way.

Zinedine Zidane ended his career with a vicious head butt yet funnily it was the stricken Materazzi who was labelled a cheat for prompting it.

The consensus on such a topic may be that cheating in football is when the referee does not spot a player or team trying to obtain an unfair advantage. So how about the actions outside the pitch?

During the Clasico games the Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, tried everything in his power to gain an upper hand on his opponent. The 5-0 hammering earlier in the season proved to Jose that simply playing your best would not cut it in front of this terrific Barcelona side. First he scandalously ordered his club to keep the grass long on his pitch to disrupt the fluid passing game of Barcelona. He also mouthed off on refereeing decisions concerning the tough tackles his team brought to the game. Actions that surely would result in an unfair advantage during the games.

When you constantly complain about referees not providing your team a little more leeway to kick lumps out of your opponent, you will eventually end up with a referee who will involuntarily be a little more lenient. Which is exactly what happened in the Copa del Rey Final.  In my opinion, that is a form of cheating far greater than anything that occurs on the pitch.

Of course Jose is not the only manager who is skilled in the art of pressroom tactics but that is an ugly part of the game that is mostly missed by the average fan. Fans are more concerned about Dani Alves exaggerating an injury to get Pepe sent off. ‘He’s a cheat’ they said for influencing the referee but didn’t Mourinho influence the referee before the Copa Final? Didn’t Pepe deserve to be red carded in that match as well? Wasn’t the referee a bit lenient with the Madrid team? The answer is yes. Mind you the Pepe tackle on Alves that got him sent off was knee high with the studs up so whether he rolled around 3 times or danced the Samba, a red card for that is not unthinkable.

Anybody who has ever played any form of sports will know that trash talking, cheap shots and working the referee, will always be part of the game and you can’t possibly label everybody a cheat for it. All of the on-field incidents discussed have appropriate punishments and rewards during the game. If you commit an offence deliberately then expect punishment. If you get away with it then kudos to you. Lets try and keep the cheating tag for the match-fixers and the dopers.
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The author, an engineer by profession and an amateur coach, employs his love of the game to comment on it
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