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Did the punishment fit the Suarez crime?

July 3, 2010


When Uruguay’s Luis Suarez handled the ball in the final seconds of extra-time in the World Cup quarter-final against Ghana, the ball was heading across the line for a dramatic winning goal.

The officials did well to spot the offence in a crowded area at the end of what must have been a tiring encounter to be in charge of. But did the punishment of a penalty and a red card for Suarez really fit the crime?

Of course, if, instead of ballooning the spot kick high, Asamoah Gyan had tucked away the penalty and Ghana had gone through, we probably wouldn’t be debating this.

But it is hard not to be left with the feeling that Suarez and Uruguay have benefited from foul play.

Suarez cannot be blamed for what was an instinctive action — within the current rules. Had the ball crossed the line┬áhis team were out and by handling the ball, he gave his goalkeeper a chance to save the situation. Ghana gained no advantage at all. Instead of a certain goal — they got a shot at the keeper from 11 metres.


As the game was in the final seconds, Suarez’s red card was of no significance to Ghana — in fact it is the Netherlands who will benefit from that sanction with the striker unable to play against them in the semi-final.

So what would have been the right punishment to fit the crime? How about looking at other sports?

In rugby, a foul which directly stops a score is awarded as a ‘penalty try’. In other words, the crime didn’t pay off — the fouler’s team still concede the same amount of points. That seems fair.

In the NFL, ‘pass interference’ in the end zone is punished with a first down at the one-yard line — in other words an almost certain touchdown (certainly four attempts to make one-yard is a lot more certain than one attempt at a penalty in soccer).

In cricket, if you stop the ball hitting your wicket by handling the ball — you are out anyway. In basketball, ‘goaltending’ on a field goal is punished with the award of the points, as if the goal had been made.

Would a fairer rule in soccer not be the awarding of a goal (and a red card) when the ball is deliberately handled in order to stop the ball crossing the line?

That way the defending team gains no profit for the ‘crime’. The expulsion of a player (with no gain in return) would be a deterrent and most importantly, the ‘victim’ of the ‘crime’ suffers no loss — they get their goal anyway.

Or do you think the rule is fine as it stands and that if a team can’t score from a penalty then it is their problem?

One objection I have heard to simply awarding the goal is that there would be no real goalscorer and that it is wrong for a goal to be awarded when the ball hasn’t actually crossed the line. In which case, how about a penalty kick without a goalkeeper in goal?


Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (R) saves the ball with his hands during a 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against Ghana at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg July 2, 2010. Suarez received a red card for handling the ball. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Uruguay’s Sebastian Eguren carries Luis Suarez (top) as they celebrate after the team won a penalty shootout against Ghana in a 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg July 2, 2010. REUTERS/Henry Romero


It was blatant foul play. It was outright cheating, and deserves a harsher punishment, and not just a red card. He probably should face an international ban for few matches, so that he and other players learn a lesson and don’t go on and don’t commit such acts in the future.

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