Friday, August 24, 2012

Should We Punish the Undeserving?

So for today, take a look at the NYT article, "Soccer Punishment That Is Undeserved."

It details the return of David Villa, and his return from a broken leg last December. In doing so however, Rob Hughes, reporting for the NYT, takes a somewhat circuitous route through the referee José Luis González, and FIFA.

He describes the incident from the recent Barcelona and Real Sociedad match where, Villa scored, removed his jersey, and displayed a touching sentiment to his family with their picture, and the words "Impossible Without You", clearly referring to his time recuperating from injury.

Villa wanted to make that statement, and knew that González would caution him for it as required by FIFA under Law 4, IBD 1, which states in whole:

Decision 1
Players must not reveal undergarments showing slogans or advertising. The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements. A player removing his jersey or shirt to reveal slogans or advertising will be sanctioned by the competition organiser. The team of a player whose basic compulsory equipment has political, religious or personal slogans or statements will be sanctioned by the competition organiser
(sic) or by FIFA.

Clear enough, as is FIFA's stance that such offenses will be cautioned by the referee. This is not a suprise to anyone, FIFA, Villa, González, me, or Hughes, who clearly does not call for blaming the referee, but FIFA. His comment, I found rang of some truth:

"It all smacks of a game ruled by people who never played, or forgot how it felt to do so."

Now, for those who read me here, you know I'm not a fan of zero tolerance anything. I do feel for FIFA on this one however as without the very tough stance on this topic, I think it could run away from them significantly. I can see it now, a FIFA blue ribbon panel who has to meet every Monday to decipher what was shown on various T-Shirts around the globe.

Yes I am being a little silly, but there may be some reality in there. It is easier to ban it outright than clean up the mess after. Now there was another part that was interesting to me on another level. From the article:

"Villa, now age 30, could miss a vital game later this season if he receives another yellow card."

Hmmm ... this works on (2) levels. First is that FIFA would be absurd if they held Villa to task for such a gesture. Understanding what it was about ... and who wouldn't, FIFA should see fit to waive any such possible punishment understanding the extraordinary nature of the comment Villa was making. If FIFA does not, shame on FIFA.

On another level, remember those speculative cautions we were talking about earlier in "Should We Punish the Innocent?" Now we see that such speculative cautions can have such an impact (not that this one was ... it was an earned caution) are we as referees willing to guess at what may or may not have been a dive, and book a player for their acting?

I am still very unsure about that, and don't believe referees should guess given the dire consequences players can face if we as referees get it wrong.

That said, I think FIFA, or the relevant competition authority should have the ability to correct such decisions  after the fact (e.g. waive the caution to make a player eligible, or in the alternative, add points if a player dove), and take consideration of incidents such as Villa's where the caution was required, but the man should suffer no other ill effects from such a warranted emotional display.

In that way, as referees are asked to "feel the game", so to should the competition authorities, and on that point I am in Mr. Hughes corner that many on such disciplinary committees have no sense at all what Feeling The Game is all about.

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