Luis Suarez, Or Why Football And Morals Don’t Mix

25 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   July 3, 2010  |     12

It was the perfect storm at the end of the perfect match. This morning, though, moral outrage is brewing. With one movement of his hands, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez has ignited yet another “debate” at this year’s World Cup finals. There is, however, one small problem – there isn’t really any “debate” to be had. There was no failure on the part of the laws of the game in this match, though. The failure was on the part of Asamoah Gyan, who blasted the resulting penalty kick against the crossbar and over. Had he scored, ninety per cent of the debate that is being had this morning would not be taking place. However, when an incident like this occurs, there are plenty of people willing to fill the moral vacuum. Whether moral absolutes have a place in a game for that has been all about the winning for longer than anyone on the planet has lived, though, is something of a moot point, to say the least.

It may surprise some of our younger readers, but even deliberate handball on the goal line hasn’t always been an automatic red card offence. Deliberate handball was lumped in with other “professional fouls” (which FIFA now call “denying an opponent a clear goal-scoring opportunity) and, as such, was only usually punished with a caution. An incident in the 1980 FA Cup Final, however, during which Arsenal’s Willie Young hauled down West Ham United’s Paul Allen when Allen was through on goal, ignited a debate over whether punishments fitted the crimes committed during football matches. The Football League issued an edict to referees before the start of the 1982/83 season that such “professional fouls” should merit automatic dismissal. This edict didn’t become enshrined in FIFA law until just prior to the 1990 World Cup finals.

Prior to this, deliberate handballs on the goal-line were a not uncommon event. During the 1981 League Cup Final between Liverpool and West Ham United, Terry McDermott dived across the Liverpool goal and saved a shot with such elasticity that it is difficult to wonder why he wasn’t playing in goal for Liverpool rather than Ray Clemence. Ray Stewart scored the resulting penalty and the match ended in a 1-1 draw, but McDermott stayed on the pitch. Liverpool won the replay, but might West Ham United have won the League Cup if Liverpool had been reduced to ten men? Possibly, but they were the rules at the time.

Turning to last night’s incident, what is clear that an unfortunate series of events came to pass and that the result was an undesirable one is not in question. However, to suggest (as some have) that the laws of the game need to be changed because of what happened last night is quite nonsensical. The failure in this incident was on the part of Asamoah Gyan, rather than the referee or the laws of the game. Had Gyan scored, we probably would not be discussing it now. It is also something of a straw man to suggest that Suarez’s handball was what knocked Ghana out of the World Cup. It was Ghana’s subsequent penalty shoot-out failure (and kudos, for the record, to Gyan for stepping up to take their first kick in that shoot-out) that knocked Ghana out of the World Cup. Uruguay even missed one of their penalty kicks.

None of this particularly excuses Luis Suarez’s actions, and his joining in the celebrations at the end of the match certainly stuck in the craw. It was an act of so little humility that the team that may be the only “underdogs” in the semi-finals will, for many neutrals, have become impossible to show any support for.  However, the rules on such incidents are very clear – a red card and a one match ban for the offence. It matters not a jot that this was the last minute of extra-time or that Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Suarez will miss the semi-final match against the Netherlands – Uruguay’s biggest match for sixty years, let us not forget – and the team will be the poorer for him not being part of it. The punishment is there, laid out in front of us, but for some people this somehow doesn’t seem to be “enough”. There have already been calls for him to be banned from the final as well, but what would be the basis for this? Should Suarez be banned as retribution on behalf of Ghana? Because Sepp Blatter might have really liked an African team in the semi-finals of the World Cup?

It is easy to simply decribe Luis Suarez as a “dirty, Uruguayan cheat”, say that FIFA should throw the book at him and leave it at that, but ultimately he is a professional footballer and people getting mixed up in the moral maze of his behaviour seem to be lacking perspective on the subject. We could argue long and hard over whether it was an instinctive action or the extent to which premeditation is possible under such circumstances, but that such behaviour still elicits moral outrage retains a degree of surprise. Cheating and breaking the rules of the game (and there is a subtle distinction between the two) are as old as the game itself, and one doesn’t have to support the actions of Suarez to understand that, in football, these things happen and that they are part and parcel of the game. It may even be part of the appeal of the game, that human frailty (physical, psychological and moral) plays such a part in it. Those bringing up the notion of changing the laws of the game should be careful of what they wish for.

What happened last night was horrible for Ghana, and their anger is entirely understandable. It’s a tiny crumb of comfort on a day during which it must feel as if the sky has fallen in, but their team will be remembered as being amongst of the heroes of this World Cup. On the other hand, Uruguay’s name is tainted, the miscreant concerned will miss the biggest match of his career and the team will be the poorer for his absence. That is enough of a punishment, and calls for anything more than this do not make any rational sense. They are an emotional reaction to a series of events that have provoked an emotional response. However, those searching for moral absolutes and for right to triumph by default in the world of football are likely to remain almost perpetually disappointed.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • July 3, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Wen Ying

    i don’t agree suarez will miss a big match of his career and it is not punishment for him . IF he didn’t handle the ball, there was no way to reach semi. if they didn’t reach semi, no way to play against Holland… it’s too simple. Suarez let his career down for protecting his nation. thumbs up for him. what if he joined his team for celebration? it doesn’t mean anything. he was just simply happy that his team reached semi many years later. he can celebrate . that’s it. think simply. thank you .

  • July 3, 2010 at 11:11 am


    I thought it was cynical and deliberate, rather than instinctive, and borne out of passion for his team. The rules are simple and whilst i hope Uruguay now get beaten in the semi final in a sense of cosmic justice, if they reach the final he should be back, pure and simple. Its not going to change things for Ghana now is it.

    The bit i am furious about is him being back on the pitch celebrating. Rule 12 should not just be “the field of play” in my opinion, it should be as per officials/managers etc and be “the field of play and its immediate surroundings”. He should have been sat in a dressing room, on his own, whilst his teammates celebrated their win out on the pitch.

  • July 3, 2010 at 11:19 am


    But let us not forget: – As can be seen here, both the Ghanian players who got shots at the goal leading up to the incident were offside.

    So this seems to me a good case of justice done.

  • July 3, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Michael Wood

    Magna Carte dictates (and I think we should all agree that Magna Carte is a good place to start talking about laws) that a person should have “due process” which is to say they are only punished on the basis of the crimes and tariffs in place when they committed the act in question.

    This is a good thing and stops crimes being invented and people being retroactively found guilty of them – a sign of dictatorship according to Amnesty.

    So it is only right that Suarez is banned for the single game after his red card. However the nature of the offence sticks in the craw for us all – it was so manifestly unfair – that we have strong feelings.

    My feeling is that Uruguay – like Argentina – have not proved that they can beat Ghana (or Mexico) fair and squad and thus could never be considered to be great champions in the way that – say Ali is in Boxing.

    Perhaps to show their opinion on this pressure should not be brought to FIFA to change the rules (especially not retroactively) but on the Uruguay FA to suspend Suarez, to send him home, to say that they will not stand for his cheating and do not want him involved in the team that represents the nation.

    If they will not then it speaks volumes about them – players are sent home for swearing at the manager but not for perverting the course of a game – and their worthiness to hold the status of World Cup semi-finalists.

  • July 3, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Michael Wood

    Cheating and breaking the rules of the game (and there is a subtle distinction between the two)

    I’m not sure there is a distinction in the action, just in the mechanics of the reaction. There were no rules to govern how to treat players who simulated when the game’s Laws were drawn up nor was there for much of the game’s history. Diving was just considered to be cheating.

    However a set of laws around diving emerged and punishments were written into the laws of the game to tell Referees how to react to this cheating but in doing that they did not licence the action, just specify the punishment for that action.

    FIFA has laws about what to do in the case of one player of eleven failing a drug test (one player not thought to be able to effect the result, two or more and the situation is treated different) but that does not mean that because it has a structure to govern this that we should not consider a team sending out a player on performance enhancing drugs to be cheating.

  • July 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    algeria da best

    Egon, I dont agree with you about that ‘offside’. If you watch closely, the ball was shot after the man ran, it was not offside. Uruguay went through by cheating. Suarez’s hand ball was on purpose if he didnt touch the ball it would have meant his team would be out of the World Cup. He had no right to celebrate on the pitch after being sent off! He now has thousands of Africans against him. I’m glad he wont play the next match and it will make his team weaker and hopefully they’ll loose against Holland who deserve the Final. If they had won fair and square, I would have congratulated them. But now, I wish them the worst of luck because of that bloody hand ball which wrecked the whole of Africa!

  • July 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Egon – this shows it better. Surely this is offside.

  • July 3, 2010 at 6:09 pm


    Ghana cheated to get the free kick which created the incident, there were offside – so cheating Ghana is out, bye, bye.

  • July 3, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    algeria da best

    Actually, SUAREZ cheated! Not Ghana, offside is not cheating! And it was gonna be scored if Suarez didnt save it. I wonder why he wasent the goal keeper in the first round! Ghana deserved to win. Africans are always unlucky. But watch out for Africa in 2014!

  • July 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Albert Ross

    In a lot of ways I feel that Ian has it about right here. Was what Suarez did cheating and distasteful? Yes. At the same time it was perfectly understandable for a professional player – had he not done it, his side would be out of the World Cup, raise his hands and they still have a chance. It was in that sense a calculated risk. Had the unfortunate Gyan (who for my money was overall Ghana’s best player) put the ball in the net no-one would be talking about Suarez’s touch of professional gamesmanship.

    Similarly, what can be done to change the laws to address this? All that realistically could be done further is to follow Stu’s suggestion and insist that a player dismissed be forced to proceed to the dressing room – which sounds reasonable given that for example a coach or manager can be dismissed from the dugout. Even then it would not stop Suarez celebrating – just make it more private.

    Without getting too deep into philosophy, the moral argument here is one that is far from straightforward. What Moral absolutes are there? Has Suarez killed someone, inflicted violence? No, he’s put his hands in front of a football. Also, let’s not kid ourselves – had the nation and player involved been our own particular one of choice, in the same situation would we be condemning their actions and saying that we’d have preferred to have departed the World Cup with honour rather than have played in the Semi-Final and even had a chance of becoming World Champions? Did Scots feel the need to atone to the Welsh for Joe Jordan’s handball all those years ago, or did they just get on with being excited about Ally’s Army going to Argentina?

  • July 4, 2010 at 4:38 am

    Tim Vickerman

    Just throwing this one out there: is Abel Xavier a cheat?

  • July 4, 2010 at 8:59 pm


    (sigh)… We play and watch sports because it’s fun. When there is blatant cheating, it’s no longer fun. Players will always try to get an advantage; it’s happened before Mr. Suarez came on the scene, and it will happen again.

    However, today it is possible to catch the worst offenders. In my opinion, the solution is simple (and it isn’t new, go ask the NBA or the NFL).

    Do not change any of the rules of the game. The governing bodies should video review all games immediately after. Dish out reds and yellows liberally for diving, jersey-tugging, shoving, and yes, handballs too. Blatant cheats should face multi-game and season suspensions.

    Cheating will stop quickly. Very quickly. The sport will be the better for it.

  • July 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    “The Luis Suarez Judgement: One Game Only” and related posts : Web Logs

    […] Luis Suarez, Or Why Football And Morals Don't Mix – Twohundredpercent […]

  • July 4, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    algeria da best

    awesome comment Sunil! It wld be the perfect football with no cheating!

  • July 5, 2010 at 2:01 am

    captain swing

    Suarez didn’t cheat, he committed a foul and was sent off for it. Maybe if he had handled the ball and got away with it it could be called “cheating”.

    By the way, in the 1966 World Cup semi-final England 2 Portugal 1, Jack Charlton flew across the front of the goal like a goalie to handle a ball that was heading for the back of the net.

    He didn’t even get sent off for it, Portugal just got a penalty which was converted for their goal.

  • July 5, 2010 at 4:17 am

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  • July 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Tim Vickerman

    Euro 2000 semi final, Portugal 1-1 France, 117 minutes on the clock. France attack, Baia is beaten, French forward (possibly Trezeguet) fires in a goalbound shot from a narrow angle, Abel Xavier, standing on the line, sticks his arm out then collapses to the floor pretending to be injured.

    But the referee spots it, awards a penalty and shows the red card to Xavier. France win, nobody declares Xavier a cheat despite the fact he clearly attempted to con the ref. I seem to recall Portugal disputed the decision furiously and continued haranguing the officials well after the final whistle, resulting in long bans for two or three players.

    The difference? Apart from the blatant attempt to con the referee and disgraceful conduct of the Portuguese, it seems Luis Suarez had the fortune to see Gyan miss the penalty whereas Zidane scored and put France in the final. However, Suarez being around the team celebrating and subsequent boasting to the media doesn’t help his cause much…

  • July 5, 2010 at 10:23 am


    I cannot believe people are saying there is no need to change the laws) of the game in such situations?
    Why not?

    If I could transfer any one law from Rugby Union to football it would be the quivalent of the “penalty try”.
    In rugby if you deliveraltey try to stop the opposition from scoring in a way that is against the laws of the game the referee can award a penalty try.

    The same should be in football. A deliverte handball on the line or other such “denying a goal-scoring opportunity” should simply be dealt with by awarding a goal.
    No one then has the chance to miss a penalty – simply a goal is given without any further delay to the game. Have it so the man also gets sent off and I bet you will soon see the goalline handball end.

  • July 5, 2010 at 11:42 am


    I agree with Jertzee above. Why not award a penalty goal where “a player illegally interferes with the flight of the ball when it is otherwise inevitably heading into his goal”. This would essentially just cover handballs on the line, and might cover other bizarre circumstances (a player throwing his boot at the ball perhaps… ))

  • July 5, 2010 at 11:46 am


    Just to be clear – I’m not suggesting that penalty goals are awarded, say, where a player is brought down in the box, even if it prevents a shot an open goal form within the 6 yard box, as there is always room for error. The clause would come in for infringements on the moving ball only, when it is within a position that would otherwise definitely result in a goal.

  • July 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Michael Wood

    @Jertzee and Cuccir.

    “The same should be in football. A deliverte handball on the line or other such “denying a goal-scoring opportunity” should simply be dealt with by awarding a goal.”

    How about the Referee were to award a penalty in which the goalkeeper also had to leave the box – ie it was unopposed – which keeps the rule framework the same but more or less gives a goal.

    @Capt Swing

    Just because there are rules to cope with cheating does not mean that the act is not cheating. When teams bribe Referees they are punished under the rules but no one would ever suggest they were tactically using resources to get results.

    The difference between Suarez and most offences is that most of the time in football the punishment goes some way to redress the balance – if a player is sent off then the team has to play one down, if a man is fouled just inside the box then the chance to score a penalty is a good redress – but because the ball was going in and the game was over the red card was worthless to Ghana and the chance to maybe score was not as good as the actual goal they would have had.

    So the punishment was less than the crime. If Ghana has refused to take the penalties after the game on the grounds that the rules had given a benefit to the offending team then few could have blamed them. The game had – at that point – broken down as a remit and reward system Uruguay had undue reward without merit.

    It was a bad situation and one which the laws of football have no answer for.

    However it has to be said that a more switched on Referee would have taken a note out of the Manuel Neuer school of “deciding where the line is” and just given a goal.

    Few would have had much truck with Uruguay’s moaning that they should have been allowed to cheat instead, and Ghana would have progressed.

  • July 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm


    I see there is a completely confusion here. During any match (ANY MATCH) there are several kind of moves and plays that are against the regulations. You can have a yellow or red card, or just a “talk” with the referee.

    This is football and not a dolls playing.

    The only problem is that this happen in the last seconds of the match. And that Ganhan missed the penalty and thereafter missed the game. Otherwise, no noice, no so much talking, and above all, nobody would be talking of cheating.

    IMHO, I bet that nay “real” football player, would agree that Suarez just have done, what any other soccer player would tried to do. Suarez had the chance… and Ghana, had not. This is a game, somebody win, somebody, lose.

    And you should contniue drinking your beer instead of writing non-sense. Or even better, take a time to “play” foot-ball instead of just watching it in tv.

  • July 5, 2010 at 8:04 pm


    “The difference between Suarez and most offences is that most of the time in football the punishment goes some way to redress the balance ”

    Exactly. A handball in the box, denying a goal scoring opportunity, and a penalty is a fair recompense. However in this case it wasnt a goal scoring opportunity, it was a clear goal. In the last kick of the game. Which would have completely changed the outcome of the game. In a quarter final of the world cup. The only “fair” recompense is a goal, not a penalty.

    Excellent point on the creative refereeing!

  • July 6, 2010 at 1:36 am


    I think Ian’s post was on the tenuous relationship between morality and football and an unrepentant Luis Suarez has helped shred this link down to maybe the last molecule or two.

    We may debate what he did, what he should have done, and what he didn’t do, but I’m not interested in Mr. Suarez’ mental process, nor the historical injustices used by some of you lot to justify his actions.

    As Ian pointed out about changing the rules, those howling for blood should be careful what they wish for. I agree with him: don’t change anything.

    One of the strengths of soccer has been its refusal to significantly change with the times. There have been some minor tweaks here & there, but nothing the greats from yesteryear would not catch quickly if they stepped on a field today.

    Leave the game alone. What happens, happens. But something can be done immediately after. Video replay every game & punish the perps with stiff penalties. Do the crime, do the time.

  • July 6, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Michael Wood

    @Glossema who says “IMHO, I bet that nay “real” football player, would agree that Suarez just have done, what any other soccer player would tried to do”

    Without much effort I can think of three players who went whole careers without even being booked let alone sent off. All three played for England in World Cups which would qualify them as “real” footballers.

    I find the idea that every player would cheat if they got the chance to be flawed or – if you will – “non-sense”.

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