Nepali Times
Is it ok to cheat in football?


HAND OF GOD? Put like this, it doesn't really look like it

Shortly before half-time in the World Cup elimination match between England and Germany on June 27, the English midfielder Frank Lampard had a shot at goal that struck the crossbar and bounced down onto the ground, clearly over the goal line. The goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, grabbed the ball and put it back into play. Neither the referee nor the linesman, both of whom were still coming down the field, signalled a goal, and play continued.

After the match, Neuer gave this account of his actions: "I tried not to react to the referee and just concentrate on what was happening. I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over."

To put it bluntly: Neuer cheated, and then boasted about it.

By any normal ethical standards, what Neuer did was wrong. But does the fact that Neuer was playing football mean that the only ethical rule is: 'Win at all costs'?

In soccer, that does seem to be the prevailing ethic. The most famous of these incidents was Diego Maradona's goal in Argentina's 1986 World Cup match against England, which he later described as having been scored "a little with the head ofMaradonaand a little with thehand of God." Twenty years later, he admitted in a BBC interview that he had intentionally acted as if it were a goal, in order to deceive the referee.

Something similar happened last November, in a game between France and Ireland that decided which of the two nations went to the World Cup. The French striker Thierry Henry used his hand to control the ball and pass to a teammate, who scored the decisive goal. Asked about the incident after the match, Henry said: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the ref. I played it, the ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."

But is it? Why should the fact that you can get away with cheating mean that you are not culpable? Players should not be exempt from ethical criticism for what they do on the field, any more than they are exempt from ethical criticism for cheating off the field for example, by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Sports today are highly competitive, with huge amounts of money at stake, but that does not mean it is impossible to be honest. In 1996, Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler was awarded a penalty for being fouled by the Arsenal goalkeeper. He told the referee that he had not been fouled, but the referee insisted that he take the penalty kick. Fowler did so, but in a manner that enabled the goalkeeper to save it.

Why are there so few examples of such behaviour from professional footballers? Perhaps a culture of excessive partisanship has trumped ethical values. Fans don't seem to mind if members of their own team cheat successfully; they only object when the other side cheats. That is not an ethical attitude. (Though, to their credit, many French football followers, from President Nicolas Sarkozy down, expressed their sympathy for Ireland after Henry's handball.)

Yes, we can deal with the problem to some extent by using modern technology or video replays to review controversial refereeing decisions. But, while that will reduce the opportunity for cheating, it won't eliminate it, and it isn't really the point. When what you do will be seen by millions, revisited on endless video replays, and dissected on television sports programs, it is especially important to do what is right.

How would football fans have reacted if Neuer had stopped play and told the referee that the ball was a goal? Given the rarity of such behaviour in football, the initial reaction would no doubt have been surprise. Some German fans might have been disappointed. But the world as a whole and every fair-minded German fan too would have had to admit that he had done the right thing.

Neuer missed a rare opportunity to do something noble in front of millions of people. He could have set a positive ethical example to people watching all over the world, including the many millions who are young and impressionable. Who knows what difference that example might have made to the lives of many of those watching? Neuer could have been a hero, standing up for what is right. Instead, he is just another footballer who is very skillful at cheating.

(Project Syndicate)

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1. Avidit
One of Peter Singer's examples is partially misleading. Robbie Fowler did not intentionally allow the Arsenal goalkeeper (David Seaman) to save his penalty. He wanted to score, but Seaman was able to stop him by diving on the right side. The ball bounced off of Seaman and Jason McAteer scored for Liverpool immediately after the ball bounced back.

All of Singer's examples are ones in which the victims are teams from the British isles, and the article seems to be prompted by England's recent knockout at the hands of Germany in the 2010 World Cup. His lone example of fair play is one in which an Englishman takes the moral high ground. A better example is the one from Liga I in which the Romanian player Costin Lazar admits that he had not been fouled and refuses to take a penalty at all.

I agree with Singer that it is wrong to cheat in football. But simply acknowledging that cheating (in general) is undesirable doesn't help us fix unfair outcomes. Just as a thief may admit that stealing is not a nice thing to do, but may do so because it puts food on his table, I think that even the players who cheat may admit that they don't like to cheat, but continue to do so because it produces wins. Just as we need to fix things like the law enforcement system in order to reduce crime, we also need to fix the refereeing system (in particular allow the referees to use video replays) to reduce bad calls in football.

2. suman thapa
any writer the fact is that german were good in that game ans saying to morality its good that best team win game is not played for morality it is played to win and you all have to win

3. Dr
A bit like Nepali politicians really! 
No morals, no ethics, get what you want at all costs ......... 

4. Gary Parkinson
No it not ok to cheat at football and shame on you Nepali times for showing a model character of that fat little cheat Maradona who is hated in England for what he did in 1986.It is our national game and the game of football was invented by the English.We dont cheat and dont expect anyone else playing the beautiful game to do so.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)