There are some actions performed during the course of a game that could be considered “unethical” by some people, but as an athlete I feel different about them. As some of you may know I am a soccer player. Over the many years of playing the sport I have developed many different skills and strategies that I continue to develop each and every time I play. One of the concepts I have picked up from several of my coaches was the notion of a “smart foul” during a game. First of all, fouling is technically breaking the rules of the game. You are supposed to play within the rules, and it would seem unethical to some to purposely do otherwise. The rules are there to be followed and under no circumstance is breaking them the right thing to do, right? This argument gets a little gray with the idea of a smart foul. A smart foul, in the game of soccer, can happen in hundreds of different situations. Sometimes you do something as simple as delay a free kick on purpose so your team can get back in numbers. I would say the most common smart foul occurs when a defender purposely grabs, trips, pushes or nudges the offensive player around midfield, as to prevent a fast break, numbers down situation, or dangerous 1v1. There’s even a pretty common saying for when you attempt to tackle someone coming at you: “If you don’t get the ball, get the man.” This is saying if you miss hitting the ball on a slide tackle, at least catch the opponent in the leg so there’s a foul and he “doesn’t” beat you. It’s strategy, albeit an old-school one, but it’s still said today. I have done all of these past examples; it’s the nature of the game. It’s not like I wasn’t penalized for my actions. There were fouls called and cards given, and the proper procedures were followed. I accepted my consequences with open arms. Is that unethical? You tell me. I think it is part of sports. The objective of a game is to beat the other team, which means drawing up and implementing a better strategy than them. Sometimes the only thing to do to preserve the win is to break a rule. If the rule is broken and there is no severe physical harm done in the process, then I consider it okay to commit those fouls for the sake of the win. This brings me to a very famous example of a player purposely breaking a rule to save a win.
In the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay squared off with Ghana. The game found itself in extra time and the score 1-1. There was only a few seconds left in the match, and if the extra time ended as a tie, there would be a penalty shootout. If someone were leading at the conclusion, that team would advance. So with just mere seconds left this play happened:
What you just saw was Luis Suarez of Uruguay purposely saving the ball of the line with his hands, something only the goalie is allowed to do. The ball was CLEARLY going into the net until it met his fists of fury. The ref promptly called the penalty kick and issued the standard red card for the intentional handball. Luis Suarez was ejected from the game, as is protocol for a red card, and Ghana was awarded the proper penalty kick. All Ghana had to do was put away the PK and they would have advanced. PK’s are scored about 85% of the time. If you are Ghana you are upset because the 100% goal was illegally saved and replaced with an 85% goal. Lo and behold, Ghana MISSES the penalty kick and the game goes into penalty kicks to decide the winner. As fate would have it, Ghana lost the PK shootout and was eliminated from the World Cup. Suarez got a lot of flack for his move on the line, but as a soccer player, I saw a player who sacrificed his playing for not losing. He saved a sure thing, giving his team a chance to survive, and survive they did. I know a lot of people will disagree with me and say the play was awful and he should be ashamed but I understand the level of competition sports can bring out. I do have a line. As long as no one is actually hurt (and by that I mean in more pain than a normal foul in the course of the game would cause) then these fouls are being used strategically and not for any harmful reason. I also wouldn’t consider it cheating because fouls are built into the game. They are expected to happen and as long as they are properly penalized, then the game is being played as it should.
I’d be interested in hearing what some of you think about the Suarez play or about intentionally fouling in general. It would be interesting to see what some of the other athletes in the class would say in comparison to those who may not play sports. Just to see what some people think, here’s a poll: