Have FIFA taken the Fair Play thing too far?
Last weekend we witnessed some amazing scenes just prior to half time in the Scotland v Macedonia World Cup qualifying match. Throughout the first half, Macedonian players were going down injured at every opportunity in an attempt to disrupt the flow of the match and waste time. It’s a tactic many teams – notably Arsenal – have used over recent years. Around the 45th minute at Hampden, a Scottish defender kicked the ball into the side of the head of Macedonian striker, Naumoski. Not into his face, but into the side of his head. I’ve no doubt that it stung for a minute but Naumoski went down as if he had been shot. Scotland kept possession and mounted an attack before Macedonia regained possession deep in their own half. At that point German referee Wolfgang Stark blew his whistle to enable the “injured” Naumoski to receive treatment. Upon restarting with the drop ball, Scott Brown made it clear he was none too happy about being asked to give the ball back. As the ball was dropped he hit it as hard as he could straight into an opponent and watched as the ball rolled away for a Scottish corner. Of course pandemonium broke out as the visitors surrounded Brown berating him for his lack of fair play. After 3 minutes of pushing and shoving Stark booked two players including bizarrely James McFadden, whose crime, it seems, was to stay clear of everyone and wait to take the corner. Officially McFadden was booked for unsporting behaviour ie not giving the ball back.
Now this may have been clever refereeing by Stark. Had he booked the so called offending party – Scott Brown – it would have been a second booking and thus a red card. Stark, it appears, chose to book the nearest “other” player – a shame that McFadden was thus suspended for the crucial Scotland v Netherlands match as a result.
But why should he book anyone at all? Why should a team have to give the ball back – particularly to a team who has been playacting continually? Surely the level of “sportsmanship” is a personal thing and not something that can be demanded of a player? Is “not giving the ball back” any worse than taking it into the corner to run down the clock? Both lack sportsmanship in a kind of Old Etonian amateur “nice goal old chap” kind of way. Both are quite legal within the laws of the game. Surely Naumoski’s feigning injury was also worthy of a booking? Which is the worse offence – feigning injury or being competitive?
Football is more than just a game. It’s about passion. It’s about winning and playing to win. It’s about scoring goals and it’s about glory. Bill Shankly famously said it was more important than life or death. It is hard, it’s fast and it’s physical. It’s a competitive sport, not a pastime. It is not about pretending you are hurt to gain some kind of advantage.
Players usually know when an opponent is seriously injured and often we’ve seen a challenge for the ball resulting in one player going down injured whilst his opponent immediately stops and waves the trainer on, knowing that the injury is real and potentially serious. Human nature will see the majority of players automatically stop play for a serious injury.
Forcing players to give the ball back via threat of a booking is completely foreign to the competitive nature of the sport. In his own way, Scott Brown was letting Macedonia know that Scotland were fed up with their form of sportsmanship. It was noticeable that during the second half the Macedonians stopped getting injured every time there was a hard tackle.
FIFA Fair Play?? They can keep it. I’d much rather follow a team who is out there to win than a team who plays nicely.