Ray Lee

Equity, justice and the World Cup

Quite a lot of the discussion on this site focusses on rulings and appeals.  Some of the posters are interested in justice — applying the law as correctly as possible.  Others are more interested in equity — trying to restore (if possible) the correct bridge result, while assessing any transgression penalties as a separate issue.  The difference between these two approaches could not have been illustrated better than in today’s FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match between Uruguay and Ghana.

For those who are not familiar with what occurred, the match went to extra time.  In the last seconds of that, there was a goalmouth flurry at the Uruguay end, during which Luis Suarez of Uruguay deliberately handled the ball to prevent it going into the net for the winning goal.  (This description of what occurred is not the subject of any controversy — he handled the ball on purpose, and without that action, Ghana would have scored.)  The ref applied the rules quite correctly: he sent off Suarez, and awarded Ghana a penalty kick, which would be the last action before the final whistle.  Justice was therefore served.  Now I’m not sure what the stats are on scoring from penalties in the World Cup ( in normal pro play they run around 70-80% I think), but the Ghana striker (under severe pressure one would think) slammed the ball against the crossbar instead of into the back of the net, and the match therefore ended in a draw.  This was followed a tie-breaking penalty shootout (always a lottery), which Uruguay won.

So here we have a situation where a player deliberately breaks the rules in the most flagrant of fashions, and derives a benefit from so doing.  Justice?  Maybe.  But certainly not equity.  Ghana should have won, and but for the one of the most appalling acts of World Cup cheating since Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England they would have done so.  Now you could argue that Ghana should have scored from the penalty — but penalty kicks are far from 100%, and why should they be put in that position?  It’s the same argument used by the USBF Trials committee in my last blog, who ruled after a fairly gross CD incident that the non-offending side ‘should have figured it out’.  Sorry, guys — I don’t see why they should have to.

It’s interesting to compare the attitudes in different sports to this kind of thing.  Rugby, for example, in an analogous situation, allows the ref to award a penalty try (think touchdown), AND penalize the offender — a great example of justice and equity both being served.  Basketball, on the other hand, is quite blase about deliberate fouling as a tactic towards the end of a game, which is one reason I never watch it.

Perhaps bridge committees could do better in their decision-making by applying this very simple precept: you should never be able to gain an advantage by breaking the rules of the game.


Judy Kay-WolffJuly 3rd, 2010 at 6:26 am

Quite eloquent, Ray!!!!

ColinJuly 3rd, 2010 at 4:05 pm

There are two sides to the Ghana issue – the other side is whether it should be considered to be cheating or not – assuming that Suarez expected to be caught for handling the ball and sent off and that they would get a penalty kick (unlike Maradona where he did not expect to be caught) could one consider his act to be an act of extreme heroism (some will).

David Wall wrote this on the Guardian blog: “it was an act of genuine sacrifice: if you take him at his word it wasn’t merely a reflex action but he deliberately used his hands to stop the ball going in, and he did so in the knowledge that he would get sent off and miss at least the next game in the competition (perhaps the rest of the competition). But he also knew that if he didn’t do it then his side were out as there was no chance of recovery from conceding. So he sacrificed his own interests (the chance to play in a semi-final of the World Cup) for those of his team-mates/ manager/ countrymen, etc. Typically we think of such acts of self-sacrifice as morally good actions, so considered in that way we should be praising Suarez not burying him.”

Let me ask this as a question – when England scored “the goal which wasn`t” in this World Cup – everyone (including the Goalkeeper) near the goal knew that it was in – is it any less `cheating` that they kept quiet and the goal didn`t count? Apparently *simulating* fouls and knowingly not disclosing a goal aren`t far enough across the line; they are just the way the game is played.

When you look at the difference between Basketball`s use of fouls as a tactic you are seeing the other side of the coin and in-fact basically the same type of action that Suarez took. I think that Fifa should look at changing the rules – allow the ref to award a goal in that situation (Hockey refs certainly can in the same type of situation with a thrown stick).

When it comes down to it – I believe that there are a TON of rule changes that football or FIFA needs to implement – this is just another example.

LuiseJuly 3rd, 2010 at 4:30 pm

When I first read Ray’s blog I was quick to jump in and call Suarez a ‘cheater’… but after hearing Colin’s thoughts and reading more about the sitution… What was his other option?

If you were playing in a sport where you knew that, if you deliberately broke the rules, you knew you would be caught and penalized, but failure to do so would result in certain elimination of your team, what would you do? Would you really just stand there, do nothing, and watch the ball drift over your head? Would you be able to sleep at night knowing that, if only you had made that self sacrifice, that your team might still be in the running to win? If you were an extreme competitor, which option would you pick?

After the game, Suarez had this to say:

“This was the end of the World Cup. I had no choice. I did it so that my teammates could win the penalty shootout. When I saw Gyan miss the penalty, it was great joy.”

I believe him when he said he had no choice. Certainly all of Uruguay would agree. It could be argued that he played within the spirit of the game — he knowingly broke the rules and accepted the consequence with full awareness. Is he a cheat? or a Hero? I haven’t decided yet.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Hi Ray,

After reading your tantalizing, perplexing and very thought provoking discussion about the World Cup, you are, indeed, a man after my own heart. Lucky for me that you are the wrong gender or Judy would surely get after me.

Switching thought processes back and forth between tournament bridge and other sports sometimes create even more ethical (not to mention, different) dilemmas than are called for, but what is a blogger to do but, if you will excuse the pun, deal with it.

1st exhibit: Definition of the word deliberate.

No doubt the goalkeeper’s action in the Soccer match of using his hands was deliberate. In bridge almost all infractions, while some are heinous, very few, if any, could be defined as deliberate, unless we opt to cross the line and blatantly discuss stealthy cheating.

2d exhibit:Trying to compare cheating (C) or significant bridge unethicality (BU) with what happened in the soccer match doesn’t quantify. Even though the rules must specifically specify that using ones hands is not legal, who is to say that if nothing else gets the job done it is cheating. At least to me, it is a matter of self-preservation whether or not it is at game’s end or even in the first few minutes. Anything which caters to normal human instincts (and certainly what the soccer goalie did, so qualifies) has to IMO be only subject to the written rules of the game and NOTHING ELSE. Otherwise we have reached an impossible conundrum with the game itself and no other answer could be logically reached.

3d exhibit: For those who say that they don’t see the difference between that and horrific bridge C or BU I say fie on you. C is certainly pre-planned and BU is against the moral fiber of a special game which specifically requires unquestioned positive ethics in order for the game to even be played, much less played properly.

Otherwise the partnership might as well be sitting on the same bench looking at one another’s cards and whispering.

Without boring you (I hope it hasn’t been continual) my conclusion is that there is absolutely no ethical (or any other) barrier for the soccer player to have done what he did, which then leaves it up to the rules to determine how to compensate the other team. Apparently since soccer is certainly not a brand new game, it obviously has been accepted for the rules to be like they are and, if so, amen.

C and BU are in a class by themselves since they vibrate to the very fiber of the game and should result in permanent exclusion to all who do it. That ruling, of course, transcends any one particular game and cancels an entire career. Nothing else should be allowed.

At least the above is one man’s view. Strong letter not to follow, since I left it all on the table and for all, who are interested, to see.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Post Mortem

For what it is worth, my vote would be to categorize so-called Sportsmanlike Dumping, or anything which SERIOUSLY violates the spirit of the game rules to the anguish of the ethical other participants or the game’s founders and developers should automatically fall into the bridge unethicality group.

The reason for feeling and active upon this is that in trying to develop fair and playable conditions of contest, one inviolate caveat needs to be for the contestants to at least be ostensibly playing their hardest at all times. Anything less destroys trust and eventually the game itself.

Ray LeeJuly 5th, 2010 at 2:19 am

Not disagreeing with any of you. What Suarez did was to breach the rules deliberately, and accept his punishment, just as a basketball player so often does in the last 2 minutes. My point was that the non-offending side were seriously disadvantaged since the remedy prescribed by law was inadequate to restore equity. I was trying to make a bridge analogy in citing Convention Disruption — not because that is something that (usually) happens deliberately, but it seems to often the non-offending side is seriously disadvantaged, and frequently equity is not restored.

Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Hi Ray,

Exactly and to the heartbreaking point!

Since, when CD strikes, bridge as we know it stops and, at least for then, TDs and sometimes Committees usually try the impossible task of trying to artificially restore the status quo. To be further enlightened witness what recently happened in Las Vegas, as written up by Judy.

Why then should the significant selfishness of players playing conventions which at least one of them, doesn’t understand and/or recognize, cause innocent opponents to be subjected to the enigma of having to deal with it which always requires the consternation of having to be artificially compensated, besides the hard feelings and time loss which always accompanies.

We, as competitors, owe our opponents and the game itself much more than that.

Perhaps the saddest part is that the cure (severe penalty unless the conventions are executed properly) would undoubtedly eventually insure to make that partnership more careful and therefore more useful, besides making the subject users directly responsible to bridge itself and, most importantly, eliminate all doubt and unpleasantness.

Thanks for your soccer analogy, thoughtful interpretation and for just taking the time to be involved.

Cam FrenchJuly 5th, 2010 at 10:12 pm

A cheater is a cheater is a cheater.

Video replay, which is used by baseball, hockey and football is already well-established. Call them an official, make them part of the team. This World Cup will be know more for its gaffes than anything, and that is sad.

Replay, even in soccer, is coming.

I just read in a book called Rove Exposed this lovely:

“Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools that don’t have the brains enough to be honest.”

Benjamin Franklin

Not sure I agree, but I see the point. The truth is in bridge at least, cheaters prosper, then sue, then (maybe) receive minimal penalties and life goes on as our League has knees of Jello when it comes to litigation.


LuiseJuly 6th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Cam — That quote reminds me of something my father always used to tell me when we were playing cards: “If your opponents don’t have enough brains to catch you cheating, then you can beat them honestly.

AnitaNovember 26th, 2015 at 3:35 pm

of Jay DeMerit, whose positioning over the tennuamort has been suspect and, let’s not forget, plays for a very mediocre Championship side. The real problem for the US is that a lot of its players are still nowhere near the level required to play in a World Cup quarter or semi final, including Altidore, who has flattered to deceive through his work rate. In fact, I only rate 4/5 of the current squad as quality players: Donovan, the superb Dempsey, Bradley, Onyweu (slight question mark here) and Feilhaber. Most of the others are relatively competent, but the previously mentioned three were found out when it really mattered.Despite Bob Bradley’s shortcomings, he was smart and brave enough to acknowledge his mistake and there wasn’t much else he could have done better at that point. Shoddy defending will always do you in the end. Better luck next time.

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