FIFA, it’s time for a change.
On June 26th, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee penalized Luis Suarez for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. He was suspended nine official matches, which stretched far beyond the 2014 World Cup. Predictably, Uruguay lost to Columbia 2-0 two days later.
Throughout the tournament, stars such as Holland’s Arjen Robben and Brazil’s Fred have made a habit of diving in the penalty area, and the resulting unearned goals have helped their respective teams reach the semi-finals. FIFA has not penalized them in any manner.
So which is worse? Suarez’s bite was unsportsmanlike, somewhat painful, and, above all, bizarre. He deserved to be punished for at least a game, and most should know that meant the end of Uruguay’s hopes. However, there are other, more common occurrences — grabbing an opposing players testicles in the wall, for example — that most would find more painful than a little nip, even with Suarez’s substantial chompers. More importantly, the bite did not have a significant influence on the outcome: it did not help Uruguay score and did not injure Chiellini.
On the other hand, dives have changed the results in this world cup profoundly. Fred’s flop in the 71st minute of the opening match turned a relatively even performance (1-1 at the time) against a good Croatian side into a momentum-infused (3-1) rout. Robben’s dive during extra time of the knockout game against Mexico resulted in an unearned lead with less than two minutes to play. Were these feints unsportsmanlike? Tremendously. Were they painful? Only to the viewer. Were they rare or bizarre? No. Unfortunately, they are a commonplace occurrence in the World Cup, and are a consistent black eye for the sport.
FIFA should address this accordingly. A simple solution would be to follow in the footsteps of UEFA and MLS by allowing players to be penalized after the game. In egregious occurrences, FIFA could ban the player from the following match. In definite but less drastic circumstances, a post-game yellow card would suffice. This would have a profound deterrent effect: Players would know that, even if they are going to cheat their team to an advantage temporarily, it could hurt them in the long run. By leaving it in the hands of the only the referee, the players know that they must dive well to escape retribution. By making it a crime that can carry later punishment, FIFA would make players think twice before flopping to the ground when there may still be a chance to score.
FIFA, you have successfully punished the crazy-man. Now it’s time to penalize the true enemies of the Beautiful Game.