Why Do We Accept Cheating in Soccer?

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Whatever happened to nobility in sports? And why is there so much cheating in soccer, specifically? "In 1996," Peter Singer notes in The Guardian, Robbie Fowler, the striker for the English Premier League team Liverpool, was "awarded" a penalty shot, the referee having thought he was fouled by the opposing team's keeper. Fowler flat-out told the ref "that he had not been fouled, but the referee insisted he take the penalty kick. Fowler did so, but in a manner that enabled the goalkeeper to save it."

Where did this spirit go? Singer's immediate reason for asking is German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's admission that he knew the ball had crossed the goal line in Sunday's game, but that he pulled it back and kept playing anyway. "I think the way I carried on so quickly," Neuer said, "fooled the referee into thinking it was not over." Or, as Singer rephrases it, "Neuer cheated, and then boasted about it."

Thierry Henry, captain of the French team, likewise cheated in the crucial qualifying match. He admitted that he'd used his hand, but that "the ref allowed it." Asks Singer: "Why should the fact that you can get away with cheating mean that you are not culpable?" Blaming your cheating on the referee doesn't make sense.

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 football 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.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.