The just-ended World Cup has once again shown that football is indeed a global game, with a global passion and followership second to none. It has also shown that football is indeed more than just a game, especially when played at the Football World Cup level. There are those who would point to the economic dimension of football – both for the players and for the numerous businesses that depend directly or indirectly on the sport; but that is not where this article is headed to at this particular time. Football also carries with it characteristics of peace making, nationalism, politics and general well-being. Outcomes of football competitions and matches therefore carry a lot more weight and significance than just the game dimension; and when it is at the level of the FIFA World Cup, then of course the stakes are at their highest in all dimensions.

This explains why some countries declare public holidays just to allow their populace to watch particularly important football matches. This also explains why some governments may often want to step in to correct what they see as “national disgrace” or lack of seriousness, when their national teams perform below expectations at important tournaments. A recent example arising from the current World Cup, is the decision taken (and then reversed on the 5th of July 2010) by the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, banning the Nigerian national team, the Green Eagles, from international competitions for two years, following their rather dismal performance at the current World Cup. The Green Eagles, from whom much was expected, managed to get just one point from the three matches they played in the preliminary session, and were therefore eliminated at that early stage. Such actions by governments however run counter to the rules of FIFA; and therefore are always strongly contested by FIFA. This is understandable.

What is not understandable however is why FIFA is so reluctant to review some aspects of the rules of the game that have often brought great unfairness and pain to particular teams (and to countries, and in some cases entire continents) due to avoidable ‘human error’ decisions of referees or to certain rules that are simply out of date, and need to be modified. Two different cases from the ongoing World Cup illustrate this point.

Case Number 1: Take the disallowed goal that was scored by Frank Lampard, England, in their match against Germany. The use of technology at the goal line in football, would have shown in a matter of seconds, that the ball did cross the line and was therefore a goal. Human error ruled that the ball had not crossed the line, and the goal was disallowed. Wrong decision!! Imagine if the half time scores had been 2 – 2, as it ought to have been; what tonic would that have given to the English team? As it turned out, they lost the game 4-1, and this caused a national uproar against the team. The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, apparently is among those who were shaken by this decision and he has already indicated that perhaps, FIFA now needs to experiment with technology to avoid such painful occurrences in the beautiful game.

Case Number 2: Take the painful and bizarre case of how Ghana exited the World Cup following their quarter final clash with Uruguay. What a drama that was!! A clear goal-bound shot from Ghana heading into the Uruguay goal in the final minute of the game (with the goalkeeper completely beaten), which would have settled the game in Ghana’s favour, was blatantly and deliberately stopped by the hand of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez. In other sports, that would have been declared a goal by the referee. Take the case of cricket, where if a bowler delivers a fair ball that is headed towards the wicket, if the batsman intercepts that ball with any part of his person, whether deliberately or accidentally, the batsman is deemed out. This is because but for the interception by the batsman, the ball would have hit the wicket. These are the essentials of the Leg Before Wicket (LBW) rule of cricket, and the applicability of such a rule in Football is not difficult to discern. Basketball is another sport that employs such a rule to maintain fair scoring opportunities and sportsmanship in its game. In NBA basketball, the “goal tending” rule prevents players from interfering with a ball that is above the rim and on a downward trajectory, about to enter the net. If there is interference and in the judgment of the officials the ball had a chance to score, the points are awarded to the attacking team. Let us turn back to the 2010 World Cup and our problem with current football rules.

The referee in the Ghana – Uruguay match did what the current rules require him to do. He showed the offending player a red card, and then called for a penalty in Ghana’s favour; which was unfortunately not converted. The rest is history; Ghana lost out in the end in the penalty shoot out that followed. An incredibly painful loss for the young Ghana team – and with that, the dreams and aspirations of an entire country, even perhaps an entire continent, were shattered by the modern day “Hand of God” factor in football. Other examples are the 1986 Maradona case and the 2009 Thierry Henry case, in which his hand ball was a decisive factor in preventing Ireland from making to the 2010 World Cup. Tevez’s offside goal against Mexico in the Round of 16, and Luis Fabiano’s multiple hand balls in what would otherwise have been a brilliant effort in his group stage goal against Côte d’Ivoire, are some of the other stand out shockers from this World Cup. Uruguay advanced to the semi-finals, and if they find themselves in the final Luis Suarez would be in the team again, and may be able to perform another Hand of God feat. Footage at the end of the game saw Suarez triumphantly raised on the shoulders of team mate Eguren; Suarez was the hero of that match, rather than the villain!! Is football becoming a win by hook or by crook sport?

My question to FIFA is for how long will we have to continue to allow such incidents to mar the beautiful game? England lost out, and Ghana also lost out. These losses though painful would not be in vain if they at least, lead to the change in the rules and policies governing the game so that such incidents are avoided in future. We do not seek to bring an end to the fluidity and unpredictability of the game, because that is where the very adventure of the sport lies, however, these recent examples strongly indicate that FIFA must review its football rules and policies. I end this piece by congratulating the Ghana Black Stars for making Ghana and Africa proud of their efforts.

By Kwesi Atta-Krah and Kenton Atta-Krah