Monday, August 31, 2009


This is a blog about football, so if you were hoping for Tom Daley, feel free to stop reading now.

Last week, Eduardo won a penalty for Arsenal against Celtic by diving. The penalty was given, and scored, but replays showed no contact and clear simulation. UEFA have decided to charge the player with ‘deceiving the referee’, which could result in a two-game ban.

At the weekend, Arsenal played Manchester United. During the game, Wayne Rooney won a penalty for United. He was brought down by the Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Replays showed that there was a small amount of contact between Almunia’s hands and Rooney’s feet, but also that Rooney had begun to fall before the contact.

The difference between these two penalty incidents is this thing called ‘contact’. But, as replays clearly showed, the ‘contact’ in the second incident was insignificant because Rooney had already begun to tumble. In fact, had Almunia been able to withdraw his hands in time, Rooney would have tumbled without contact, in just the same way as Eduardo did a few days before.

It seems that referees make penalty decisions based on contact. Assuming the defending player doesn’t get the ball, if there is contact a penalty is given, and if there isn’t it is not given and the attacker is sometimes booked for diving.

This is flawed, because there are all sorts of ‘contact’ in penalty areas at set pieces and in open play. Imagine if players went down whenever there is contact – based on the current decision-making, referees would have to give penalties every few minutes.

The deciding factor shouldn’t be ‘contact’ but ‘significant contact’, i.e. ‘is the contact made sufficient to bring the player down?’ In the case of Rooney, the contact made wasn’t sufficient to bring him down, so the penalty should not have been given.

Of course, to make these decisions, video replays would be needed. Just as they are needed for goal-line and offside decisions. I still cannot see the problem with introducing this technology to football. In fact, a tennis-style challenges system could work, were the captain of the team has, say, three challenges per half which they can use to challenge penalty/goal/offside decisions. Critics would say that this would disrupt the flow of the game. Rubbish. The flow of the game is already disrupted by players protests about these decisions. Why not give them an appropriate system to challenge referees decisions?

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