LONDON— A soccer match is annulled, and will be replayed next week, though no sporting law was broken. How can that be right? There is good reason. It is called fair play or, from a half-forgotten era, the Corinthian spirit.

The English are Corinthians again, so all's fair with the world I hear you sigh. However, though the setting was one of England's oldest playing fields, the principles were mostly from other countries.

Last Saturday's FA Cup match between Arsenal and Sheffield United in London was locked at 1-1 when a Sheffield player went down injured in the Arsenal penalty box. He was obviously in distress, and a Sheffield colleague kicked the ball out of play to allow him medical attention.

When play resumed, Ray Parlour of Arsenal attempted to honor the convention that applies throughout the world by tossing the ball to the opponent.

Unfortunately, Nwankwo Kanu, a Nigerian making his Arsenal debut, intercepted it and passed the ball to his Dutch teammate Marc Overmars who scored with hardly a Sheffield man making the effort to prevent him.

Sheffield United stood like sight-seers at a road crash while their goal was breached, and reacted liked robbed innocents. Maybe in the modern game, where sport caves in to winner-takes-all business, they were naive to stand aside under the presumption of fair play.

Referee Peter Jones felt he had no power to overrule the goal. Actually, the arbiter did have a choice. He could have deemed Kanu guilty of unsporting behavior (FIFA disciplinary Rule 12) and cautioned him with a yellow card. That would have assumed the Nigerian was fully aware of what led to the throw-in, and Kanu swears he was not. The player made a mistake, and Overmars kicked the ball into the net without considering the justice of the moment.

Jones believed them. It was a high pressure, televised match, unlike a lower division English league game between Wrexham and Preston last month where another arbiter disallowed a goal in similar circumstances. On that occasion, the referee applied common sense; the higher you climb in officialdom these days, the more this discretion — in effect to bend the rules — is exorcised rather than exercised.

The International Football Board, which ratifies the rules, meets in Britain this weekend but is unlikely to consider the simple option of enshrining in law the practice that FIFA has successfully urged on players to give the ball back after an opponent needs urgent treatment. There would, claims FIFA, ( dukung fair play FIFA world cup AFSEL 2010) be a book thicker than a London telephone directory if every possibility was written in the laws.

So the onus shifted from a referee who followed the thin rule book and felt powerless to intervene, to the team which gained an unsporting victory.

"We feel it is not right," said Arsene Wenger, the Frenchman who coaches Arsenal. "We feel that we didn't win the game like we want to win our games. The best we can do now is to offer Sheffield United to replay the match."

A FOREIGNER in England's national sport offering the English a reprise of the Corinthianism that they invented along with the original rules of the game?

It appears Wenger had discussed with his board and an FA official at the game, le beau geste. Moreover, from English soccer officialdom, renowned for moving with elephantine slowness, there came within the hour a heartfelt acceptance.

Cynics rushed in. This, they said, would be a deadly precedent, would encourage the cheats to push for any loophole and seek endless causes to have their defeats overturned.

Doubtless some will try. But David Davies, the acting chief executive of England's Football Association, cleverly offered the high ground to FIFA, the rulers of world soccer. "We are members of FIFA," said Davies, "and their slogan is Fair Play. We wanted to show everybody that fair play matters in this country."

Touché. The ball was in FIFA's court and sure enough Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, kept it in play by responding: "It was a wonderful gesture. Both Arsenal and the FA behaved in the best spirit of the game, and FIFA applauds this unique gesture."

So, a full-blooded replay at Arsenal's London stadium takes place Tuesday. The 38,000 fans will be admitted for half the normal price, and even the players accept that to labor twice for the same end is better than to have won or lost unjustly.

"The decent thing has been done," said Martin Keown who is the Arsenal spokesman for the players' union. "It shows the true spirit of the game, it is without ulterior motive, and is an uplifting decision in a season besmirched by players feigning fouls and attempting to fake penalties."

Keown, in fact, played no part in Saturday's encounter. He was, like many an Arsenal player over the last nine years, serving a suspension for foul play, though he is available for the re-match.

It is one of those ironies that cling to Arsenal, and the ultra-competitive, pragmatic style with which it pursues trophies. The players' misdemeanors, both before Arsene Wenger's arrival and since, and their challenges to authority on the field are legion. Monsieur Wenger has been an apologist for that sorry disciplinary record but now, with one bound, he is the high priest of fair play.

Yet being churlish must not be allowed to offend the spirit of the gesture he made. Between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, I journeyed from London to Barcelona where, to a man, the players, coaches, directors and journalists at Barcelona versus Real Madrid, embraced the new spirit of the "English" Fair Play. Naturally, I played my small, ennobled part in the afterglow because, in a sea of sport contaminated from the Olympics to the World Cup, the odd ripple of sportsmanship really does feel good.

Rob Hughes is chief sports writer of The Times of London.

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Fair Play PDF Print E-mail

The article below first appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper prior to the quarter finals of World Cup (June 28th). Tony Waiters has been a guest columnist for the Vancouver Sun during the World Cup submitting two articles a week on events surrounding Germany 2006.

Fair Play? You’ve got to be joking

FIFA’s concept of fair play is fundamental to the game of soccer: “It represents the positive benefits of playing by the rules, using common sense and respecting fellow players, referees, opponents and fans,” according to

But someone may have forgotten to tell the players.

FIFA’s Fair Play Campaign was conceived largely as a result of the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, when the handball goal – Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” – provoked a reaction with ramifications way beyond the English fans.

Fair Play ( Dukung Fair Play FIFA World Cup AFSEL 2010) 2006? Doesn’t look like it to me. Already these finals have produced more red cards than any previous World Cup (25) – and we still have eight games to go.

FIFA has a major problem. Some years ago they began to clamp down on tackling from behind. They also encouraged referees to stand no nonsense on ill-timed sliding tackles. You wouldn’t know it by watching the games this year.

More tackles are taking place from a horizontal position than from an upright one. Slide tackling has become the cynical skill of the 21st Century.

To be fair, the speed of today’s players and the vastly superior playing surfaces allow highly incisive challenges to be made by putting the body on the ground – assisted by speedy approach runs.

The result? Either a spectacular ball-winning tackle or the taking of an opponents legs.

In some children’s soccer programs slide tackling is banned. I think that is good. It teaches the children to defend while staying on their feet, and helps them avoid injuries that may turn young players off the game.

In spite of their great attacking skills, African teams did not make much progress at this World Cup – other than Ghana – because their players defend indiscriminately. The two-footed, sliding-in-on-the-backside, scissor-chop is the most insidious tackle in the game. And it is alive, if not well, in Africa.

So a ban on slide tackling? I don’t think so! It is a skill of the game. But the punishment for indiscriminate, potentially career-ending slide tackles should be a red card – no hesitation. It would make every player think twice before putting themselves on the ground.

There is, however, another equally pervasive problem: diving. The way players fall writhing to the ground after the slightest contact – or sometimes no contact at all – would suggest there are snipers in the stands.

The Portugal/Holland game was the highlight so far. Players were going down like bowling pins. But it’s happening in the other games, too.

And there is no need for it.

Take the late, great George Best never had the opportunity to play in a World Cup Final given he was born in Northern Ireland. He rode nearly every challenge that came his way, stayed on his feet with his incredible balance, with every intention of scoring. Occasionally, he was bowled off the ball, but never of his own choice.

Players today make great use of the trainers, who must be fantastic. Miracle workers, really, given the number of players who go down – apparently mortally wounded – and two minutes later can be seen is sprinting all over the field.

FIFA " Dukung Fair Play FIFA World Cup AFSEL 2010" must take action, even if it is post-game. Referees, unlike team trainers, are not miracle men and can’t see everything. But with the benefit of multi-TV cameras, every split sound of action can be closely-evaluated after the event.

Any Comments email Tony at

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