Friday, 18 April 2014

Best ever excuse for losing a football match? And other thoughts about problems in football.

Cardiff's 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace in early April should not be allowed to stand, the Welsh club have said in a five-page letter seen by the BBC. The document, sent by club lawyers to the Premier League, alleges Palace boss Tony Pulis knew sporting director Iain Moody was trying to obtain Cardiff's starting line-up before the game. (David Bond on BBC Sport website)

As a criminologist I incline to the view that one of the causes of crime is the tendency to make more and more things criminal and that what is and isn’t criminal can change over time.

Crimes may be committed within sport but much of what this blog is about is those things that are breaches of the Laws/Rules of the Game or those of the organising Association.  Matters are further confused in English football by the existence of the Premier League with its rules.  Some breaches of the rules might be seen to be akin to crime, for instance a foul may be criminal in the eyes of English Law - though arrest, prosecution or conviction are rare - but summarily dealt with under Law 12 by the Referee.  Interestingly the Laws speak of ‘offences’, for instance listing the ten that can lead (sentence, if you like) to a direct free kick (the punishment) and the FA has its own judicial panel!

Former players now employed as commentators might complain that ‘in their day’ or, even, ‘in this country’ a more robust style was permitted but guess that none are calling for the return of ‘hacking’ as allowed by the earliest complete formulation of the laws of Association Football and common practice in the many versions of the game before:

X.  If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries' goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip, or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the same time.

So the problem of fouling could be ended legally - if not medically - by legalising it.  I’m still trying to work out how to deal with diving (see Sam Allardyce on the topic) but a technological solution involving GPS, gyroscopes and chipped players may be necessary crime prevention devices in which honesty will be redundant.  Clearly the close surveillance of super slow mo HD cameras, match officials, crowd and ‘the man in the pub’ is insufficient to deter the practice.  And yet we place great trust in CCTV to do on the streets what it fails to do on pitch.

Off field issues however are covered by the meta rules or written Constitutions of sporting organisations.  

The Premier League’s rules make it clear (L21) that ‘at least one hour before the time fixed for the kick-off of a League Match’ the Referee, opposition and media will be provided with a team sheet on a specified form (Form 9).  There is no commentary on why this stipulation and time limit but the need to check that players are properly registered and not under suspension suggests itself.

What Cardiff’s lawyers are said to be claiming is that knowledge in advance of the team and formation materially influenced the match, which they lost 3-0.  This is quite a counter-factual.  It is not clear how much they think they would have won by.

Quoting the BBC’s story again:

Specifically, Cardiff say Palace have broken three Premier League rules: B15, B16 and B17. Of these, B17 is potentially the most serious as it states that no club shall disclose or divulge confidential information.

Rather than ‘crimes’ these appear to be contractual matters - as are most of the Premier League’s rules (relations between clubs, between clubs and player, and provision for media etc).  These matters may go to civil law courts or to arbitration but first we await the Premier’s League response - to date (18 April 2014) its website has been silent on the matter.

Clearly if such rules did not exist then it could not have been breached.  But whilst criminologists may recommend decriminalisation for the benefit of society the money in football means that commercial interests will be paramount not good sense.

And it interesting that much mid week media speculation is on who will be selected and what formation will be used.  Some of those predictions will be right - some lucky guesses, some horses-mouth tip-offs? - many will be wrong.  Next thing you know there’ll be a betting scandal!  You seem to be able to bet on anything from results to in game incidents to numbers of players leaving during transfer window.  Why not team selection?

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