Monday, December 06, 2004

Why tolerate fouls?

I do ok when I write on cricket, but I must confess that I can’t understand soccer at all. One of the big headlines in India yesterday was of how the Brazilian striker Cristiano Delima Junior died on the field after being fouled by the opposing goalkeeper. The replay of the foul looks ordinary enough: striker scores, goalkeeper lashes out as they both fall down. But goalie gets up, striker doesn’t. Later photographs show him lying still and clearly lifeless, his eyes rolled up in their sockets. His team, Dempo, ends up winning that game, which is the Federation Cup final, 2-0, both the goals having being scored by Junior. But Junior is dead.

Tragedies can happen in any sport, and soccer is far less dangerous than many others. But what has always befuddled me, as an occasional viewer who tunes in once in two years to the Euro or the World Cup, is why there are so many fouls in the game. Fouls slow down the game and make it less attractive, and without them games would have more goals, and many more sparkling attacks would be allowed to proceed instead of being unfairly cut down.

Everybody agrees that fouls are unfair. That is why, after all, they are penalised. But if they are wrong, why not cut down on them entirely? Why doesn’t every foul carry a mandatory yellow card, which would mean that anybody who commits two fouls in a game is out of the game. Fouls would come down drastically, the game would be more about players’ skills in playing the game than in their ability to trip or push somebody, and the spectators would get more value for money.

I suspect soccer fans will find my musing rather naïve. There are too many things about how that game is run that I can’t fathom, like how their player-contracts are structured, and how clubs can "sell" players to each other. I’ll stick to cricket, I think.

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