By: Mukul Mudgal
A Brazilian court ordering a cooling break during FIFA World Cup matches presents an interesting scenario — the playing conditions in an international tournament being altered by a judicial directive. The order was a response to a petition by the Brazilian footballers’ union, which sought the enforcement of Brazilian working conditions for the afternoon matches. It was occasioned by FIFA’s insistence on staging the matches around noon to suit European viewership.
Apart from being in consonance with Brazilian working conditions, the court order is also in line with FIFA regulations, which say: “Cooling break will be considered on a match-by-match basis. Climate conditions will be evaluated and if the temperature exceed 32 degree Celsius, then the FIFA venue medical office will recommend cooling breaks to the FIFA general coordinator and match commissioner. The implementation of the cooling breaks will reside with the referee. Cooling breaks last three minutes in duration [and] are then implemented by the referee at approximately 30 minutes into the run-of-play in both halves of the match (that is, around the 30th minute and 75th minute respectively). Three minutes will then be added to stoppage time at the end of each half.”
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It is evident that the biggest beneficiaries of this order have been European teams who are used to a cooler climate, find the Brazilian conditions oppressive and welcome the break more than the other countries. It is also evident that for FIFA, the vast viewership of Africa, Asia and other countries does not matter. Why should the viewers in Asia, who heavily outnumber their European counterparts, be made to watch the World Cup at unearthly hours?
There have always been debates about the applicability of civil tort laws and/ or criminal law to serious and deliberate injuries caused to an opponent. This becomes more significant when a crucial opposing player is targeted in order to have him taken out of the match at the minimal cost of a yellow card.
The pro-European stance of FIFA is even more evident in its disciplinary proceedings. While the ban on Uruguay’s Luis Suarez for biting an opponent was imposed after a post-match screening, no such procedure has been adopted for instances where diving led to penalties. There was also a clear case for penalty when Patrice Evra of France gripped a Nigerian forward with both hands around his body to prevent him from heading a ball towards the goal. Any form of deliberate misconduct undetected by the referees should invite punishment after the match, without the result being altered. All deliberate divers, especially those who earn a penalty, should be subjected to at least a one-match ban.
Though the match result should stand as it is, if a post-match screening is done, it should be done for all players who break rules and regulations, irrespective of their country of origin. The outrage at and punishment of Suarez may be justified, but letting other cheats, such as the Netherlands’s Arjen Robben, get away shows a distinct bias against Third World and non-European nations. It cannot be forgotten that while Suarez’s misconduct did not alter the result of the match, the penalty given to Robben led to the Netherlands’s victory over Mexico. To FIFA, Mexico is obviously less important than the Netherlands. If Robben had dived twice earlier to earn a penalty, then he should have been given a yellow card twice for feigning a foul and thus been expelled with a red card.
Mexico’s complaint is fully substantiated by Robben admitting to a Dutch television channel that he had feigned a foul at least once, though not the foul which led to the penalty. If Robben had been given a red card and expelled for earning two yellow cards, the occasion for a penalty to the Dutch would not have arisen. The response of FIFA’s spokesperson, Della Fischer, is intriguing: “The disciplinary committee only will look into serious infringements… We ask the players to play in the spirit of fair play. It’s up to the referees to manage a match.” Thus, FIFA ruled out a retrospective yellow card for Robben.
A match-winning penalty secured by dubious methods and failed attempts to secure a penalty by a player stimulating fouls are as serious as Suarez’s bite, if not more serious infringements, and FIFA must evolve a consistent policy to deal with such instances rather than handle them on an ad-hoc basis.
The writer is a former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court