When Nicklas Bendtner showed the world his Paddy Power underwear after scoring against Portugal in Denmark’s 3-2 loss at Euro 2012, he probably had no idea how much controversy his seemingly innocent actions would stir. But it’s not actually Bendtner’s action that has caused the newest uproar, it’s UEFA’s reaction that has fans bewildered.
What Bendtner did was stupid and arguably immature, simply because it was against the rules. You’d have to be quite naïve to think in today’s high-tech age that you can get away with anything on a football pitch. Whether the rule is right or wrong isn’t the point here. Bendtner knowingly broke a rule and punishment was expected. Paddy Power rightly stepped up to the plate and offered to pay his fine.
It’s the punishment that actually has many fans up in arms since it shows how hypocritical UEFA really is. The Arsenal forward was hit with a €100,000 fine, plus he’s been suspended for Denmark’s first 2014 World Cup qualifier later this year. UEFA levied it because they obviously have their own sponsors who pump millions of pounds into their bank account each year. They don’t want the players taking money out of their pockets by supplying free advertising for competitors.
But when you compare Bendtner’s indiscretion to the acts of violence and racism that have taken place at Euro 2012 it seems quite harmless. That is until you look at UEFA’s track record of handing out punishment. We’ve heard all along how the organization is trying to stamp out racism and violence, but they aren’t really doing much to deter it.
Over the years UEFA has fined Spain (2004) €56,000 and Croatia (2008) €13,000 for the racist actions of their fans. So far at Euro 2012, Germany has been fined €10,000 after supporters threw wads of paper at Portuguese players during a game and Croatia was hit with an €80,000 tab because supporters made racist remarks to Italy’s Mario Balotelli and fans lit fireworks in the stadium. Perhaps the host nation should have been fined for allowing fireworks into the stadium in the first place?
Russia was fined €120,000 and deducted six points from the next Euro qualifying campaign due to in-stadium violence after their game against Poland. Four volunteer stewards ended up in hospital after a vicious attack by a gang of thugs. The fine was just €20,000 more than Bendtner’s. In addition, the six-point deduction was suspended, meaning it won’t come into effect unless Russian hooligans act up again between now and the end of the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
The fine handed down to Bendtner clearly shows UEFA isn’t as concerned about racism and violence as much as it is about its bank account. If it was serious about cleaning up the uglier aspects of the sport then fines against the football associations of those nations would have been higher or Bendtner’s would have been lower.
All of the anti-racism campaigns in the world don’t really mean much to players and fans when soccer organizations treat offenders with a slap on the wrist. All of the press releases and statements from UEFA boss Michel Platini and FIFA’s Sepp Blatter don’t mean a thing when these hypocritical organizations don’t act on it when given the chance to prove how sincere they are. Everything gets brushed under the carpet and the game goes on.
But the spotting of Bendtner’s underwear brings up another point and another ridiculous FIFA/UEFA rule… that of no video replays in games. It’s quite amazing that five officials can’t spot a football crossing a goal line, even though one of them was stationed about 10 feet away, but the eagle eyes can amazingly detect Bendtner’s underwear from 50 yards.
This shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise though since it’s been going on since 1966 when Geoff Hurst scored at Wembley in England’s 4-2 World Cup win over Germany. Twenty years later we saw Argentina’s Diego Maradona punch the ball over the goal line against England, eliminating them from the 1986 World Cup. In 2010, England was on the receiving end again when Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crossed the goal line against Germany, but it wasn’t called in a 4-1 loss.
Things were evened out for the English this summer at Euro 2012 when Ukraine put the ball over the line only to have play carry on. True, the initial play may have been offside, but the officials completely blew the call at the goal line. Other than the incident in 1966, video replays solved the mystery within seconds.
But contrary to many people’s belief, the disallowed goal actually hurt Ukraine more than it benefited England. With France losing 2-0 to Sweden the same day, England would have advanced to the quarterfinal stage of Euro 2012 with a one-goal loss. England and France would have been level with four points each with their head-to-head meeting also level at 1-1. However, England scored five goals and allowed three while France scored three and allowed three. A 2-1 loss to Ukraine would have leveled England’s goal difference at five for and five against, but they still would have advanced due to their superior goals-for record.
One of the reasons the fifth official is more or less useless on the pitch is his positioning. His view of the goal line is blocked by the six-inch goal post. He’d be much better off directly behind the goal. But the number of officials isn’t the answer anyway as human error can never be wiped out. You could have a dozen of them on the field and still make the wrong call while video technology will make sure the correct one is made the majority of the time. All it takes is a camera placed on the crossbar facing downward. The current system is similar to a 12-person jury letting criminals walk out of court scot-free because video or audio evidence has been ruled inadmissible by the judge (FIFA/EUFA).
In fact, most of football’s problems such as diving and time-wasting could easily be eradicated if the powers-that-be had the guts to enforce the current rules or introduce a few simple new ones. It’s not that hard to do. Time-wasting on throw-ins, corners, goal kicks, and free kicks would disappear if teams didn’t take them within a five or 10 second time frame. For example, you’ve got five seconds to take a throw-in or it’s awarded to the opposition. For corners you could up the limit to 20 seconds. After 20 seconds you forfeit the corner and a goal kick is awarded etc.
I’m surprised all of the top football nations are allowing themselves to be dictated to by FIFA. If England or Spain wants to implement video replay they should just introduce it regardless of FIFA’s objections. It’s about time FIFA was put in its place. Nothing much has changed since 1966 other than a few alterations to the substitute and offside rule. They still can’t figure out 46 years later if a ball has crossed the goal line while a perfectly good solution has been available all along.