“Not Rolling with That” Sham


The quote is from Lebron James, annoyed that on April 5, 2024, in the USA’s NCAA Women’s Basketball semifinals between Iowa State University and the University of Connecticut, the latter’s team had been robbed when a referee called a foul against them that stopped their progress to a potential winning basket. Mind you now, that it was a “potential score,” and not a score that was reversed. Also, it was a foul, according to the rule book.

But the issue for James, and many in the sporting world, regardless of sport, was that “there had not been enough for a call,” or that “you have to let players play in the stretch,” the latter stages of a game.

I looked up the Basketball rule on “moving pick” the same way I had previously done with the FIFA Laws of the Game for “penalty,” and found that neither rule book had a category named “not enough for a call.” Instead, each rule book simply had a definition and description of what is a moving pick and what is a penalty—anything else is, well, something else.  

The call made by the basketball referee was correct—the rule book said.

Many sports allow the referee a substantial amount of latitude and subjectivity in making calls—what is palming or carrying as opposed to dribbling in basketball, what is a yellow-card foul for repeated transgressions as opposed to a single-card-worthy transgression (see keepers getting single yellows for repeated time wasting)? The latitude or discretion, though, must fall within the basics of the rules’ parameters, which are in black-and-white text.

But in soccer, as in most sports, fans have become used to the concept that referees will use another set of rule interpretations when a match is reaching its closing stages or when a major trophy is at stake. Shamefully, it can take the form of the “no-call.” Thus, we have the famous Nigel De Jong foul on Xavi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup, (the definition of a red card or disqualifying foul) that was not called given it was during a World Cup match. Or we have the egregious five-foot-five Diego Maradona out-jumping the six-one Peter Shilton in the 1986 World Cup—only the whole world, save the referee, saw it was a “Hand of God” goal. Or Copa America 2024’s opening match no-call penalty committed by Argentina against Canada.

Similarly, you have the called foul that never was, such as the yellow cards given to any Lionel Messi opponent who sneezes in his proximity, or many of the penalties awarded Arjen Robben his entire career. So, what’s the point?

Simple: soccer is only soccer if it is played, at all times, and under all circumstances, by the rules that govern it. Anything short of that is a sham.

TAGS–LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben, FIFA, World Cup

Shutterstock ID#: 2442278863, by awstoys.

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