Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Singer on Cheating in Football

Good to see that big name moral philosophers are tackling the important ethical questions of the day, such as whether German goalkeeper Neuer should have admitted that the ball crossed the line. (Hat tip: Dominic Roser.)

It's an interesting read, though the Fowler anecdote isn't as I remember it: I seem to recall him once being booked for disputing the award of a penalty and then scoring it (but maybe I'm wrong or perhaps that was a different incident). There are, however, other cases that are rather like a batsman 'walking' - such as when a player does after a professional foul or red card.

I have to say though that I thought Singer's article was a little simplistic. It assumes that some standard set of moral rules applies universally, to footballers both qua human beings and qua football players. Maybe matters are more complicated. Perhaps - despite their gloves - goalkeepers, like politicians, cannot avoid dirty hands.

Moreover, one of the rules of football is that the referee's decision is final. Had the referee awarded a goal when the ball didn't cross the line, then it would have stood. Can the Germans really be blamed for taking advantage of the fact that he ruled this ball not to have done so? Maybe it's unreasonable to expect that, unless we're sure what we'd have done had the situation been reversed.

I haven't given a great deal of thought to these topics, but readers looking for more philosophical reflection on football are reminded of the recent Open Court title Soccer & Philosophy.


  1. What Singer doesn't get is that football rightly has a norm that you play to the whistle. If players stopped play themselves every time they thought anyone, including themselves, had breached the rules, then the game wouldn't work at all. You'd have 22 referees, all capable of stopping the game, all capable of making different decisions, all the time. It'd be ridiculous. Cricket has the advantage that if a player nicks it or catches it just above the ground, there's only one person involved who is moreover usually best placed to know whether they have nicked it or caught it, while of course the game has stopped anyway. Football is continuous in a way that cricket is not, and gets usually stopped when it does get stopped because X has done something to Y, where neither X nor Y may have a very good or the same idea of whether they have.

    And anyway, Singer misrepresents what Neuer did. He didn't pull the ball back over the line, which, like diving, would have been trying to fool the ref about what had happened, but carried on playing given the referee's decision, which does not in the same way try and fool him. On the other hand, Singer, well-known public intellectual, does try and fool people about what Neuer did. Isn't he condemned out of his own mouth?

  2. Neuer certainly did pull the ball quickly back into play. Whether he did it to fool the ref or simply because a goal hadn't been signalled (and therefore he was playing on) is hard to say. It's not like the Fabianski incident, where the ref appears to ask whether he used his hand and he says no.

    You're certainly right about some relevant differences between cricket and football - but some players do try to referee the game themselves (e.g. going down under a tackle and grabbing the ball).

  3. No, Neuer does not pull the ball quickly back into play. When he grabs the ball, which he does do quickly, it has already bounced back into play. It is more cheeky than I remember it being, because he throws the ball down the other end of the pitch as quickly as possible, which must have the effect of partly distracting the referee from making the right decision, but it is not 'pulling the ball back into play'.