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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Winston loves Big Brother

All Whites' goal hero Winston Reid is in foul trouble, to use the American parlance, ahead of tonight's encounter with World Champs Italy. Already on one yellow card, if the tough tackling youngster picks up another he'll miss the final match against Paraguay.

What was Winston's misdemeanour? He celebrated the first NZ goal at a World Cup in 28 years by taking his shirt off. Call out the Thought Police, send him to the Ministry of Love, such crimes require swift punishment.

Look at Winston Reid’s face in the picture above. Does he look like he is deliberately and maliciously thinking “I might waste a precious few seconds here when I have to put my top back on, maybe even a few more if I make a beeline to those supporters over there!” Not a single malicious thought would have crossed his mind, he is simply reacting spontaneously to the buzz of scoring; something that Fifa propaganda says the game should be about.

It's time Fifa changed this directive. I won't call it a law because it is not explicitly stated in the laws of the game.

A directive is when Fifa sits down the officials ahead of a tournament and agree what they are going to focus on in terms of interpreting the laws. It might be to stamp down on diving, or infringing on free kicks. Its a decision to interpret a law in a particular way, which is then set in stone, sometimes for that tournament alone, sometimes it last beyond the tournament. For years now the directive has been that whenever a player takes his shirt off after scoring a goal then that player shall receive a yellow card. But what Law does this directive relate to?

It relates to Law 12- Fouls and Misconduct:

A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offences:

• unsporting behaviour
• dissent by word or action
• persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game
• delaying the restart of play
• failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick or throw-in
• entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
• deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

It would seem then that taking ones shirt of is either: Unsporting behaviour or delaying the restart of play.

If it's unsporting behaviour then why is so much joy generated from the action? Why is the replay of a player taking his shirt off used over and over in highlights reels. Unless the player is deliberately inciting the opposition players or fans, or revealing an offensive or inappropriate slogan on a T-Shirt underneath it is not unsporting to celebrate a goal by taking your shirt off. In the game where Reid picked up his card the Slovakian defenders time and time again kicked out at playmaker Simon Elliot in a fairly cynical and blatant attempt to slow the play, or even hurt him. Only one of these challenges picked up a yellow card. Elliot was visibly hurt by the attention he received. Who was hurt by Winston's actions? Why was Winston put on a par with the cynical deeds of Slovakia? Why does Fifa use images of players celebrating, of fans celebrating and then punish them for doing so?

So then if its not unsporting behaviour it must be delaying the restart of play! Yet it took less than a minute to restart the game after Winston Reid's goal and the referee added another 20 seconds on for good measure. This is no more than normal for a team who score a late goal and then falls in a heap on the scorer. An orchestrated goal celebration, such as the likes of the Diski Dance which started the tournament takes much longer. Would Fifa have dared sanction the jabulani of Tshabalala and his team mates, as they celebrated South Africa 2010's opening goal?

I agree that deliberate time wasting after a goal, revealing political slogans on T-Shirts or inciting violence by inciting the crowd deserve to be carded and stamped out, but not something as harmless as showing of your six pack.

If Fifa were to stamp out any aspect of the game which infuriates in its cynicism it is the habit of substituted players from a team that is in the lead purposefully dawdling off the pitch to waste time. They shake the referee's hand, cross themselves, wave to the crowd, pull out a prayer matt and face Mecca- anything to gobble up a few more seconds. There should be a time out rule as in Cricket- If it takes a fully fit player longer than 30 second say to leave the pitch then the substitution should be ruled out. Why Fifa punishes one thing, while letting another slide is beyond me.

One argument that would persuade Sepp Blatter to repeal the directive is that watching muscular men run towards a camera is surely a good thing for the ladies. His mind definitely thinks like that already. Remember that Blatter is the person who recommended that Women Footballers wear shorter shorts. So C'mon Sepp, let the ladies get their fix, and let the lads celebrate their goals- Let slip the shirts!

Anyway, I doubt Winston is too worried. A Facebook group has been set up to help him the pay off the 5,000 Swiss Franc fine, and should he get up and score the winner against Italy tonight I hope he throws caution, and his shirt, to the wind.

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