The Shearer Defence: a new term for socially acceptable, sporting immorality

Amol Rajan

I mildly disagree with my esteemed colleague Brian Viner, who writes this morning of his low opinion of Alan Shearer’s punditry.  I actually think Shearer is ok rather than poor. And the great striker’s service to Newcastle United, during a torrid spell in that club’s history, has predisposed me to a favourable opinion of him.

But he said something on Saturday, ahead of Spain’s game against Paraguay, that struck me as repugnant.

Invited to comment on the handball by Luis Suarez of Uruguay, in the last minute of extra time in their quarter final against Ghana, which led to Ghana being awarded a penalty (which they missed), and to Uruguay’s passage into the semi-final, Shearer said “you couldn’t hold it against him [Suarez]” because “anyone would do it” if in that situation.

His BBC comrades nodded sagely.

What they were thereby saying is that we ought not to chastise Suarez for succumbing to human nature, and indeed we might even sympathise with him for being in a situation where he was forced to take such action as led to his being awarded a red card.

This is one of the most reprehensible arguments I have heard in a long time.

A outfield player cheated on the goal line. His handball prevented Ghana from scoring. That they had a penalty but missed it is irrelevant. The consequence of the cheating – of the flouting of the rules – is that Uruguay rather than Ghana are in the World Cup semi-final.

What astonishes me is that Shearer’s suggestion led not to opprobrium but to mild approval.

Low-level cheating of this form has become so endemic in sport than people think the onus should be on the victim of the cheating to take advantage of the cheat being caught, rather than on the perpetrator not to cheat. This is madness.

Sport is pointless if players make no attempt to follow the rules. And to the bonkers argument that it is somehow fusty or conservative to approve of players abiding by the rules, I should just quickly remind you that the whole point about rules is that they are an equalising force: they allow the little guys to play on equal terms with the big guys. Those who argue that it’s perfectly fine for rules to be disobeyed seem happy to abandon the very thing that makes sport a vehicle for morality, and creates the possibility of victory for the underdogs, an instance in which sport can teach us important lessons about life.

We need to reacquaint players in all sports with stigma if they are obviously cheating.

As Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ superb Cowdrey Lecture of 2007 put it, walking can restore the spirit of cricket. It used to be the case the batsman who edged the ball to the wicket-keeper, and who everyone save the umpire knew was out, was the victim of stigma and chided as indecent and unprincipled. Nowadays he’s just getting on with his job.

Similarly, those who handball a football on the line, to prevent a last gasp goal in a World Cup quarter-final, should not become instant paragons of solidarity for our base natures. If they are to inspire solidarity at all, in should be in their being rebuked. Far from being socially acceptable, cheating should be socially unacceptable, on the grounds that it deprives sport of the element which makes a contest fair.

The Shearer Defence is socially acceptable but immoral behaviour on the field of sport. Look out for it.

  • Dr_wu01

    So is it fair then, that a goal boundball which is a 100% in favour of ghana, be deliberately stopped to reduce the chance to a 50-50(via an awarded penalty) in favour of Uraguay to the detriment of Ghana.
    So in this case since the crime of being sent off was irrelevant as a mode of punishment. only an awarded goal would suffice.

    Dr Wu

  • sunshinethirsty

    Obviously it was not a 100% since Suarez was in the way (just as it was his hand it could have been his head that got in the way) so the ratios are a little off. Not even the highest of courts deal ‘moral’ justice so I dont know what you expect or want from a sporting match. (let’s bring up the delibarate and encouraged fouling at the end of a basketball game and see how this ridiculous argument stands up to that – its ALL part of the game, sorry)

  • tibush

    Ridiculous post. Suarez cheating did more than break an arm and a leg of players. do u not know what it means to Ghana or Africa to win the world cup? socially? politically? He also stole millions of dollars from Ghana by that one act of cheating. yes FIFA do award money dependent on progress in the final.

    Hansen, Lineker and Shearer are cheats, if they say nothing wrong with cheating. Linkeker is a known diver, after all he dived twice against Cameroon in 1990.

    One more thing not everyone would use their hands, as there must have been thousands of instances of people defending the ball on the line without using thier hands. So to use your hands is a rare occurennce, in all the time i have been watching football or hearing about incidents (over 20 years) i have only seen this happen twice and heard of it 3 times.

    People who instinctively cheat (like Suarez a known diver) would use both hands. It is not instinct. Kewell’s handball against Ghana was instinctive as the ball was to his side right next to his arm. Suarez ’s was a calculated cheating action.

    Banning players for six months would soon deal with this so called instinct.

  • Alex Johnson

    If a professional snooker player touches a ball, he immediately tells the referee, even if the referee doesn’t see it. There is no question of the player trying to cover it up. If only footballers could play their sport with a similiar degree of honour.

  • Alex Johnson

    If a professional snooker player touches a ball, he immediately tells the referee, even if the referee doesn't see it. There is no question of the player trying to cover it up. If only footballers could play their sport with a similiar degree of honour.

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