Karma and Phala in the world of football


(Some World Cup memories)

It is often said in one language or the other that the sins of the past do not disappear unpaid for. This may not happen in terms of the theory of karma, we are familiar with; the descent may not be direct and may indeed be quite clumsy. Thus someone, not personally related, but related in terms of being a member of the same group or community, to the one who committed the sin, may pay the price for that sin.Thus, Kaka in 2010, paid for what Rivaldo had done in 2002. That’s some form of justice, one might say. “Only connect”, as E.M. Forster put it, and you will see how karma phala (fruit of karma) works in the world of football.  Think of just some editions of the World Cup!

Brazil was playing Turkey at the league stage in World Cup 2002. Rivaldo, who shone in that edition of the World Cup, did some mean acting in that match that directly led to the Turkish defender Hakan Unsal’s dismissal. The referee was deceived into believing that Rivaldo had been badly hurt on his face. The player later admitted his pretension and said that he had wanted Unsal out. He was lucky; he escaped with the relatively mild punishment of a fine. The teams played again in the semi-final; it was a tough but incident-free match, which Brazil won by the narrowest of margins. Now, in World Cup 2010, Kaka, the creative midfielder and a gentleman footballer, who was expected to play a pivotal role for Brazil, had to pay the penalty that Rivaldo had escaped paying. Abdul Kader Keita of Ivory Coast did some acting to get the brilliant young Brazilian red-carded.

Still on Brazil, the equalizing goal against Brazil by Holland in the quarter-final match in the 2010 World Cup was clearly a self- goal.  It was the first ever self- goal scored against Brazil in the history of the World Cup, in every edition of which this country has participated. It is till date the only self- goal against Brazil. It was of course later credited to the Holland midfielder Sneijder, but many thought it was only a technical award. Now whether by that decision of FIFA Brazil was spared the disgrace of a self-goal or not became a topic of talk for a while. Now was that self-goal an act of justice for Luis Fabiano’s double hand goal in Brazil’s match against Chile? 

World Cup 1966 gave football narrative a term: “Wimbley goal”. A Wimbley goal is a “strike which bounces down on or over the goal line”. In WC 1966, England won the final match against Germany by a disputed (as far as the Germans were concerned, a dubious) goal – a Wimbley goal, scored by Hurst. Incidentally, the relevant rules have changed; now, for a goal, the whole of the ball must cross the line. The Germans never got over their hurt. Until 2010 World Cup.

Going by some press reports, Germans seemed to have rejoiced over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal more than England’s humiliating defeat (1-4) in the hands of their national team. Jorge Larrionda, the referee and his assistants, had failed to see the ball having crossed the goal line. Lampard believed, as did the English team’s coach, Fabio Capello, and many others that had that goal not been disallowed, the results of the match might have been different. It is this view, rather than the English captain Steven Gerrard’s (that the goal would not really have made any difference in the outcome), that warmed the German hearts so much. They had felt cheated, more than forty years ago, and felt compensated that a legitimate goal that was disallowed, showed the English the exit gate of World Cup 2010. “Now we are quits” is what Westdeutsch Allgemeine and Welt newspapers reportedly said.

An Iranian minister was supposed to have seen some justice in the fact that those who had worked for sanctions against Iran had an early exit from World Cup 2010. If one does not subscribe to this view, then one might consider the case of France in this World Cup. France had come to South Africa by elbowing out Ireland unfairly through Gallas’s goal from Henry’s double handball pass, unnoticed by the Swedish referee Martin Haussoon. They had usurped Ireland’s place at the World Cup finals. Quite understandably, the Irish rejoiced at France’s early exit. But early exit was only the less important aspect of France’s predicament in South Africa. There was indiscipline in the team, the players and the coach were at loggerheads with each other, the players refused to practice, they were not playing as a team, and one or two players were later found to have indulged in sexual misdemeanour. The team brought their country disrepute, and was thoroughly condemned by the people back home.

Cristiano Ronaldo manipulated the dismissal of Rooney in WC 2006. That was his first World Cup, as was Rooney’s. There was no room for doubt about Ronaldo’s complicity in it – after Rooney was shown the red card, he winked at the Portugal bench, and got caught in the camera. England lost the match and was out of the competition. Now, Ronaldo became the World Footballer of the year in 2008, and he went to 2010 World Cup as a celebrity footballer, and as the captain of the Portugal team. He was expected to sparkle in the tournament. He did nothing of the sort; his performance was a shining example of a “damp squib”. He scored just one goal, which arguably was the most forgettable in the competition. Now, in this World Cup, was he paying for what he had done to Rooney in the last?

My friend, Mrityunjoy Chakraborti, the electrical engineering professor at IIT Kharagpur, was unimpressed with my narrative (an earlier version of it, to be honest) of football justice. I should write a piece on football injustice too, he told me. Brazil, the eternal favourites for the top Cup by the way, didn’t lose a match in 1978 World Cup but couldn’t play the final match because it couldn’t top the Group. Argentina did. It did by defeating Peru by six goals to nil, two more than the number of goals that it needed to show Brazil the door. It was widely believed to be a glaring case of cheating, rare in the context of the World Cup tournament. Argentina won the Cup and Brazil, the victim,had to be content with the third place. What of this, Chakraborti asked me, if I thought of justice in the world of football? Did Argentina pay for it later? He was unaware if it did, he told me. I had nothing to say to him then.

I think I have something of an answer now. This match fixing surely wasn’t done by the team or any member of the team. It was a very high-level match fixing. The dictator wanted the team to win; so conducive conditions had to be created for making that possible. Considerations like “fair play” or “foul play” are for the common man, not for the ruler, who rules by his own ethical code. Well, hasn’t it always been so? 

Eventually Videla, the dictator, the murderer, the abductor, died in prison in utter disgrace. Argentina had a good team in 1978 and that was the first time they won the World Cup. But many, including the Argentinians, seem to relate more emotionally to the 1986 World Cup victory, not the 1978 World Cup victory. Wouldn’t you say it’s “justice” in some sense?

My friend had more examples like the Germany goal keeper’s vicious kicking of the France player, Patrick Battiston, in the semi-final of 1982 World Cup, which went unpunished – shockingly. But this, if you are interested, for another day.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Prof. B.N.Patnaik

Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur

Email: [email protected]

(Images from the net)