Monday, September 14, 2009

UEFA Overturn Eduardo Ban: But It Raises More Questions Than Answers

UEFA have taken the monumental decision to overturn the ban given to Arsenal's Eduardo for diving. The Croatian international had been set to miss the Gunners opening two fixtures in the Champions League, but after today's decision he is free to play.

Eduardo had been found guilty of diving to win a penalty in Arsenal's Champions League qualifier against Celtic last month. The penalty which was converted by the striker ultimitely ended the tie as a competitive fixture, seeing the Gunners through to the lucrative group stages comfortably.

In the immediate aftermath to the match, the Scottish Football Association led by David Taylor, complained to UEFA who decided to take the unprecedented step of investigating the incident through television footage.

Taylor is one of the members of UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Committee.

Arsenal cried foul as the Gunners felt that their player was being victimised in this witch hunt, however far from a single player being picked out, this incident would have set a precedent for all future champions league incidents involving diving.

In the build up to the UEFA panel meeting to discuss the incident, lawyers representing Arsenal sent a 19 page document to UEFA chiefs stating that there was enough contact between Eduardo and Artur Boruc, the Celtic 'keeper, to throw the player off balance.

Initially UEFA dismissed Arsenal's document and replied with a one page fax with only a few lines stating that the incident would be reviewed by a UEFA panel and that Arsenal could appeal the decision if they were unhappy with the outcome.

Control and Disciplinary Body (2006-2011)

Chairman: Dr Thomas Partl (AUT)
Vice-Chairmen: Jim Stjerne Hansen (DEN), Jacques Antenen (SUI), Sándor Berzi (HUN)
Members: John Delaney (IRL), Emilio García Silvero (ESP), Dr Rainer Koch (GER), Maurizio Laudi (ITA) ,David Taylor (SCO) ,Joël Wolff (LUX)

A panel made of Chief Executives from 10 of Europe's international bodies met in Brussels and came to the decision that Eduardo had indeed dived, and handed the player a two match ban.

Arsenal as expected, appealed the decision, and today UEFA found in their favour and rescinded Eduardo's ban.
"I'm very pleased that we have finally arrived at the truth," said Eduardo in a statement on the Arsenal website.
"All we needed to do was to prove what happened and we have managed to do that. This decision makes me feel a lot better.

"I just want to say that I am a fair player. To score goals you must take your opportunities and I'm not the type of player who needs to be dishonest to score goals."

Arsenal also welcomed UEFA's decision.
"We were able to show there was contact between the keeper and Eduardo and that the decision should be annulled," a Gunners statement said.

"We fully support the drive for fair play in football and believe it is important that UEFA provides clear and comprehensive standards that will be consistently enforced going forward.

"We are glad to put this incident behind us and concentrate on the games ahead."
Arsenal had called the initial decision by UEFA "deeply flawed."

A statement on said:
"Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees' assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to our satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty."
The decision is a monumental one for European football as we know it. And it can be interpreted in a number of ways.

First of all, UEFA's decision to rescind the card could be read as the federation rolling back as it would mean that every European match from now on would have to be viewed retrospectively.

This is theory sounds like a simple matter, but the logistics involving watching every match again would be a major strain even for an association like UEFA. The main reason for it being such a strain is that there is no body specifically designed to review such incidents.

This is most probably where UEFA's first reviewing committee came undone. The Control and Disciplinary committee is a body made of professional people not a professional footballing body of people who made their career either as a referee or as a player.

With that in mind it was relatively easy for Arsenal's lawyers to pick holes in a decision that was clearly not scientifically made, hence UEFA's u-turn.

The decision could also be interpreted as Eduardo being innocent in the first place and that the Control and Disciplinary committee's decision was a gross miscarriage of justice.

Either way, today's decision means that UEFA can choose four paths from today.

The first path is that they do nothing and keep with the current status-quo. The system is not perfect but UEFA and Michel Platini are known to favour leaving the match in the referee's hands, and have even taken the step that two extra referee's assistants will stand behind each goal from the next European Championships and including a trial run in this season's Europa League.

The second option is that UEFA form a body of ex-players and referee's who retrospectively view every European cup fixture and report back within 48 hours whether there is to be a ban or not.

The criteria could be set, i.e. dives or missed tackles, and the group would come to a scientific decision that could not be deconstructed by a good legal team.

Option three is the nuclear choice that FIFA have tried to avoid for years.

The use of video evidence during a match.

The benefits are easily pointed out, but there would be serious disadvantages as certain games could become stop start affairs.

The last option on the table is in all probability the easiest to police for UEFA.

If they were to introduce a citing system similar to Rugby Union, teams would be able to nominate a number of incidents they would like to see reviewed by a UEFA committee. Logistically, this would be a much easier option than reviewing every single match and it would be quite easy to roll out across all of UEFA's international bodies.

The Eduardo incident raised the thorny issue of diving, and how it is effecting the game as a whole, and how it takes away from the spirit and integrity of the game.

UEFA's initial decision to charge Eduardo may have been the right one for the future of the game, but so too was their decision to rescind that decision.

If the disease of diving is to be eradicated then it needs to approached with a clear scientific approach that cannot be questioned.

The future of the sport is in Michel Platini's hands.

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