By Paul Gardner
Back to the courts we go -- not the real courts, not the legal bodies, but these special quasi-legal, pseudo-legal bodies, these disciplinary bodies that
the professions set up keep their own members in order.
We've been down this route earlier this year, the one that leads to UEFA's Disciplinary Committee. In April that committee was
called upon to hear Barcelona's appeal against English referee Howard Webb's diving call on Lionel Messi in a Champions League game. The DC got out of that one rather nicely by announcing that it was
not allowed to change the factual decision of a referee (except, perhaps, in cases of the mistaken identity of a player). So it never heard the appeal at all, and Webb's absurd call was allowed to
stand -- meaning that Messi was labeled a cheat.
Now we have the case of Arsenal's Eduardo. Already labeled a cheat by the British press, this verdict has now been confirmed by the UEFA
DC. Oh yes, said the DC, definitely, Eduardo dived in the game against Glasgow Celtic. He wasn't touched by Celtic's goalkeeper Artur Boruc. Therefore Eduardo was guilty of attempting to "deceive the
referee," therefore he has been banned for the next two Arsenal games in Europe.
Arsenal has announced that it will lodge an appeal against the decision -- and well it should. It is a
quite outrageous decision. Before the DC even sat down to its deliberations, there was a problem. Why was it investigating this particular case? Both the referee and the assistant referee concerned
had confirmed the decision made at the time, which was to give Arsenal a penalty kick. Thereby ruling out a dive by Eduardo.
The "Scots" complained, though -- not so much Celtic as the
Scottish FA. Evidently that sort of political pressure pays off. So the DC was called into action in unusual circumstances.
What follows is something that we should be used to by now --
but which the soccer community should howl and protest about until things are changed. It is the same old high-and-mighty attitude of the rule-makers in the sport. They make a decision -- an important
one -- and do not feel obliged to issue a full explanation of their reasoning or of the evidence weighed.
In Eduardo's case, the evidence must be video evidence. Eduardo himself has not
been heard -- his busy schedule with Arsenal and Croatia has ruled that out. Never mind. The things to bear in mind in a crypto-hearing of this sort are just two, but they are two absolutely
fundamental concepts of justice: 1) the presumption of the innocence of the accused; and 2) that, in the verdict, justice be not only done, but that it be seen
to be done -- meaning that the
deliberations of the "court" must be open to full public scrutiny.
The points are vital in the Eduardo case. It is essential to know what video evidence the DC viewed in reaching its guilty
verdict. I have closely and repeatedly watched the videos that have come up on line and can state, unequivocally, that a guilty verdict based on any of those is simply unsustainable. Maybe UEFA has
access to better videos -- OK, but we must see them.
In lodging its appeal against UEFA's two-game ban, Arsenal had this to say: "We strongly believe that the decision taken is deeply
flawed and not based on any forensic view of the video evidence available. There are obvious errors and inconsistencies in UEFA's judgement ..."
There certainly are. But one inevitably
has grave doubts about the appeal procedure. Why would it be any more transparent than the DC's original hearing?
To go back to the very beginning. These calls -- a sprawling goalkeeper,
a speeding forward -- are difficult ones for the referee to make. In fact, before his decision, they are difficult plays
for both the forward and the goalkeeper.
considerable wisdom on this topic has come, today, from England's Wayne Rooney -- another forward accused of taking a dive when challenged by a goalkeeper (Arsenal's Manuel Almunia). After protesting
his innocence, Rooney added his opinion that the decisions are best left to the referee, not to post-game tribunals: "It is difficult to prove. You see some that should not have been penalties but get
given and others that are clear and do not. The decisions are down to the referee. It is a difficult job but they do the best they can."
Just so. Accept the referee's decision, unless
there is some glaringly egregious reason for believing it to be wrong. Yet Manuel Gonzalez, the Spanish referee involved in the Eduardo incident, is being second-guessed -- and has been over-ruled by
the UEFA DC -- on the flimsiest of evidence.
I guess you never know, but I'll admit to an almost total lack of faith that the UEFA DC will admit an error and correct an injustice -- or
even admit that there was never any reason why Eduardo's alleged offense should have been singled out for investigation.