This article does not condone Rooney’s behavior, and it especially does not condone swearing at match officials. Having said that, the governing authorities have a responsibility to be consistent in their rulings. Just as we’ve insisted in the past that referees need to be consistent in their awarding of marginal calls, the same applies to the FA (perhaps to a greater degree considering that the FA has a lot more time and information to make their decision than referees on the pitch).
In light of that, two things are worthy of concern:
1. The FA has not instructed match officials to start booking players for swearing. Instead, in theory a player must display dissent against decisions to be worthy of a booking, although in practice there many cases where the referee, either in an effort to calm the situation or due to player intimidation, does not book dissenting players (examples range from Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs to Chelsea’s John Terry, Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, Newcastle’s Joey Barton, and at least one player from the club you support as well). Dissent happens on a regular basis during a football match. Players are infrequently booked.
2. The FA based their decision on Rooney’s ban by saying that Lee Mason, the referee in that game, claimed he would have booked Wayne Rooney if he had seen the incident. Can the real Lee Mason please stand up? It would be interesting to see how many referees would consider red-carding a player for swearing into a television camera. Specifically, would they ban a player for asking ‘what the fuck do you want’ (I’m paraphrasing), and then not ban a player for saying ‘fuck off’ (commonly directed by players at referees and linesman) or ‘fucking useless’ (as said to the ref by Mathew Etherington of Stoke City on the weekend).
Scott (ROM) shared an email from the FA earlier this morning, which is revealing (emphasis is mine):
Thank you for contacting the Football Association.
The FA takes a dim view of any foul and abusive language used at football matches. The clear distinction to be made in the Wayne Rooney case is that the language used was directed specifically at a television camera lens, whilst clearly audible to the viewing public. We will always take a view on every incident reported to us by match officials, who also have the ability to apply Law 12 in relation to insulting and abusive language or gestures.
The FA values the opinions of football supporters and we thank you for getting in touch with us to share your views.
Is this a new rule? Is Rooney being banned because of:
If it’s #1 or #2, then the FA are applying the rule incorrectly. If it’s #3, as they claim it is, then why hasn’t Rooney been banned before for abusing the referee? Because the camera wasn’t close enough? Are we now going to judge conduct based on what the public can hear or what the public can see (because what they see is often a lot worse than what they hear)? I don’t want to give examples of other players from other teams lest someone accuses me of United bias (I’m sure someone will still do that), but the question remains, he’s done it before, and other United players have done it several times, and the referees haven’t booked them for far worse. Who was seriously being offended here?
Interestingly, as a commentator on Scott’s article points out, the FA has nowhere stated in it’s official missives on the Rooney incident that this is because of swearing directly at a camera lens.
I’m all for sensible applications of the law – not everyone swearing on the football pitch should be booked. However, the FA failed to distinguish between genuine abuse hurled at match officials or other players (worthy of booking) and a player using swear words at the camera / cameraman following him on the pitch sidelines.
Or perhaps that wasn’t their criteria after all, all they were concerned about is whether it created a big enough fuss and warranted ‘special’ attention.
If the FA can’t be honest about what they’re doing, and if they can’t be consistent in the way they apply certain rules – then they’re essentially admitting that they hand out punishments to kow-tow to public opinion (as opposed to applying their own laws, in spirit or letter).
And regardless of whether Ferguson is right or wrong in lashing out at the whole world, he’s right about one thing – this whole mess places more pressure on referees, which is the opposite of what the FA needs to do for their ‘Respect’ campaign.