The Football Pitch now a sledge free zone?
Simon Chiarelli reflects on the punishments handed out by FIFA following ‘the Zidane incident’
and its possible implications.
The last act of Zinedine Zidane’s celebrated footballing career will long be remembered unfortunately as
perhaps his defining moment, tarnishing a legacy, which seemed destined to be ranked alongside the likes of
Maradona and Pele.
His butting of the unwilling party in the incident, Italy’s accident prone Marco Materazzi, however is not
only remarkable for Zidane’s apparent brain-explosion, but for forever changing the face of gamesmanship in
Notorious for his penchant to provoke players to the point of madness, varying stories have arisen
surrounding what Materazzi actually said to ‘Zizou’ to drive him to such lengths of retaliation. Although the
FC Inter defender categorically denied abusing the French maestro’s mother, he confirmed that derogatory
comments were made towards Zidane, an act known in Australia as ‘sledging’.
After a thorough investigation, a FIFA disciplinary committee penalised both players, handing Zidane a
symbolic and futile three match ban, while banning Materazzi from two competitive international matches.
And in a coincidence, Italy’s World Cup hero will now miss the rematch between this year’s finalists when
they meet in a European Championship qualifier in September.
Monetary penalties were also handed out to the pair.
However, the decision of FIFA’s committee sets a dangerous precedent for the sport in future.
Once a permanent fixture in most competitive events around the world, sledging has effectively been banned
from all football matches in future by the sport’s governing body.
While it cannot be claimed that FIFA were influenced by media perception in the penalties handed out to
both Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi, the sheer fact that latter individual was penalised for an act that
occurs with much regularity on a football field is questionable.
Bearing in mind that both Materazzi and the French legend denied the involvement of racial comments further highlights the dubious nature of FIFA’s decision.
Although for the time being the effect of the decision may not be obvious, without doubt the long-term ramifications of FIFA’s ruling will prove enormous and has perhaps opened a proverbial Pandora’s box.
Questions must now be raised as to how FIFA plan to marshal gamesmanship on the football field.
What methods will the sport’s governing body use to monitor and police sledging? Will national federations
now be obliged to penalise players in domestic competitions and can players be penalised retrospectively?
Of lesser importance, the decision has now established another precedent that must be policed in order to
ensure FIFA’s credibility. This is that the provoker is almost equally at fault as the person who retaliated,
altering one of football’s unwritten rules.
Materazzi was wrongly portrayed as the villain in the incident by the media and his punishment has
inadvertently excused the once frowned upon act of retaliation, formerly a taboo and inexcusable action.
Overregulating by FIFA has again placed a cloud over the sport’s standing, staining people’s perception of
the game and granting further ammunition to its detractors.
The decision is yet another blight on a World Cup tournament that promised much but produced little as a
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