AFRICA has been united in grief since Ghanaâ€™s exit from the 2010 World Cup on Friday night and understandably so. Here is a re-cap: The Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez stopped Dominic Adiyiahâ€™s irredeemably goal-bound header from entering the net with his hands.
Asamoah Gyan blazed the resultant spot-kick against the bar. Uruguay celebrated qualification for the semi-finals and the sneaky foresight of Suarez. Africa has been left to wail at a perceived moral and sporting injustice.
Penalty goal rule
But was it that, a rank injustice?
The immediate aftermath of the Ghana-Uruguay encounter has seen furious calls for a rule change; a change that would afford the referee the discretion to award a â€œpenalty goalâ€ where it is clear that the ball was prevented from crossing the line by some illegal intervention as blatant as a handball.
This concept, novel as it sounds, is much closer to the leg-before-wicket (LBW) rule in cricket than it is to rugbyâ€™s penalty try and basketballâ€™s foul basket.
In cricket, a batsman is deemed out if the ball strikes his leg when it would otherwise have gone on to hit the stumps and merrily displace the bails.
The motive behind the LBW rule is as clear as it is gentlemanly: a batsman will not be allowed to unfairly use his body to prevent the ball from hitting the wicket when he has a bat to play with. Otherwise, we would have an endless stream of not-out scores, batsmen would never be dismissed and innings would never ever end.
No chance FIFA will act
Will FIFA be bullied into even contemplating such a rule change? Not a chance; forget it. By far the most abiding character trait FIFA possesses is that it never bows to mass hysteria. That is something you can readily associate with, for example, the Uganda government. But not FIFA.
Suarezâ€™s crafty hand-ball may have riled many but it is important to be dispassionate here, like FIFA undoubtedly is.
The penalty goal idea being mooted is only an issue because Gyan so decisively found the cross-bar. If he had scored, this debate would have been non-existent. We will do well to remember that Gyan scored an equalizing penalty in the group stages against Australia after Harry Kewell was deemed to have handled in similar circumstances.
Innumerable supporters of the penalty goal, many of them Africans, also lead an alternate life as Arsenal supporters. There were no fervent calls for a penalty goal to be introduced when, in April 2006, then Gunnersâ€™ defender Kolo Toure prevented Wayne Rooney from scoring a certain goal for Manchester United by deflecting the Englishmanâ€™s shot away from goal with his hands.
And therein lies the problem. This is essentially a jingoistic debate fuelled by the crushing disappointment an entire continent is struggling to contain.
When footballing logic belatedly returns, it will be seen that the problem with the penalty goal is that not in all circumstances will it be as crystal clear as Suarezâ€™s, where both the act and the playerâ€™s intention was not in dispute.
Other situations will present themselves where there is not only a disputed hand-ball but other variables that invite a number of permutations and not the singular one that the ball would have crossed the line.
Thereâ€™s already a clear punishment prescribed for this kind of thing, mind. The player who handles is sent off and a penalty promptly awarded.
One has to be totally and incredibly accursed on his day to miss and Gyan, inopportunely, did so.
FIFAâ€™s veto powers
FIFA will not permit such a rule change, even moreso for it has deeply-ingrained veto powers. Footballâ€™s Laws of the Game are maintained by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). Changes to the Laws of the Game must be agreed to by at least six of the eight delegates who sit on the Board. The FIFA Statutes stipulate that FIFA will designate four members to sit on the Board on its behalf.
All that the FIFA representatives need to do is veto any proposed rule change and the Board will be hung.
For now, Africa can only wish Gyan should have scored.
Expect no FIFA rule change