Who says the International Break is an extended slow news day?
Earlier today FIFA announced that Lionel Messi had been suspended for four international matches. The crime? Swearing at an assistant referee.
After Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile last week, Messi approached the AR and got into what seemed like a not-entirely-chill conversation. During this exchange, the Barcelona forward unleashed a string of expletives at the unsuspecting referee. The official made no mention of the incident, but FIFA were made aware of what happened after Chile sent CONMEBOL video of the confrontation. And now, hours before Argentina’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Bolivia, Messi has been sidelined.
Here’s the statement from FIFA:
”The FIFA Disciplinary Committee – in application of articles 77 a) and 108 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code – has reached a decision in relation to the case of Lionel Messi following an incident that occurred during the match between Argentina and Chile on 23 March 2017 as part of the qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating article 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee. As a result, Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of CHF 10,000 [that’s about the same in US Dollars]. The first match for which the sanction will apply is the next fixture in the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia between Bolivia and Argentina, which will be played today, 28 March. The remainder of the sanction will be served over Argentina’s subsequent FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.”
Surely Messi was out of line by laying into the official, and his choice of language was, at the very least, unsporting. There’s no doubt he deserved some sort of punishment for it, and in general the sport would be better served if players experienced consequences for disrespecting referees more consistently.
But four matches seems a bit much for just swearing at an official. Argentina only has five more games left in its qualifying campaign, and as of now are still not assured a place at next year’s tournament in Russia. Now they have to try and climb a steep mountain with the heart of the team watching from the stands. The timing is also a little curious— announcing the ban just hours before the Bolivia match.
This also potentially sets a troubling precedent for enforcing rules. Now that national football associations know that they can get players for other national teams banned for things that officials neglected to mention in their reports, it’s entirely likely that they will now have their people pore over videotape in order to find something worth reporting. Anything at all. If this kind of tattling ends up serving as a means to gain real competitive advantages, it could potentially undermine international football.
All that aside, there’s now a very real possibility that the 2018 World Cup will not have Messi. And considering he would be 35 for Qatar 2022, it doesn’t bode well for the dreams of millions of fans who want to see him lift that particular trophy.