Alan Good

IN the rush to brand Uruguay striker Luis Suarez a cheat or a hero, an evaluation of the rules which allowed such an incident to occur is curiously missing.

The argument over the ethics and the morality of the handball which denied Ghana a last-gasp winning goal on Friday, and helped Uruguay advance to Tuesday's last four clash with the Netherlands, is one which will go around in circles forever.

What struck me in the aftermath - as it has done with the various officiating controversies at this World Cup - is how football's rulebook increasingly resembles a cheat's charter.

The Suarez incident can only tentatively be compared with Thierry Henry's last November. One handball prevented a goal, the other helped to score one; one man was caught, the other wasn't.

What both incidents do have in common is that they occurred because the incentives in place to prevent them were far from strong enough.

Henry only had to fool three people in the Stade de France, no matter how loudly the rest of the watching world bleated. Similarly, Suarez was able to illegally prevent Ghana's goal because there was no guarantee he'd pay the ultimate price of his team going home.

The rules see his handball in the same light as a goalkeeper chopping down a striker who has just gone around him - denying a goalscoring opportunity.

A red card and a penalty is the prescribed punishment; the opposition must then make them pay from 12 yards out. Suarez rolled the dice and won; fair is foul, and foul as fair, and all that.

While his action has been described by Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez as "instinctive", he wouldn't have done it 20 minutes into the game. It was a desperate last act; the Ajax man traded a certain goal for a 20% chance Gyan would miss the spotter.

No sporting code has a perfect system of implementing fair play and making correct decisions, but World Cup 2010 has done a good job of showing how comparatively weak these are in football.

GAA and rugby both have variations on an after-the-fact citing system. GAA stations extra officials next the goal. Tennis and rugby both use technology to make crucial judgments. Rugby allows for a penalty try when a certain score is wrongly prevented; football does not provide for a penalty goal.

And what of cheating? Athletics and cycling both have doping problems we'd never want to see in football, and the incentives clearly aren't working there either.

But at least if you're caught, you're banned for a couple of years. Suggest that a footballer be banned for six months for an incident like Suarez's, and you'd be laughed out the gate. Is it any better than a blood transfusion to get you up l'Alpe d'Huez ahead of the rest?

Whether it's the hands of Henry and Suarez, Lampard's goal that wasn't, Tevez's offside or Luis Fabiano's juggling act, harmful controversies will always occur in football - as long as the rules allow them to happen so easily.