Dangerous Soccer Celebrations Raise Questions About the Future of Goal Celebration Rules

November 9, 2014

Uncategorized

By Brittany Corwin – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Late last month, Peter Biaksangzuala, an Indian soccer player from the Mizoram Premier League, celebrated an equalizing goal against Chanmari West FC with several flips. He landed one of these backflips on his head, leaving him unconscious and with severe spinal cord damage. Several days later, on October 19, 2014, Biaksangzuala tragically passed away due to complications from the injury.

In response to Biaksangzuala’s death, FIFA’s Medical Committee warned that it would be pushing for a new rule to ban such celebrations as backflips and somersaults because they pose a safety risk to players.

Currently, “Celebration of a goal” under Law 12, ‘Fouls and Misconduct’ of the ‘Laws of the Games’ currently states:

“While it is permissible for a player to demonstrate his joy when a goal has been scored, the celebration must not be excessive. Reasonable celebrations are allowed, but the practice of choreographed celebrations is not to be encouraged when it results in excessive time-wasting and referees are instructed to intervene in such cases.”

Further, this section of the ‘Law of the Games’ specifically mentions that players should be cautioned for such actions as making provocative or inflammatory gestures, removing one’s shirt or climbing on a perimeter fence, to name a few.

As you can see, the current rules are focused on avoiding excessive celebration and celebration that may be considered as wasting time, unsportsmanlike or inappropriate. There is no indication of safety as a concern relating to players’ methods of goal celebration.

The lack of safety consideration is eye opening, since Biaksangzuala’s tragic death is an indication that goal celebrations can be dangerous and can result in catastrophic outcomes. However, this raises the question of what FIFA should do in response to events like Biaksangzuala’s and prevent them from occurring again.

FIFA stated that it would be issuing a “directive” warning players not to perform such celebrations. Afterwards, the FIFA Medical Committee will then begin writing a proposal to ban celebratory somersaults and backflips. However, Dr. Michel D’Hooghe, chairman of FIFA’s Medical Committee, stated that he presumed the directive would not be effective in ensuring players avoid these actions, but instead he suggested that these celebrations need to be made illegal.

If FIFA makes backflips and somersaults illegal in the celebration of a goal, it would definitely help deter players from performing them and reduce those specific injuries as result. However, what about the other celebratory actions that result in injury but do not involve flips of any sort?

While Biaksangzuala’s celebration tragically resulted in his death, other sports have recently seen injuries during athlete celebrations as well. For example, on October 26, 2014, defensive end Lamarr Houston of the National Football League Chicago Bears suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee while celebrating a sack against the New England Patriots. A month prior in another NFL game, Stephen Tulloch of the Detroit Lions similarly tore his ACL after celebrating a sack against the Green Bay Packers, rendering him unable to play for the year.

These sack celebrations were little more than a couple skips and jumps, which is quite the opposite of Biaksangzuala’s backflip. However, they resulted in significant injuries that left the athletes out for the season or year.

Celebrating one’s success, whether it is a goal or an amazing play at just the right moment, is inherent in the sport. Everyone wants to celebrate their successes and I am certain that in that moment these players do not consider the dangers that may arise from their celebrations.

Celebration is spontaneous and players take their own risk when choosing how to celebrate. It is such an exciting moment for the player, team and his or her fans and thus, making a long list of celebratory actions illegal takes away this spontaneity.

Even if backflips and somersaults were banned, as Dr. D’Hooghe suggested, there are no changes to rules of celebration that could address all the dangers that could possibly result from a player celebrating his or her success. The NFL sack celebrations are a prime example of this.

Celebration is inherent in the game of soccer, and sports in general, and backflips and somersaults should not be made illegal. Players take their own risk when they choose their celebration and while all possible injuries cannot be preventable or foreseeable, these players need to be aware of the possible dangers that could arise. Hopefully, Biaksangzuala’s tragic death will open players’ eyes to the real dangers that can materialize and they will think twice about taking the risk of throwing a flip and opt for a lower risk celebration instead.

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