Picture the scene.
It is the 109th minute in extra time of a decisive World Cup Qualifying Play Off. You are captaining your country against a team fuelled by the dream of reaching a World Cup in what would be extraordinary circumstances given the turmoil that the nation has faced throughout its campaign.
You score the winner, your second of the night (a neat header into the far corner) and your 50th goal for your country.
- execute your trade mark knock out celebration with the corner flag?
- Run towards and celebrate with teammates and/or family? or
- Coolly remember that you have struck a lucrative deal to promote a new sponsor (an online travel store) and forgo the above in order pretend you’re an airplane before making a T sign with your arms in reference to the company in question, TripADeal?
In Australia’s recent match against Syria, Tim Cahill stands accused of choosing option 3 and has faced criticism from fans and commentators as a result.
Whilst not immediately apparent that the celebrations were in reference to anything in particular, following the match the social media sites for both Cahill and the travel company, which is also a sponsor of Cahill’s A-League club Melbourne City, suggested otherwise.
TripADeal started by asking their followers on Instagram:
“Did you catch @tim_cahill our new brand ambassador, doing the TripADeal ‘T’ after he scored the winning goal last night? Congratulations Tim!”
Before the post was deleted Cahill responded to this comment with a number of emojis. He then subsequently posted a picture on his own Instagram thanking the fans and in which he tagged the company.
TripADeal subsequently confirmed the agreement when Managing Director Norm Black said:
“This is the first step for us to formalise something on top of our really solid friendship. This is a great stepping stone to bigger and better things. For us there is nobody better to have linked to your brand. There is no higher respected sportsman in the country.”
Cahill avoided any caution during the match, for unsporting behaviour, no doubt because he did not remove his shirt or, at the time, meet any of the criteria set out in Law 12 of the Laws of the Games in the eyes of the referee.
Had the referee known his celebration was to promote a sponsor the referee may have taken a different view and chosen to show him a yellow card for a choreographed celebration or potentially “showing a lack of respect for the game.”
In terms of other possible breaches of the Laws of the Game the most relevant appears likely to be Law 4, which governs the Player’s Equipment and paragraph 5 therein which states:
“5. Slogans, statements, images and advertising Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer`s logo. For any offence the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or by FIFA.”
Sports Shorts has considered this Law previously in some detail, especially as it relates to political messages and the wearing of poppies on shirts during November. However, this is clearly not a political issue and appears solely to relate to advertising.
It is worth noting that the pre-amble to the Laws of the Game states:
“The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, “what would football want/expect?” The IFAB will continue to engage with the global football family so changes to the Laws benefit football at all levels and in every corner of the world, and so the integrity of the game, the Laws and the referees is respected, valued and protected.”
Following the match FIFA did not expressly state that it would be investigating the incident saying:
“FIFA is reviewing and analysing the reports from the referees and the match commissioners for all matches in FIFA competitions, events which require further attention may be communicated accordingly.”
It is likely Cahill would argue that he did not breach Law 4 as no explicit sponsorship was shown on his clothing or undergarments as was the case when Nicolas Bentdner was fined £80,000 and banned for one match for revealing a sponsor’s name on his underwear whilst playing in the 2012 European Championship finals for Denmark.
Given Cahill revealed nothing in order to reference TripADeal, indeed most viewers were unaware of the intended reference until after the game, were his actions any different to a player paid to wear the boots of the company he chooses to endorse? Or following a set celebration they have made their own and which they subsequently seek to trade mark and exploit – see for instance Gareth Bale’s ‘11 of Hearts’?
The Cahill issue, and similar situations in the future, are likely only to be actionable retrospectively unless all referees know about each player’s endorsements and agreements.
Maybe then IFAB will have to consider whether this issue is likely to be the start of a growing trend of similar such celebrations and whether it should look to curtail the ability of players to advertise their sponsors, or own marks, on the field of play beyond the long accepted boot deals.
Whatever view is taken by purists of the game, footballers will always point to the fact that careers are short and that they should be entitled to exploit their image whenever possible. Opponents will point to a further commercialisation of the ‘beautiful game’.