[OUTLOOK]Punishment should fit the crimes

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[OUTLOOK]Punishment should fit the crimes

Winning World Cup matches seems to be a taxing matter. Italy and Spain, who have both lost to Korea, are protesting vehemently referee calls made during their respective matches. There are sour feelings in Italy, despite a survey poll conducted by CNN that shows three out of four respondents worldwide side with the referee. The protests in Italy have even created a national media frenzy that criticizes not only the referee but also Korea.

Referees are only humans and they, too, can make mistakes. We know this all too well for we, too, felt the anger when a referee's decision at Salt Lake City denied the short-track skater Kim Dong-sung an Olympic gold medal. Soccer perhaps is a sport that holds a higher probability of referee miscalls. That is because there is only one referee overseeing the game while the field is vast and the players are numerous. There is no revoking a referee's call after the game, even when replay videos prove him or her wrong. Only in exceptional cases can referees make a joint call with assistant referees. Perhaps this human factor of the unpredictable is what adds to the thrill of the game and makes soccer even more fun.

Of course, thrills are no excuses for players to cheat or referees to make unfair calls. Fouls that hurt the opposing side or simulated actions that try to draw false calls should be punished without exception. Players must be made to feel that cheating isn't worth it. There are two elements that make the players desist. One is the probability of getting caught and the other is the level of punishment the player receives after getting caught.

To better the chance of catching wrongdoings, we could add an extra referee on the field to root out players who foul. Or we could stop the match when there is a serious decision to make, such as one concerning any punishment bigger than a warning or any dubious action that has occurred within a free-kick area, as they do in American football. We could heighten punishment by giving out yellow or red cards for lesser violations, and giving out suspensions like in handball or ice hockey could also be a solution.

Couldn't we apply any of these suggestions? Couldn't we apply all of them, in fact? The enforcement of effective rules is a problem found everywhere, not only in the sport of soccer. Election laws couldn't stop illegal campaigns from appearing in the local elections held recently. The bribery allegations filed against the president's sons show how blatantly ignored or broken the rules of the game can be.

Gary Becker, the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics laureate, presented an interesting case in the relationship between crime and punishment. He suggested that the best policy to keep people from breaking the rules was to keep lowering the probability of getting caught to the infinitesimal while raising the level of punishment as much as possible and expecting the effect of exemplary punishment. That is, loose supervision but relentless punishment for those found guilty would do the trick.

Supervision, Mr. Becker reasoned, meant a high cost to the entire society but punishment only came at the cost of the individual or group of individuals found guilty.

However, this proposal has many faults. This system would increase the evils of wrongly punishing an innocent person through misjudgment, and loose supervision could make, as the old Korean saying goes, a needle thief grow into a cow thief. There is also the problem of fairness between the majority of people who won't get caught and the minority who were unlucky enough to get caught. The temptation to buy justice would also grow. In effect, stricter punishment isn't the answer to everything. Punishment should vary according to the seriousness of the wrongdoing. In terms of a soccer match, adopting the suspension system wouldn't be a bad idea.

The question of which is more efficient, supervision or punishment, still remains. History provides no answers to this dilemma. In Russia, Ivan the Terrible tried the death penalty for corrupt officials while Peter the Great enticed his officials to "supervise" one another with the promise of rewarding the title and possessions of those found to be culprits to the reporter, but neither system seemed to have worked for long.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda have proven how effective strong criminal punishment systems can be. Likewise, the communal supervisory network formed in China by the Three-Anti Campaign of Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s worked just as well in rooting out troublemakers.

In soccer, increasing the number of referees or having reviews for decisions might be the answer for the lighter "crime" of fouls.


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The writer is a professor of public administration at Sungkyunkwan University.

by Bahk Jae-wan

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