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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The desire to win should not come at the expense of fair play

Ramos's hard tackle on Salah sparked a debate about sportsmanship within football

Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos tackles Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Uefa Champions League final in Kiev. Georgi Licovski / EPA
Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos tackles Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the Uefa Champions League final in Kiev. Georgi Licovski / EPA

As a spectacle, Saturday’s Champions League match between Liverpool and Real Madrid had all the nail-biting highs and lows one has come to expect from a final – with perhaps one drama too many. Perhaps the defining moment of the tie was an injured Mohamed Salah walking down the tunnel just 30 minutes in, unable to suppress his tears. It followed a crunching tackle by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, which could have shattered Salah's chances of making June’s Fifa World Cup. The incident has sparked an online furore, with many speculating whether Ramos injured the talismanic Liverpool forward on purpose. While Ramos’s true intentions are as yet unproven, he is not helped by subsequent footage of him appearing to elbow Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius in the face. Within 24 hours, more than 100,000 people had signed a petition demanding the Real Madrid captain be punished for deliberately injuring Salah, perceived to be Liverpool’s best player.

Whether Ramos intended to take out Salah or not, the incident speaks to wider issues around fair play and sportsmanship. Cheating often spurs more discussion in football than goals. In the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez stole a deserved victory from Ghana when he handballed on the line. Similarly, Diego Maradona’s infamous "hand of God" goal against England in 1986 has gone down in history. There is a fine line between dedication and misconduct in high-stakes games. But while players have a duty to do all they can to win matches for their supporters and coaches, it should never come at the expense of fair play. It behoves the bodies that govern football to stamp out cheating and ensure that fair play remains at the heart of competitive football.

Sport is a wonderful thing, capable of displaying the best of human endeavour and uniting people. At its finest, it is Gareth Bale’s gravity-defying bicycle kick on Saturday, one of the best ever Champions League final goals. At its worst, it is a concerted attempt to bend the rules to ensure victory. Today, as the dust settles, we wish Salah a smooth and speedy recovery.