Is Suárez a hero or villain?

Surely he can’t be both, can he?

I'm sure Socrates and Plato asked themselves the same question: if you cheat on the football pitch in order to aid your nation's World Cup campaign, does it count as cheating, and is it still "wrong"?

Luis Suárez, who handled the ball on the goal line and was sent off, but in doing so saved his country from ignominious defeat in the World Cup at the hands of Ghana in last night's quarter-final, in the injury time portion of extra time, is a hero tonight on the streets of Montevideo.

But should he be? Isn't cheating always wrong? What do you think? I'm torn. I'd have done the same thing as Suárez. But does that make it "right"?

Last week, the US philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer wrote a piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site, arguing that it's as wrong to cheat in football as it is in any other walk in life, focusing on the German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's decision to grab the ball -- after Frank Lampard had scored! It had crossed the line! -- and put it back into play.

Here's how Singer put it:

To put it bluntly: Neuer cheated, and then boasted about it.

By any normal ethical standards, what Neuer did was wrong. But does the fact that Neuer was playing football mean that the only ethical rule is "win at all costs"?

In football, that does seem to be the prevailing ethic. The most famous of these incidents was Diego Maradona's goal in Argentina's 1986 World Cup match against England, which he later described as having been scored "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God". Replays left no doubt that it was the hand of Maradona that scored the goal. Twenty years later, in a BBC interview, he admitted that he had intentionally acted as if it were a goal, in order to deceive the referee.

Something similar happened last November, in a game between France and Ireland that decided which of the two nations went to the World Cup. The French striker Thierry Henry used his hand to control the ball and pass to a team-mate, who scored the decisive goal. Asked about the incident after the match, Henry said: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the ref. I played it, the ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."

But is it? Why should the fact that you can get away with cheating mean that you are not culpable? Players should not be exempt from ethical criticism for what they do on the field, any more than they are exempt from ethical criticism for cheating off the field, for example by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Do you agree with him?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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