One of the most common tweets after Christian Benteke received his red card against Totenham yesterday was that the card was required by the "letter of the law." Apparently, according to plenty of users, raising a hand is an automatic red card. According to the official "Laws of the Game" published by FIFA, however, that couldn't be less true. Here, taken directly from the official rule book (Law 12), are the things that should merit a sending off for a player:
- serious foul play
- violent conduct
- spitting at an opponent or any other person
- deny the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
- denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
- using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
- receiving a second caution in the same match
Of that list, we can rule out the spitting, goalscoring opportunity, and second caution. There is the possibility that offensive/insulting/abusive language or gestures were used, but I haven't heard anything about that and it seems highly unlikely that that would be the case if it were the reason for the card.
So that leaves us with only violent conduct or serious foul play. Those are both judgment calls from an official, and I am willing to accept that raising the hand to the face that Benteke did could be either (more likely violent conduct). The slap itself seemed pretty gentle, but it's subjective. Even Paul Lambert admits that Benteke probably deserved the card.
On the other hand, it is subjective. The rules do not shy away from specificity (for instance, spitting) so we can assume that if FIFA wanted a rule that said "if you raise your hand you're out automatically" it would be in there. Instead, they are leaving it up to the referee at the match. You'll never convince me, especially given the prompting that Benteke received from Ryan Mason (including a head to the face), that the play deserved a straight red card.
But that's not the point here. If you're one of the people saying that the red card was required, you're wrong. If you bought into that (as I did for a few minutes), you were fooled. There was nothing required about the red. It didn't have to be given. It doesn't change anything (though it makes me slightly more hopeful for an appeal) but now you have some knowledge in case announcers/folks on twitter start spewing this pablum in the future.