Perverse Incentives in the Caribbean Cup

One of the primary aims of competitive sport is to win. In soccer, and in basically all team sports, you accomplish this aim by scoring on the other team, and preventing the other team from scoring on you. This is very logical, as you want your team’s score to exceed the other team’s score. If it feels like I’ve bashed you over the head with this obvious logic, it’s because there’s one insane instance where in order to *win*, a soccer team had to score on themselves.

In 1994, in the final game of qualification for the Caribbean Cup, Grenada visited Barbados. Given the state of the table at that time, Barbados would have to beat Grenada by at least two goals to gain the qualification spot to the Caribbean Cup, else Grenada would make it through. The score was 2-1 to Barbados in the 83rd minute. After trying fruitlessly for some time to gain back their two-goal lead, the Barbadians realized that if they scored on themselves, they would put themselves in a position to win by two goals in extra time. The reason for this was the nonsensical rule in the tournament that a goal scored in the golden-goal extra time counted as two goals – so if Barbados scored in extra time, they would advance. And so, their new plan commenced.

The defender Terry Sealey and the goalkeeper Horace Stoute passed the ball back and forth to each other at least nine times, inside their own penalty box. I can’t know exactly why they passed it back and forth for some time before scoring, but I have theories; maybe it was to take time off the clock, to allow the Grenadians less time to hit back; maybe they were taunting them; maybe in their hearts and minds they were double-checking their math, doing moral calculations to decide whether this would pay off and whether this was in the spirit of the game. After each pass, they looked up at the field, like children making sure their mother wasn’t around before turning on the television illicitly. After the ninth pass that I could count on video, Terry Sealey made up his mind, took a touch, and booted it, without remorse, into his own goal. There was no going back now.

For the remainder of regulation time, hilarity ensued, as Grenada tried to score on either net, it didn’t matter to them. One more goal in regulation time, whether it was Barbados’ or their own, would have sent them through instead. And so, Barbados were forced to defend both goals on the field, which they somehow managed. When the game went to extra time, they scored the double-counting goal that put them through into the Caribbean Cup. Their performance in the cup itself was not memorable, but I can never forget the ridiculous sequence of events that occurred in this game.