Mark van Bommel is a Dutch football player who plays for Bayern Munich. He is also a bit of a drama queen, who already supplied us with a decent little gesture scandal before. After already being fined 6200 euro for making a ‘fuck you’ gesture (forearem jerk) to the crowds at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium, he repeated the gesture (now dubbed ‘doing a Van Bommel’) in the final minutes against Hamburg, this time insulting the referee. This time he got an extra two match ban and a 15000 euro fine (compare other fines) What sort of fine would be enough to stop him?

Van Bommel’s little theatrical performance includes some sarcastic clapping. There is an interesting piece by Steve Tomkins on the correct and incorrect application of sarcasm. He also has some cases of football players clapping sarcastically. In a lovely cool sarcastic style Tomkins sets out to explain why sarcasm is not necessarily rude. If done correctly sarcasm can deliver venomous bites. The key lies in not overdoing what you say or how you gesture, and in the inclusion of a pinch of humour. Obviously, if your victim really did or said something stupid it will make sarcasm succeed easily (your victim can’t get angry because he is too busy being ashamed).

In this case, Van Bommel overdoes the sarcasm. First, the referee is always right, so he is free to get angry, and indeed he responds by showing the red card. In such a case one must leave room for innocent interpretations to hide behind. If one simply keeps a straight face and claps twice it can always be explained as saying ‘good call, ref!’. The fans in the stadium will understand the sarcasm but there will not be enough evidence to punish you. I think that in most cases even the slightest hint of sarcasm will be enough for other people to pick up the message. We humans are so sensitive to insults. Often the mere context will make a straightforward interpretation of an innocent phrase that is intended as sarcasm very unlikely.

Him: “did you watch the game yesterday?” (your team lost 2-0 to his, the bastard)
You: “yes, great game for the neutral spectators” (it was a teeth-grinding muddy fight)
Him: “we gave your lot a good whipping, hey?” (obnoxious little fella, everyone could tell the ref wrongly sent a man off after ten minutes)
You: “yes, a victory well deserved. They are really on fire these last few weeks aren’t they?” (they only had one win against a second division club and three losses)

Every knowledgeable bystander (or at least those you care about) will get your point from the context. But in comparison to your obnoxious colleague you appear to be gracious about it all. He may or may not spot your sarcasm but he has no good option to respond. He can either take your words literally and be a fool, or he can acknowledge your sarcasm and respond to the unspoken allegations (that it was an ugly match, an undeserved victory and a team that sucks anyway). The latter choice will have him on the defensive (“I thought it was a proper red card for hands”) in which case you can turn up the sarcasm (“of course, he should have stopped the ball with his genitals”).

ps. Thanks to Elif for the link to Tomkin’s piece