If only footballers would behave more like the Olympians
“It’s back! Ruder, less respectful and with more snarling than ever. Welcome to the Premier League.”
This is not how the broadcasters of top-flight football will be billing their coverage of the new season, but if they did, it’d win some plaudits for honesty and capturing the mood among sports fans.
At the climax of last season as Sergio Aguero so brilliantly scored a last minute winner that delivered Manchester City their first title for 44 years, nothing else really mattered. That same game saw Joey Barton sent off, kick a player to the floor and aim a headbutt at another before he left the pitch. It was a season that had seen Luis Suarez give the finger to Fulham fans, John Terry stripped of the England captaincy for alleged (but ultimately unfounded) racism, Mario Balotelli bestowed cult status for throwing money around and Carlos Tevez fly off to Argentina in the middle of the season after a disagreement with his manager.
There were many more incidents, just part and parcel of the game. But then, this summer, something happened.
Thanks to the London 2012 Olympics, sport lovers have realised that athletes can in fact be dignified, joyous, humble and honest – both in glory and defeat. We’ve discovered that respect is not something that is written on an armband, but is ingrained in all that one does. Athletes can become idols – not because they are paid vast sums of money and get the most air-time, but because they’ve achieved something incredible.
So, it is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to the Olympics, and usher in the return of the national game.
It must be said that many footballers embody what is understood as the Olympic spirit – but sadly, a lot don’t. But where before we accepted this as part of the game, will we continue to adore and shower praise on players that swear at the referee, each other – and at times the fans? As players walk through the mixed zone ignoring questions, self-engrossed, will we continue to ask for their opinion and pander to their whims?
There are indications that the football fraternity is wary of the situation - players have been given stark warnings as to their conduct with fears that fans and sponsors could turn their back on the game.
Yet early indications are not promising. The Community Shield last Sunday witnessed eight bookings, one red card and a niggly, confrontational match between Chelsea and Manchester City. And the season’s opening showpiece is supposed to be a friendly.
There have been some positive signs emanating from the England set-up, with new manager Roy Hodgson insisting prior to Euro 2012 that bad behaviour – on and off the pitch – would not be tolerated.
Everton’s captain, Phil Neville, said at the weekend that football should be asking what it could learn from the Games: “Behaviour must improve, and if the FA wants to crack down on bad behaviour they will hear no objection from me.”
Although not all agree that the comparisons between Olympians and footballers are fair.
“I have picked up on the feeling a little bit. Whether I agree with it I am not too sure,” said Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley yesterday.
“The other athletes are unbelievably dedicated but so are footballers. They sacrifice a lot to be the best they can in a very competitive industry. I wouldn’t say either of us are more dedicated to what they do.”
As the Olympic flame fades, and the thrill of a new football season begins to engross us, the concern is that we may slip once more into an acceptance that footballers can do pretty much as they wish.
Instead of asking them nicely to behave, we should insist on a better code of conduct. Why not introduce automatic red cards for swearing, questioning the referee and unsportsmanlike behaviour?
An Olympics comes round just once every four years, and between them youngsters are bombarded with little else than footballers. Having seen an alternative way, we owe it to those kids to ensure that in those intervening years, they have role models as worthy as our Olympians.Tagged in: football, joey barton, olympics, Premier League
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