First off, I want to start by saying that, although this topic has been debated over and over, I feel like it is still relevant, so I thought I’d give it a go.
Last week, I went to a stadium to watch a live professional football match for the first time in about three years. It is far from my favourite sport, and I don’t think I’ve paid to watch football more than just a handful of times in my life. Even on TV, I very rarely watch football.
The atmosphere was buzzing and intense, as you would expect from a professional match, the attendance around 28.000 people, with the home fans cheering and singing non-stop for their team. It was actually a pretty much one-sided match, the home team easily having the upper hand, won 3-0. However, I couldn’t help but feel for the referee, for whenever he took a decision against the home team, he was greeted with some very loud jeering, booing and insults from just about everybody sitting (a few of them actually stood up, as it is more convenient for insulting) on the grandstands. And the thing is, it’s not just about the fans, but also about the players’ attitudes towards the referee. Whenever a card is handed to a player, his team mates just flock towards the referee complaining, raging and trying to somehow convince him to take his decision back, which never happens, yet the players’ approach never changes. Now this is where it really grinds my gears. In rugby, whenever the ref makes a call, good or bad, the players just take it and go on with their game, and so does the crowd. No fuss, no protesting, no arm waving, it’s as simple as that.
Having played both sports myself, I know all too well how this works. Try and challenge the ref’s calls in a rugby match and you and your team will likely suffer, for you may have to concede 10 metres to the opponent team or get yellow carded (sin binned for 10 minutes). Maybe a rule could be introduced in football where, following rugby’s example, a yellow card would send a player to the side lines for 10 minutes?
As I’ve said before, both sports’ mentalities are also reflected in their fans. Of course, it is always dangerous to generalize, but I’m speaking of the majorities here, at least from my perception. Respect is a word that doesn’t have a strong enough presence in football. Some people are even scared of going to certain stadiums because the fans can be very aggressive and dangerous, something that never happens in rugby, where fans respect each other and there are no violent incidents. Whatever happens on the field stays there. Teams play hard for the duration of the match and in the end they salute each other and maybe even have a beer together.
Call me biased, but I could go on and on about what football can learn from rugby. Anyway, I’ll just leave it there because to me this is the most important aspect.
Now, football’s place as the king of sports is undisputed and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But, in my opinion, fair play, respect and discipline should be paramount in any sport and, as the world’s most popular sport, I believe football should be a role model to other sports when it comes to those core values. Because, after all, football can be a beautiful game!