Growing up, I had the pleasure of playing both football and rugby union at a high, competitive level. Both very different sports with completely opposite types of people who both watch and play the sports.

It was by playing these two very different sports every Saturday and Sunday that enabled me to learn and recognise how far apart each game is in terms of respect, competitiveness and sportsmanship. It is at grassroots level where traits that become ‘part-and-parcel’ of the game are learned, and that’s where football seems to be getting it all wrong.

Firstly, respect for the officials is extremely important in rugby. The referee is known as ‘sir’ and the captains of each side are the only ones allowed to speak to him during the 80 minutes, while there are no prizes for guessing what a football referee is addressed as during his 90 minutes of officiating.

However, it is not just the players who are taught to show respect to the referee in rugby. The supporters, or parents in the case of grassroots rugby, are also encouraged to show the same amount of respect. No swearing, no arguing with decisions, no name-calling, and that’s how it should be.

I remember, during one game of rugby against a bitter rival, a parent of one of my newest team mates questioned a refereeing decision and began an obscene rant towards the man in the middle. The game was stopped by the referee and, without any hesitation, he walked over to said parent, showed him a red card and ordered him to sit in the club house for the remainder of the game. Needless to say, we never saw his child again and were told that he had decided to play Sunday league football instead. He and his child can swear, fight and be disrespectful when ever they want now. How nice.

Secondly, the respect shown between both sets of fans are a world apart in football and rugby. In football parents will stand at opposite sides of the pitch and scream at each other and their the players, with every other word being a swear word.

In rugby, opposing fans/parents, mingle before during and after the game. At professional level, they sit together and enjoy the game and the banter together. It’s the word ‘together’ that says a lot about how different these sports are in this respect. Football fans are only together when they are with their own fans hounding opposing fans from across a wall of policemen. Rugby fans are together when they are enjoying a few pints with each other, exchanging light hearted banter and sharing their love for the sport no matter which team they support.

Additionally, there seems to be a very different pain threshold between footballers and rugby players. Footballers fall over a ball or get kicked in the ankle and they are rolling around in absolute agony. Rugby players run at each other at full pace, bounce off each other and then just get up and carry on. Some will have their fingers and noses broken during a game and they will continue playing without any complaint.

People will argue that it’s like that due to the nature of how each game is played, but we must not forget that the professionals who play these sports are all fully grown men all the same. Just how pathetic must these footballers feel when they see themselves rolling ar0und the floor in absolute agony when, in reality, they’ve simply been shoulder barged off the ball? We all know it’s an attempt to influence the referee in to punishing the opposing player but, simply, it’s embarrassing.

Of course, another thing football could learn from rugby is the use of a video official, which is something that has been of increased debate over the years and has been partly put in place with the imminent introduction of goal line technology. A pat on the back for football for that one at least.

I think the main thing I am trying to get at with this post is that, if respect and sportsmanship is not adopted and endorsed at grassroots level then the sport will suffer at all levels all the way up to the highest stage.

I have always loved football and I always will do. But, I owe my parents a lot for introducing me to rugby from such an early age and giving me the opportunity see what sport really should be like.

But there’s no reason why football can’t be the same. All it needs is for parents and coaches a like to take a leaf out of rugby’s book and think “Do you know what? Rugby does it so much better than us, let’s do it their way from now on.”

Only then will we see a big change in football, it’s culture and the way it is played because, at the moment, the old saying “Football is a gentleman’s sport playing by hooligans, Rugby is hooligan’s sport played by gentleman” could not be more true.

What do you think? Does football still have so much to learn and can it use rugby as a role model? Leave your comments below.

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