Is a lack of respect killing football?

Another Premier League weekend has passed with, yet again, incidents regarding a lack of respect in the beautiful game coming to the fore. As Jose Reina and James Perch clashed late on, in a fiery encounter, the Newcastle defender tumbled to the ground, appearing to have been head-butted full on by the Spaniard. However, replay evidence shows no contact was made, and that defender had simulated the incident.

There’s no excusing Reina for his reaction to a petulant trip by his opponent, and the red card had to be brandished, but for me, the response of the ‘victim’ was far worse than the ‘headbutt’. Watching the post match analysis Chris Coleman summed it up perfectly in the studio, stating that in his playing days a man wouldn’t want to show he was hurt and get on with the game, so as to not give his opponent the satisfaction. But, The modern game has warped from what it once was, and although matches are, arguably, more exciting, the cornerstone of fair-play has slowly been eroded.

It’s not infrequent to see players lambast officials, feign injuries or simulate to gain any advantage, no matter how small it may seem, during a game of football, destroying the reputation and spectacle of the sport. As well as playing staff managers and coaches resort to underhand tactics, commenting on each others employees, ramping up speculation and generally looking to seek the upper hand.

This change from the days of goalkeepers in flat caps and football boots being available in either black or brown is staggering. Although evolution is a necessary for survival, it’s hard to feel that the game of football hasn’t gone too far the opposite direction, with respect for opponents, officials and indeed the individuals involved sinking lower by the week.

I don’t like saying it, but football could learn much from the game of Rugby, where respect and sportsmanship are lauded, and displays of petulance swiftly punished. It’s often suggested that the egg-chasers are gentlemen partaking in a hooligan’s game, while football, the beautiful game, is played, mostly, by thugs. This can be seen in the way officials are surrounded and openly insulted in front of thousands of fans, and millions of television viewers. In a game of Rugby players don’t corner referees, they instead send just one representative to discuss any grievances. The officials are equipped with a microphone, and allowed to voice the reasons behind their call, introducing clarity to proceedings.

A system in which players are booked for showing serious dissent toward referees (i.e. behaving in a threatening manor) should be met with an immediate booking, regardless of said performers reputation. Although this would initially result in vast numbers of yellow and red cards, instilling a sense of respect towards officials would result in a domino effect, spreading the values of sportsmanship through to other areas of the game.

This may be difficult to achieve, but in order to get the sport loved by millions worldwide back on track action needs to be taken. Evolution doesn’t always have to mean looking forward, sometimes the best solutions can be found from experience.

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