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Friday, June 30, 2006

There was a Portugueseman, a Dutchman and a Referee...

During the repercussions of the sordid affair that was Portugal vs Holland in the last 16 of the World Cup, I have been struck by the general reaction and verdict over who is most to blame for the debacle.

The number of opinion pieces or general water-cooler discussions that have held the referee as the main culprit in what turned into be more of a pub brawl than a football match has far outnumbered those that identify the players as being more culpable. Most people have reached the conclusion that the referee lost control, dishing out far more cards than he needed to and basically causing the players to act in the way they did. In fact, there has been little to no mention of the players' irresponsibility, far less a denouncement of their violent behaviour. This is disturbing for a number of reasons.

1) It implies that the notion that footballers do not have to act like responsible members of society has been concretised. The whole scenario can be likened to a group of toddlers presided over by just one carer, amongst whom they run riot. The toddlers would not be held 'responsible' in the situation; it would just be acknowledged that small children behave in such a way, and that there should be more carers looking after them and disciplining them. This is exactly the kind of attitude that has been aired in response to the P-H game.

2) It sets a terrible example for small children themselves. When I worked with 4-7 year olds in one of our church's weekly activity clubs, I often organised football games in the hall for the boys (and whichever daring girls wanted to play). They frequently did 'foul' each other, and even occasionally dived, attempting to emulate their sporting heroes. When I told one boy to apologise after he'd kicked another, he replied 'Why? Footballers don't!' What a fantastic example of how scenes on our television screens can, and are, easily translated to scenes in real life.

3) A less important issue is that the referee has been criticised as being an example of the poor refereeing during this World Cup. I believe, however, that he was actually one of the referees who has been least at fault. In almost every other match there has been card upon card given out for what are minor incidents. In this match, every card was (de)merited. In the case of Figo, he didn't even get what he deserved. The reason for this is again that the behaviour of the footballers has been nigh on ignored.

A group of men who displayed violent and threatening behaviour to each other in front of an audience of millions have barely been chastised for not only treating each other abominably, embarrassing themselves, their nations, their clubs and whoever else, but for setting an incredibly bad example to the next generation of footballers.

Spoilt brats? I think so.


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