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Football ( or Soccer, if you prefer) is often called ‘The Beautiful Game’.   I forget who first conjured the phrase – possibly it came to prominence around the same time somebody dreamt up that one about ‘the British Police Force is the best in the world’, or some such.   Personally, I can find nothing in football that is beautiful.  I can find very little in football that can be called a ‘game’.

All right, my antipathy for the sport is well-known.  I can be found railing haplessly at the TV on any given Sunday, searching vainly through the channels for something – anything – which does not depict professional sport.  But I do have real (and growing) cause for concern, and I will tell you why.

The backcloth, of course, is the World Cup, currently reaching a climax in torrential floods of nationalism all over Brazil.  So many of the young people I reach during my work, erudite, intelligent young people on their way to university or to apprenticeships in the next few years, are obsessed with football that any attempt at conversation on other subjects is ruled out.

 I don’t mind.  I like to acquire enough background knowledge to converse on any subject, which is why I in the course of one session I responded readily to a mention of the tackle which floored Brazil’s Neymar and broke a vertebra in his spine.  I had seen the tackle, in which a Columbian player running at full tilt had apparently rammed his knee intentionally into Neymar’s lower back.  It was clearly a foul in the worst sense, but one the referee chose to ignore:  why, I can only surmise.

But that was not the reason for the chill that ran up my spine in this discussion.  When we agreed the tackle had been designed to eliminate Neymar, Brazil’s young rising star, from the competition, and I suggested that this had little to do with sport my young companion shook his head. 

“Well of course, you do anything you can get away with.  That’s the game, isn’t it?”

Is it?

I soon established my young companion wholly condoned the practice of fouling to cause injury, ‘diving’ in the penalty area where any foul will result in a penalty kick at goal, and feigning injury to gain a time advantage, or get an opposing player sent from the pitch: all fair play in his estimation if you want to ‘win’.

This young man is on his way to university to study for a business degree.  He is one of the next generation of industry captains who will be selling to us, producing goods for us, selling and buying shares in the market on our behalf.   Personally, I will be very careful to watch his progress.

Today Neymar gave an emotional press conference in which he revealed that if the contact on his back had been a few centimeters higher he would have been paralyzed for life.   An attack such as the one he suffered, delivered with such cynicism, would be punishable by a jail sentence if it happened outside a football ground.    Yet the ‘sport’ of football seems not only to tolerate this kind of gamesmanship, it positively promotes it.  The skills involved in the sneak tackles – the exaggerated swan-dives and the agonized protestations of innocence are clearly not haphazardly attained:  they must be taught.

And as they are taught, so they teach.  The next generation will believe that anything is alright, as long as they can get away with it – anything goes.   If too many are in front of them in the queue it is alright to trip up, back elbow, bludgeon and maim, either literally or figuratively, those who separate them from their goal. MH900439553

So where do we draw the line – at the devious, the underhand?  And who will be there to draw that line, to kerb the outrageous, defend the victims of this kind of injustice?  If ever an indictment of our TV-focussed, parentally deficient society existed, it was on that football pitch last week.  The ‘beautiful game’- a picture in our attic, perhaps?

17 Comments

  1. I think your concern about the tackle I think is not exclusive to football. It’s a sport with contact, with adrenalin, and yes, that’s the reason because there is a (human) referee. So if the risk is your measure to evaluate if a game can be enjoyable I think you would be erasing every sport upon the earth or the seas because everybody could die, except perhaps chess. But I am not sure why do you put an emphasis to ” erudite, intelligent young people (…) are obsessed with football” as It would be a surprise to be both intelligent and to enjoy football…
    Somebody would say I’m intelligent and other not but I enjoy to see good football. I applaud the skill but not the bad intention to make harm to the rival.

    I agree with you that it should be given the message that offenders, cheaters (but yes craftiness and intelligence), etcetera mustn’t be allowed.

    I don’t agree with you that football is a game to teach; it is a game to play. The goal to educate children is in their parents and the school. And turn off the tv is not the answer, is in to explain what is wrong and why. Generalizations are not good counselors.

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    1. I concede it is not exclusive to football and I have no quarrel with physicality in any sport (except, again, possibly chess) as long as it is within the rules of that sport. Then the participant knows what he is getting into and the risks that he runs. I do not even object to infringement of those rules on a minor scale – as you say, with the flow of adrenalin these breaches are bound to occur. But there is a huge difference between such minor juggling and deliberate intention to do harm, or to put an opponent out of the game. If you can’t beat him, cripple him. A fractured spine is just a little step too far, don’t you think? And I am sure many parents still teach right from wrong – the generalisation, though, must still apply if only because in modern society the majority will always prevail. I personally believe football is a very good sport, but the excess of money washing around pollutes it. if for many it is enjoyable, for many more it is tribalism at its worst, and by condoning the kind of behaviour we have seen this World Cup, we add fuel to the latter and alienate the former.

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      1. A fractured spin is reason to sent someone to jail if it was with that intention. Certainly in football I’ve never supported childish or even criminal behaviour.
        I like your article and I certainly understand why you dislike the game. It’s not an excuse, but I am not English native speaker so perhaps my words seemed harsh. But I agree fully with the principles that a game cannot be based in make harm to the rival but in to win with skill and tactic.
        When child I played a lot of football and I can say that me and my friends always loved the stylish Brazilian game, but the game that they played this world cup was more about cheating false fouls except the sad (and I hope punished) attack to Neymar. Now, the style to harm rivals is admired in football but by delinquents as those so called fans, that just have in football an excuse to fight and rob but don’t like the game itself but to be in a gang.

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  2. I’m not a sports fan myself, and this is one reason why. I don’t think intentional fouls, whether it be in sports or life in general should be tolerated. I don’t buy into the idea that we wrong someone as much as we can to “win.”

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    1. As you might have guessed, I share that sentiment entirely. Human nature being what it is there will always be the cheat, the manipulator glad to cut corners and step on toes as long as he succeeds. As technology advances, however, we are able to hold a magnifying glass to the process and when our children watch that and associate their role models with it we set them a rather dubious pattern for morality – with consequences dire, maybe.

      I believe the moment money entered, ‘sport’ ceased to be. The word is a misnomer now. There are no such things as ‘games’.

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  3. ” I don’t mind. I like to acquire enough background knowledge to converse on any subject”
    This comment in your article is one that I relate to directly. I make a point of obtaining a lot of knowledge for the same reasons, to be able to discuss anything.
    This topic is soaked with honesty, which is great. My viewpoint on sports as a whole is what you mention: the sport became less of a priority and the money became the new foundation.
    You look back into the past and you see great athletes competing for the very sake of pride. People that took pride in a game they played, valued the support of fans, and lived for the adrenaline.
    What we are left with today are adults that are on the mental level of 7 years old that are spoiled with a high weekly allowance. There are several that are in fact talented, but on the evaluation point of “Heart” they are like a child with a toy truck, it’s either going entirely their way or they throw a crying tantrum and put in half the effort to play.
    I’m an analyzer of human behavior, a lot of your percept points are very accurate. Nice write up.
    Sean

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I have little to add, except perhaps to follow up on a suggestion recently made on a UK comedy/satire show, that separate games should be held for those who want to see how highly they can achieve with the help of unnatural substances, daily blood transfusions etc.. Not intended seriously, of course, but the more I think about it…

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