Sunday, July 02, 2006

It ain't that in their hearts they're bad

An Australian man has been arrested in Italy for an assault on a local man following the football match between Australia and Italy.

Witnesses say the Australian man was 20m away when the incident

The victim suffered a fractured skull, cardiac arrest, and has
developed diabetes as a result of the incident. He is expected to
recover in a few minutes.

(From my inbox last week)

When kids start to play competitive sport they are taught to respect the referee or umpire. To shake hands with their opposition after the game. Maybe even to thank the ref. Aren't they? Professional and representative players are expected to be acutely aware that they are role models for younger players. When they stuff up (especially off the field) this is meant to be the source of their shame.

In broader terms, 'sport' is often connected with honour and fairness. Think about the terms 'a good sport' and 'a sporting chance'. Sportsmanship. We consider the organised, rule-bound, fair-go systems of sport to represent and important part of our civilised, evolved life.

I find myself complaining about certain of my opponents in soccer, the ones who seem able to run at least as fast as me, but still like to use a heavy hand on my shoulder or a strategic grab of my arm to get ahead if it looks like I might beat them to the ball. Anything goes if you want to score a goal. When I complain about this it sounds so lame... considering there are much worse hacks and dirty tricks that can go on. I wonder if I'm the foolish one, striving to beat them with speed and position alone, using only my legs, and maybe some bodyweight but within the rules. A striker is usually a faster sprinter than me and I think what really offends me is: why wouldn't she take pride in outrunning me cleanly?

In the course of the Australia vs Italy World Cup match, each side received one yellow card for diving. My (biased) (also sleep deprived, so make of it what you will) view was that the Italian instance was much more obvious, as the replay revealed he fell over with absolutely no contact from anyone else, in fact he had quite an air cushion around him.

It has always been one of the big criticisms of soccer among people I know, that the players are wusses and are always looking for a penalty to be called. Even when there is genuine contact, most everyone has observed that the player often seems to clutch the wrong body part. Most of the times I have seen someone injured in the sports I've played, they don't tend to grab the injured part anyway. They are too busy wincing and trying not to increase the pain. It must be a strategy to influence the ref, and it must work to some extent.

The presence of pain or injury really shouldn't correlate completely with the decision that illegal contact was made. It is possible to foul someone without bothering them much at all, and it is also possible to come out of an perfectly legal clash with one person in a lot of pain. But the ref only has one brief chance to see what happens and I guess they can't help but take some cues from the condition of the player on the ground.

So I can understand why it happens. But where is the honour?

I'm sure I'm not alone in preferring to watch the kind of players who get knocked down and jump up as quick as possible to fight for the ball again, rather than the ones who stay on the ground and clutch a random body part in hopes of a call.

What I really can't get my head around is the totally fabricated dive. Do some top-level coaches actually condone or encourage a bit of this? I know that the teams watch the video of their games later. Could there be anything that looks lamer than an obvious dive in slow motion replay? How can they sit there and watch that? Is this considered a good attempt at getting a penalty - do they get a pat on the back? Or maybe it's a snigger but not outright disapproval. Is anything worth it for a win?

Where is the honour?

Here is my (naive?) view: it's sport, not war. You should take pride in winning or losing based on your honest strengths. These international players are full of talk about pride, honour, and examples for young players. But their actions don't back this up.

I intended to write this right after watching the Australia-Italy game. Now I've let quite a bit of time pass, probably too much time to think about it and for cynicism to creep in. I almost concluded that I was being too naive, and let it go. Am I?

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