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It’s Time to Abolish Mandatory Handshakes at Soccer Matches

luis suarez handshake Its Time to Abolish Mandatory Handshakes at Soccer Matches

Mandatory player handshakes at soccer games should be abolished.

Voluntary player handshakes should be encouraged.

It’s nice that soccer stadia are more family oriented. As a youngster I braved the terraces to watch Crystal Palace play Millwall at Selhurst Park, fearing I might get my head kicked in by notoriously fierce Millwall hooligans. Fortunately, I was faster in my sneakers than they in their Dr. Martens clodhoppers.

Things are now more sociable in the stands, but the field of play is for not for the faint of heart.

One of the searing images of recent seasons was the dramatic penalty shootout between Chelsea and Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals in 2007. It was a heartbreaking loss for Chelsea, but Mourinho trudged into the cauldron not only to console his own players, but to shake hands with Liverpool’s heroic warriors. It was heartfelt; it was poignant; it was sincere.

What’s not sincere, actually it’s more like buffoonish showmanship, is when teams shake hands during pre-game rituals.

Terry – Bridge; Suarez-Evra; Suarez-R. Ferdinand – these are but a few of the players whose handshakes weren’t properly consummated as personal pride trumped sportsmanship. Ironically, the nanny-like motivation to introduce civility into an intensely emotional and competitive sport has backfired by eliciting extreme resentment.

Now, in some perverted reasoning conjured up by elitists in FIFA’s ivory towers, sportsmanship can supposedly be enhanced by forcing players to line up in the center circle after matches to shakes hands. Speaking on behalf of FIFA Task Force 2014, Franz Beckenbauer actually said,” I believe [players] should leave the pitch the same way one has entered the pitch.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Imagine, after a game of gut-wrenching endeavor; after 90 minutes of stray boots and flailing arms, perhaps a little blood and plenty of toil and sweat, players are supposed to suddenly transform from football warriors into timid, powder-puff ambassadors.

Of course, many players actually respect their opponents and wander around the field after the whistle looking for a hand to grasp if not a shirt to swap. This may be commendable, but not enforceable.

Team captains represent their players to the referees on the pitch, and by extension represent their teams when they shake hands at the coin toss before kickoff. That’s enough! Compelling players who may have legitimate grievances with their opponents to shake hands will backfire by promoting bitterness and vengeance.

The player whose nose was just squashed by a stray elbow will not be leaving the field the same way he entered. Should he be expected to shake hands with his nemesis? Should the diminutive striker who was bullied by the towering center-half be made to meekly extend his hand in search of affirmation? If he’s magnanimous enough to do so voluntarily, then award some fair-play points, but don’t make him rub salt in his own wound.

What’s next, FIFA? Extending your misguided reasoning, will you issue an edict that players must shake the referee’s hand? Blimey, I just saw Clint Hill of QPR denied an obvious goal in a crucial, relegation battle against Bolton. Should he also be subjected to the indignity of having to shake the linesman’s hand?

If, for example, Frank Lampard were made to shake the ref’s hand after his obvious goal wasn’t given against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

I want handshakes to be scrapped, but not for the usual reasons that they cause trouble. I like trouble, it amplifies the drama. I want them scrapped because they are insincere; they humiliate proud players and they are counterproductive.

I just watched an introduction to a political debate in which the contestants smiled and shook hands… then attempted to demolish each other’s reputation with lies, innuendo and sneaky, almost lawyerly, claims. After wallowing in the mire for 2 hours they again shook hands in a charade before the audience. I thought: this runs counter to the original purpose of handshakes.

Most agree that handshakes evolved in medieval times as knights offered their right hands to show they had no weapons, nor were they hiding tricks up their sleeves. But instead of extending goodwill, the handshakes of these devious politicians cloaked dastardly intentions to inflict wounds.

Soccer is a noble sport to the extent the players are resolute in their will to win. Indeed, to jaunt around avoiding earnest tackles incurs the wrath of the crowd and the disrespect of your opposition. Don’t make these simple but honest players shake hands like a politician; like Mourinho, they will shake hands like as a knight, if they so choose.

Ironically, FIFA has denounced player simulation – otherwise known as diving – during games. Bizarrely, they are encouraging a form of simulation before and after games by making players shake like their own members might.

Following the shenanigans in their choice of venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA Executive Committee members may actually rank lower than politicians on the scale of trustworthiness. They specialize in subterfuge and fake sportsmanship, so we must be stalwart in our resistance to their pompous and paternalistic calls to impose unnatural handshakes into the beautiful game.

Let’s not allow the guilt-ridden, FIFA wussies to diminish a dynamic sport by compelling players to simulate gestures of respect either before or after games. It is impossible for the players to leave the field as they entered, but we can let them leave with dignity.


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