Move Over Cricket, Here’s to Bad Sportsmanship in Soccer
John Terry comes roaring in from the pavilion end and bowls a full-toss at the batsman’s head. Wow, that was a bit mischievous, someone tell him the wicket is on the ground.
Deep into the heart of the Barclays Premier League off-season, I’m seeking solace in cricket, particularly the Ashes competition between England and Australia. They are rivals, but in cricket there is too much gentility and politeness to remedy my soccer withdrawals.
Sportsmanship in sports is nice, but not when it undermines the competitive spirit that soccer players like John Terry exude.
During the first of five Ashes test matches, England’s Stuart Broad dared wait for the umpire’s decision before surrendering his wicket. He was caught by the fielder, but refused to walk voluntarily off the pitch. This caused an instant uproar, and provoked innumerable sports editorials by sanctimonious pundits, especially since the umpire incorrectly ruled him not out.
Recriminations over whether Broad should have given himself out has me musing about sportsmanship in soccer, or lack thereof. Imagine if Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney or Sergio Aguero had become cricketers…sportsmanship would be stumped, but it would definitely be more exciting.
Suarez is now a bowler, coming around the wicket, he has tricks up his sleeve, and elsewhere. Wait a minute, what’s that he’s doing under his white jersey? Is he having a snack? No, he’s actually biting the ball! The pitch is flat so he’s hoping to conjure some illegal extra swing, but that’s some extreme ball tampering. He may have to be suspended for that.
If the cricket gets a bit monotonous, then unleash Rooney — the proverbial bull in the china shop will captivate us. Envision, if possible, that after a delicate shot between silly mid off and cover point, the batsmen seek a leisurely single. Wait a minute, a silly Rooney charges forward from his fielding position off slip to collect the throw, but slides into the batsman, sending him sprawling before he makes the crease. That was rather rash, definitely contrary to the rather genteel behavior expected from polite cricketers, but it allows the wicketkeeper to nonchalantly stump the batsman.
I haven’t done scientific research, but I sense that soccer is close to the bottom of the sportsmanship totem pole. I’m not complaining — there seems to be a positive correlation between poor sportsmanship and excitement.
There’s a balance, and we probably agree that soccer players who wave imaginary yellow cards at referees deserve our disdain. But a player who’s so sporting that he tells the ref he deserves a second yellow card for a rash challenge, or that he handled the ball in his own penalty area, would be mental. After getting the “hair dryer” treatment from his coach, he’d probably be demoted to the reserves and referred to a shrink for some “sports psychology”. Yet this is tantamount to what the cricket purists expected of Stuart Broad.
A soccer player gesticulating to the ref that the ricocheted corner crossed his own goal line would be more bizarre than sportsmanlike. He’d also need his head examined; after all, the rules say a goal is not a goal unless the ref sees and acknowledges it. But expecting Broad to voluntarily walk is analogous.
Broad was obviously caught by an Aussie fielder, but he didn’t immediately walk; instead, leaving his fate with the umpire, who contrived to miss it. This sent the media into frenzy over proper cricketing etiquette, but no one can doubt that Broad’s rejection of polite customs sparked antagonisms that enhanced the action.
To protect the game’s integrity, rules need to be applied consistently by officials; they cannot be contrived haphazardly, no matter how sporting and well intentioned, by overwrought players. Players who may not even be sincere, but trying to curry favor for a more consequential decison later.
A sport like cricket, where they actually interrupt the action for a tea break, is obviously more civil than soccer. But that type of sportsmanship doesn’t translate well to soccer, where brilliant players like Aguero ply their trade and rabid fans demand blood, sweat and tears.
Ah yes, the fiery Aguero — imagine his potential cricketing etiquette. Perhaps he just edged a ball to gully, surely he’s a goner. Hold on, his bat goes flying into the fielder who then drops a sure dolly. That was fortuitous, but did he really lose his grip? The fielders think it was cynical and swarm the hapless batsman. Oh dear, there’s an argy-bargy in the middle, the stumps are upended, bails are flying, one umpire is sent sprawling while coaches swarm the third umpire.
This is more like it, with unsporting action like this I might make it until that glorious day on August 17 when the Premier League season starts. Here’s to a bit of bad sportsmanhip, and lots of excitement, in soccer.