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It’s 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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  1. tonys

    March 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Yea. Let’s all forget forgiveness. But even dogs forgive. Where does that leave humans?

  2. Nonsense

    March 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    F sportsmanship, right Noel? So much wrong with this article and the thoughts behind it.

  3. Efrain

    March 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Good article. I see some disagree, but I think you may miss the point…. all about sincerity. What is the point of shaking someone’s hand if you are not sincere? By doing that, you are not setting a good example. You are doing something that you do not mean, that you are being forced to do. That is not sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is shaking someone’s hand that you may have lost to, but still respect as a player and/or a person. I don’t think clubs should force their players to shake hands or they will be punished like children.

    If Suarez-Evra shaked hands, what would that accomplished? They do not like each other. They do not respect each other. Their handshake was insincere. It meant nothing. So being forced to shake hands says what to the viewers? That they are being treated like children by their clubs and that they only shook hands for fear of being punished.

    Good article.

  4. robert

    March 11, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    “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?”

    Yes. They should.

    Two caveats:
    1.) nemesis? That shows the author’s mindset, not the players’.
    2.) meekly? ditto.

    These are the best players in the world we’re talking about. They have earned the right to hold their heads high during a handshake regardless of the score. And they are all role models, whether they like and accept that fact or not. If the only way my kid could grow up to have the skills of Mario Balotelli is to also take his “piss-on-you-all” attitude, I’d rather my kid never play the game.

  5. Dust

    March 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    What absolute garbage. There is a bigger picture to the beautiful game, what it stands for, how people should act inspite of any competitive aspect of playing for different teams. it is a proffessional sport, and this amateur attitiude and lack of understanding for the bigger picture. Football is the worlds game and as such will occasionally be put in the spotlight and judged on how it deals with any number of social issues.

    To say that grown men being paid a fortune to play a game they love can’t shake hands as an example to the millions of people (kids and adults alike) civility and professionalism before you engage in what is a sporting event is an absolute joke, and small minded.

    A palace fan running from millwall fans huh..So ur from an area in the borough of Croydon? So either Shirley, Purley, maybe Selhurst, South Norwood, maybe the whitehorse estate or New Addington? i take that back, actually if u were from New addington u probably wouldn’t have run from them..

    Either way all this article does is show exactly why sportsman ship should remain to be displayed at football games at a minimum with a handshake.


  6. Paul

    March 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    There are plenty of players in this country who don’t like each other and that comes with fierce team rivalry. They shouldn’t be forced into shaking hands before kick off. After the game is up, if they wish to shake hands and say ‘good game’ or whatever then that should be up to them and I suppose would be nice to see a bit of sportsmanship off their own backs. The annoying thing here in the UK is the FA. They found it within themselves to abolish the handshake for John Terry recently but they met requests of doing the same for Suarez with gasps of no it’s a mandatory thing for all teams to do. Their decision, as usual, failed to tally up with what they decided on previously.

    It’s a sorry state of affairs when a football match can be overshadowed by a handshake (or lack of!).

  7. Chicken Vindaloo

    March 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Abolish the kids!
    What is that all about?
    no, I’m not Jerry Seinfeld…or am I???

  8. Duke

    March 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Interesting read. I’m sick of FIFA and their cronyism. I wish that Morinho would come back to the Premier League.

  9. NSW

    March 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Nice piece, Noel. Franz must be off his Rocker, should stay away from the schnapps.

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