Thursday, 21 December 2017

The growing influence of so called gamesmanship could destroy football as an entertainment spectacle

There has been much debate recently about diving to try to get an advantage in football matches.

West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini was deemed to have dived to get a penalty, when challenged by a Stoke defender, at the end of a 70 yard run.

The referee in the game awarded a penalty but the panel that oversees such matters ruled later that Lanzini had dived.

The panel decision seems to have undermined the authority of the referee. West Ham manager David Moyes made the point well when he said that the referee was only 10 yards from the incident.

West Ham are now without their influential midfielder for two games due to this retrospective action.

Don’t get me wrong diving to get an advantage, such as a penalty, is wrong. Certain players are well known for easily going to ground under challenge – Lanzini is not one of them. However, the approach of banning players after the fact appears to run against natural justice and undermines referees.

Diving is but one unsavoury element of the game that has become prevalent over recent times.

The importing of skills that really belong in the acting profession has been going on for some years. There are a number of players, who literally only have to be touched before they go down rolling around as if shot. They then usually, make an amazing recovery, once they’ve got the decision or it has gone against them.

These antics come under the heading of gamesmanship or as some of us prefer to call it cheating. The effort to fool the officials has reached such epidemic levels, that a player who stays on his feet under challenge, can now be seen to be at a disadvantage. Football seems to be heading toward the status of a non-contact sport.

It would be wrong to say these developments are new, though a few years ago when the game was much more about physical contact, a player left writhing on the ground after a tackle from Chelsea’s Ron “Chopper” Harris or Leeds United’s Norman “bites your legs” Hunter were unlikely to be feigning injury.

Another development of recent years, to the cost of the spectator, is time wasting. Most clubs seek to time waste at some time, usually when running the clock down at the end of a game. But some will start time wasting antics in the first half of a match. Goalkeepers are particularly good at devising ways to waste time.
What has happened is that many of these nefarious ways of going on have combined to a ridiculous level, to the extent that the idea that the players are there to entertain the public seems to be getting lost.

The reaction of the authorities to these misdemeanours creeping into the game always seems to go over the top.

One way of seeking to outlaw some of these practices over recent years has been the liberal use of yellow and red cards. A player should only be booked if a foul is malicious with intent to cause harm. The number of times that a player simply mistimes a tackle or is simply a bit too physical, yet immediately the referee is brandishing a card in the air. The punishment benchmark has been altered to the extent that players are now booked for things they would previously just be warned for, whilst misdemeanours that would previously have attracted a booking, now merit a sending off.

This over penalising of players stops the flow of the game and thereby detracts from the entertainment value.

What is needed is a serious look at the winner take all culture that has engulfed football. Time wasting, diving for penalties and play acting to fool officials generally - none of these practices should have a place in the entertainment world of football. The referees have a difficult line to tread between asserting authority and not becoming the centre of attention themselves. Many fail to tread that line but are not being helped by some recent developments in the game. Failure to stem the tide of cheating and win at all costs mentality could in the end destroy football as an entertainment that people want to come to watch. It won’t necessarily take a lot of change to put things right but certainly the writing is on the wall if the problems are ignored or dealt with in the wrong way

*published Morning Star - 23/12/2017

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