On violence, dishonesty and cowardice in football

It’s been just over a week since the momentous day Australia qualified for the World Cup. Reading the various news articles and blog posts relating to the Australian victory has been interesting. The overwhelming majority of the writings have been very positive. There’s one somewhat less favourable blog post that I find I just have to respond to.

The idea that no sport other than football faces the problem of crowd violence is completely and utterly laughable. Every sport faces the same challenges, from basketball to rugby league. That football is by far and away the most popular team sport in the world is a blessing and a curse to the game. Even cricket is not immune from the phenomenon. If cricket, basketball, rugby or any other sport was more pervasive than football in the world, it would be these sports under the crowd violence spotlight instead of football. Football is a game in which two teams try to kick a round ball into the other team’s goal. There is nothing in it that should make it inherently more susceptible to crowd violence than trying to kick an oval ball into goals of a different shape or bowling a hard red leather ball at somebody’s head. I will not refute, however, that there is something about football that seems to arouse emotions in spectators and create suspense on a level that some other sports fail to emulate. Football is exciting precisely because there’s not a point scored every thirty seconds. Some of the most fantastic matches I’ve had the privilege to watch have been nil-nil draws. However, to say that football, the game, is the cause of violent behaviour amongst some of its fans is a non-sequitur.

As for football’s apparent lack of aesthetic appeal, they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well there are billions of people worldwide for whom football is and always will be the beautiful game. It is the sport that brings more joy to more people in the world than any other game. With all this talk of violence in football, it’s easy to forget that there’s probably no other force in the world doing as much as football to overcome discrimination, racism and so forth at street level where it really matters. Football takes the brunt of the criticism in this respect simply because it is out there throwing ordinary people from different cultures and religions together on a scale that other sports can only dream of, so of course there will be the odd crowd brawl. With the number of football matches being played in the world every day, and the number of people watching those matches, it’s quite amazing there’s not more crowd violence.

To address the slur that there is a lack of courage in the game of football, I surely need only to ask my readers to imagine the pressure John Aloisi was under when he stepped up to take that final penalty in the World Cup Qualifier. What about the fact that our Australian football team just beat a twice World Cup winner? Is that not courage? On the other hand, the number one Moment of Madness according to 20 to 1 on TV last night was when two of the Chappell brothers conspired to bowl an underarm delivery to prevent New Zealand from having a chance to tie a one day match in 1981. Greg Chappell’s decision to ask his brother to bowl underarm certainly doesn’t strike me as a courageous one. Admittedly, there’s a bit of dishonesty in football (trying to con the referee and so forth), but to think this doesn’t go on in other sports is completely naive. I never saw Steve Waugh walk. And don’t even get me started on the match fixing scandals of years past. Still, I love my cricket as much as the next Australian. It just totally irks me when people dump crap on football as if it is the only sport whose players exhibit ungentlemanly behaviour. In Australia, where football is considered a game played by Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, it’s all too easy to hurl abuse at the game, and overlook the very same undesirable traits in those other sports we consider to be Australian. Thankfully, that won’t be the case for much longer.

To end off, I don’t think cricket is threatened by football (which is why I never mentioned it in my post of last week). They’re generally played in different seasons for one thing (although the A-League is being played over the summer). Cricket and football happily co-exist in England, and cricket and AFL already live side-by-side in Australia. Personally I can’t wait for the day when football and cricket dominate the sports shows on Australian television, but that’s just me. :-)