Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport Ethical Football

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport Ethical Football

Article excerpt

Funny business, footballers and morality. One moment they're all taking part in mawkish self-congratulatory breast-beating, first over Gary Speed, now over poor Fabrice Muamba. The next, it's back to childishness and sharp practice. Here's Balotelli and Kolarov bickering over a free kick; there are Liverpool's Carroll diving and swearing at his bench and Reina shaping up to headbutt, and then Newcastle's untouched defender going down as if hit by a sniper.

How do professionals do this to each other week in, week out? It's baffling and insulting. Kenny Dalglish's reaction to the sort of behaviour that would make a reception class at an inner city primary feel ashamed was to say that it showed that his players don't 'enjoy losing'. That's grown-up. The elegantly suited and corporate-minded gentlemen of the Fenway Sports Group might want a word soon.

Meanwhile the Times letters page is an arena where the price of meths, the fitness of the Queen and ovations for Maria Callas can all rub shoulders, so it's no surprise that the paper hosted a fascinating mini-debate the other day on the state of modern rugby. The correspondents agreed it was pretty rubbish, what with not enough running, too much kicking, and endless wrestling at the breakdown.

All fair points, but let's see at this weekend's quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup whether top-class club rugby can break away from the inhibited patterns of the international game.

I have my doubts. At the highest level the scrum has become a farce: there is far too much resetting for collapses, generally cynical ones. Give a free kick for scrum offences rather than a reset, and that would force packs to shove laterally not downwards or inwards.

Defences are now far better organised at the top level, largely due to the influence of rugby league coaching. At any play-the-ball in league, a line of enormous men are stretched out across the field, unbreachable like the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. …

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