16/8/2012 Olympics v Football

I was listening to a debate on the radio this morning that asked the question ‘what can the English football league learn from the Team GB Olympic athletes?’ A particular misconception that was not challenged was that there could be no comparison as athletes only turn up to compete every four years whereas footballers play and compete day in, day out for nine months of the year and during the winter too… oh please, really!?

Yes, Team GB athletes might not be on TV every week but do you not think that they are expending blood, sweat and tears every week to achieve excellence in their chosen sport? What perpetuates this misconception is the lack of media exposure to a wide range of sports in the UK. Years ago in England the whole of Saturday afternoon TV was devoted to sport – all sport. Today we are ‘treated’ only to high profile sport viewing. Coverage of the Olympics by the BBC was exceptional; all the sporting events were there in full with knowledgeable commentators supported by professionals in the sport (Ian Thorpe, Claire Balding and Mark Foster doing swimming was inspired)! By comparison, a twitter conversation with a coach in America described the NBC coverage there as being very disappointing just focusing on the high profile sports favoured in America. Whilst it could be argued that the Olympics were in London therefore TV coverage in the UK was always going to be good, I have to say that we were treated to exactly the same from Beijing. So why do we get it so wrong the rest of the time? In terms of legacy, exposure and inspiration maybe the youth of today should have more access to mainstream viewing of a wide variety of sporting activity on TV.

The other issue in the debate that has been a bugbear of mine with football for some time was professionalism. Traditionally the start of the English football season is the Charity Shield, a match played by the winners of the previous season’s Premiership and the FA Cup winners – this year Manchester City versus Chelsea. 

In the first half, a player got sent off and there were numerous occasions where disgruntled players surrounded the referee to argue about the decisions made. Comparisons regarding professionalism and Team GB athletes were largely dismissed as not relevant because of the individual nature of the competitive events…?? Okay, so although this was the route taken in the debate, what wasn’t mentioned was a comparison of professionalism between football and rugby. Maybe this would have been a more worthy issue as the title for the debate? Rugby is a mainstream sport in the UK yet in rugby, if a player were even to dare approach or argue with a referee they would be sent off – end of. It just does not happen. What can football learn from rugby? – respect for the referee and an end to what amounts to the abuse of an official. Yes, bad decisions happen but let’s have goal line technology and a 4th official in football, let the referee governing body address particular issues but let’s stop this unsporting behaviour in football, which to me as a football fan feels uncomfortable and unprofessional.