Is the beautiful game really beautiful ?
It is the second half of the 1982 FIFA World Cup semi-finals between France and Germany. France has made a substitution, bringing on defender Patrick Battiston. About 10 minutes onto the field, he is sent clear on goal by Michel Platini. The defender gets to the ball first, and sends his shot wide. Meanwhile, Toni Schumacher, the German goalkeeper, is rushing forward to meet him. Running full speed, the goalie jumps high before the impact and hits Battiston in the head with his hip. The Frenchman falls flat down with injured vertebrae and three knocked teeth and later falls into a coma.
What’s the referee call on one of the roughest, ugliest fouls in the history of football? Goal kick. There are no repercussions for Schumacher, apart from the notorious reputation. There is no question this is a bad call by the referee. However, it was also the result of a different understanding of the game.
Play was a lot looser in those times, resulting in many rough, hard fouls. Not all of them were life threatening like Schumacher’s, but a lot were pretty ugly. A lot of players made a career out of tough fouls. As part of the evolution of the game, player safety became the guiding principle. The last real football bully was probably Vinnie Jones. Ugly fouls still happen these days. Ryan Shawcross’s leg breaker on Aaron Ramsey a few seasons back immediately springs to mid. But ugly tackles like that are an exception nowadays and are promptly sanctioned.
The more fouls called by the referee have been successful in providing better health protection. However, they have also brought a whole different problem – diving. With referees being more cautious to spot every challenge, some players too often try to take advantage by falling without contact and feigning injuries.
This is, of course, not to say that diving is a modern invention. It has existed in the past, but was much harder to pull off then because there were less fouls called in general. Now, especially with the fast pace of the game, it is easier to fool the referee and players try to take unfair advantage. It is an ugly practice that hurts the integrity of the game.
The mandatory yellow card for diving has only brought small improvement to the problem. After all, if the risk is a caution, and the reward is a penalty, most players will take that deal. Tougher sanctions are necessary, including match post-game suspensions for players who can be determined to have taken an advantage by diving.
However, the ugliest side of modern football comes most often away from the field, mostly from certain fans. Despite continued efforts from FIFA, UEFA and other organizations, racism is still rampant on the stands of many stadiums. Just a few weeks ago English youngster Danny Rose was cheered with monkey chants from Serbian fans during an international Under-21 game. It happens a lot in Eastern Europe, but there have been cases in Spain and Italy too, where fans often abuse even players from their own favorite clubs. Football is a global phenomenon that has to unite, not divide people. Racism is ugly, and has no place in the beautiful game.
Here is a small documentary taped just before the start of Euro 2012 which talks about racism in Ukraine and Poland.