This post is about integrity.
I like watching football. Watching a game or two on a Sunday is one of the main reasons I haven’t gotten rid of my tv.
Watching the Super Bowl in another country inevitably leads to people raised outside the U.S. talking about the superiority of soccer. They talk about how football has so many breaks in the action and something about grace or strategy.
I see preferences between sports as a matter of personal taste so I don’t find their arguments compelling. I don’t argue back that football is better for the reasons I watch — like how great players do such incredible things at the limits of what humans can do. Different sports have different rules resulting in different strategies and play. Different people who like different aspects of competition will prefer different sports.
But one thing rules out soccer for serious consideration as a great sport. Actually, beyond that one thing, the widespread acceptance and lack of stopping it.
Of course I’m talking about faking injuries.
Players in all sports can break rules to gain advantage and do. In few sports does faking injuries gain much advantage. I searched the web on faking injuries in football and the main results were that the governing body suspended a coach for promoting faking injuries in college. It looks like a major issue that the people in charge cracked down on. And rare enough to warrant major coverage.
Searching the web for faking injuries in soccer turned up tons of YouTube hits, a “how to” page on how to fake soccer injuries, an article noting how a referee called for people not to fake injuries — but not to protect the integrity of the game or about the spirit of competition, but because a player who almost died on the field could have died since so many people expect players to cry wolf. I saw online debates about which countries and leagues cheated the most. The list went on.
Integrity and leadership
Only the player knows if he or she was injured. I don’t see how anyone can consider any player faking an injury an athlete or competitor. Doing so seems beneath contempt. I’m sure many, maybe the overwhelming majority of soccer players don’t cheat. I don’t know. Maybe most do.
If a few or even many players cheating without integrity like that, you could call it a series of isolated incidents.
The referee on the field has limited ability to gauge a player’s health in the moment. Other players and even the coaches, assuming they aren’t in on it, can’t do much. I see resolving this issue as a leadership issue. I don’t follow soccer that much, but I don’t see the practice decreasing.
Without leadership taking action to change this aspect of the game, I don’t see how anyone can consider a sport that tolerates such a lack of integrity worthy of comparison to sports that do something about it.
Even baseball seems to make some attempt to decrease the steroid cheating.
Maybe comparing soccer and cycling makes sense. A lot of soccer players would probably get along well with Lance Armstrong. At least the cycling leadership, however belatedly, took away Armstrong’s victories. I enjoy knowing I’ve won as many Tour de Frances as he has.
But soccer cheats still have their victories.
Am I being high and mighty?
Am I being high and mighty or self-righteous?
I don’t think so. I don’t gain anything from preferring football to soccer. I know cheating happens in all sports. But when basketball players exaggerate falls, they aren’t faking injuries, they’re exaggerating the effect of contact. That’s not telling someone else false information that only they have access to.
I just can’t take soccer seriously and I’m otherwise curious to see if the game could be interesting. I played some as a kid. As it is now, if I see a fake injury I can’t stomach watching it for several months.
Maybe I’m also spoiled from the integrity I saw in Ultimate Frisbee. People have pointed out to me that it could change if enough money influenced it. Time will tell, but as it stands now, its “Spirit of the Game” rule — almost the first rule in the book, has kept it as far from soccer as any sport I know.