Time football does us all a favour

11:57 am on 5 July 2018

Opinion: For all it does to captivate, it's time the beautiful game started living up to that moniker.

Brazilian star Neymar is warned by the referee to be quiet.

Brazilian star Neymar is warned by the referee to be quiet. Photo: Photosport

Outside the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup is undoubtedly the biggest and most celebrated single event in sport.

The most truly global game showcasing its best teams and best players to packed stadiums and world-wide TV audiences of mind-boggling numbers.

It's no wonder football fanatics spend an entire month in a special kind of sporting seventh heaven and it's no coincidence hordes of non-football folk get swept up in the spectacle.

But there is an aspect to the sport that continues to act as an incredible blight and, because of what is on the line, the World Cup is the time when that reaches farcical levels.

It is also a primary reason many of those aforementioned "non-football folk" fit into exactly that category.

Let's be very clear, it is not beautiful to dive dramatically to the ground when you have been barely touched, or sometimes not touched at all. Nor is rolling and writhing around on the ground in agony after said lack of contact.

It is also not beautiful to boorishly dispute every decision against you for 90 (plus) minutes. Nor is crowding, screaming in the face of and waving your arms angrily at a referee.

It is simply fuel to the fire for football's critics, who continue to laugh and shake their heads in disbelief.

Colombian players argue a red card for defender Carlos Sanchez after he clearly and deliberately handled the ball and gave away a penalty against Japan.

Colombian players argue a red card for defender Carlos Sanchez after he clearly and deliberately handled the ball and gave away a penalty against Japan. Photo: Photosport

To make matters worse, all this embarrassing behaviour has a flow-on effect.

When Brazilian striker Neymar, one of world football's three biggest superstars, completed a spinning and twisting routine that would make any Olympic diver proud against Mexico on Monday, in a disgraceful attempt to fool officials into falsely punishing a member of the opposition, millions of impressionable young players watched on.

When more than half the Colombian team charged at and then, for three minutes, surrounded the referee after he correctly awarded England a penalty yesterday, those same potential stars of the future watched on.

This doesn't mean, of course, those youngsters will go on to behave in the same way.

Read more of our FIFA 2018 coverage:

  • FIFA World Cup: England breaks its penalty curse
  • FIFA World Cup: British media reacts as England beat Colombia to advance to quarter finals
  • Squeaky Bum Time: A FIFA World Cup podcast
  • FIFA World Cup: England through to quarters
  • FIFA World Cup: A dummies' guide
  • An optimist would hope many coaches and parents out there make a point of using those situations as examples of how NOT to conduct yourself.

    But the mere chance they will begin to start to act in similar fashion is cause enough for concern.

    Examples of these types of behaviour during the first 20 days of the World Cup are not hard to find. Make no mistake, players and teams from almost every part of the world are guilty.

    Those on the field at the highest levels, and calling the shots from the sidelines, aren't going to eliminate this from the game. That much is abundantly clear.

    Only when Fifa, the sport's global governing body, step in and say enough is enough will football begin to rid itself of all it's unnecessary dramatics.

    Take a dive, yellow card. Surround and shout down the referee, red card.

    If it results in multiple players being sent from the field and has an adverse affect on the game as a spectacle, so be it.

    Officials must be empowered to stamp out these actions over the short-term, for the long-term benefit of the game.

    Over the last couple of days in Russia, football has captured the imagination of millions for all the right reasons.

    Whether it's the skill and execution displayed by Belgium yon Tuesday to streak the length of the field for a sublime last minute winner against heartbroken Japan, or the euphoric reaction to England's penalty shootout win over Colombia yesterday, the sport can evoke levels of passion like no other.

    They are magic moments that will live long in memory.

    But until its worst ceases to exist, the beautiful game's best will be unable to truly shine.

    - RNZ