There are probably not many professions that are gathering more bad press at the moment or any moment for that matter than what the game of football receives. There was much negative publicity just before the European Championships in June – with the court case featuring messirs Anton Ferdinand and John Terry – and now it has increased in light of the near impeccable way that athletes conducted themselves in the 2012 Olympics.
The vast majority of them were a credit to themselves, their country and the Games itself. But then, so are the majority of footballers to their chosen field. There are more professional footballers in the world than any other sport by my reckoning, so obviously there is more chance of there being a git or two amongst them than any other sport. There are a whole host of reasons why footballers are so vilified in the press, and it is these character assassinations that delve themselves deep into the psyche of the public who read of their antics.
One of them is the constant scrutiny that they find themselves under. With so many eyes on the player, one of those eyes is bound to spot some kind of misdemeanour, and because the spotlight is constantly on them throughout the football season, ultimately there will be more good and bad to pick and choose from. If Olympic athletes were under the same amount of surveillance then you can bet your life that there would be far more unsavoury incidents highlighted than what we are witnessing and taking notice of at this moment. The media glare on Olympic athletes was pretty relentless for the weeks leading up to the Games and the two weeks in which they were taking place, but this is the same volume of exposure to the public that footballers are subjected to for nine months! Or longer should it be the year of a major international tournament.
If Olympians were in the same position then I am sure that we would be made aware of far more instances of the illegal drug taking and bad sportsmanship that can blight their pastimes. And these are not recreational drugs that we’re talking about, but ones that are consumed to enhance performance at the expense of their opponents. Footballers, on the whole, are exempt from this kind of behaviour. Of course, there are many instances where many despicable players dive and feign injury in order to deceive the referee into punishing a fellow professional, which is something that needs to be eradicated. The sort of athletes that were mentioned are in a minority, but the same applies to people involved with football. There are just more of them to pick on that’s all.
And what about the uproar that greets British footballers if they don’t sing the National Anthem? At the same tournament where the likes of Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Kim Little outraged some journalistic morons by not uttering the words to ‘God Save the Queen’, Team GB golden girl, Laura Trott and many others were spared from such nay saying each time they were on the podiums with a medal round their neck. Maybe it was because they won something that they were let off the hook, but it still smacks of hypocrisy from much of the high and mighty press, who seem to think that they are above anyone who doesn’t sing some sycophantic old song about a family they have no relation to. Or at least the footballers that they hold in utter contempt.
I suspect that much of it relates to class as well. A lot of footballers are from working-class backgrounds – as are many Olympians – but football is predominately made up of people from that ilk. You don’t see players of rugby – generally considered a game of middle-class distinction – getting chastised for some of their behaviour on and off the pitch including brawls in nightclubs. Again, this may be the fact that not as many people are as interested in them as they are with the average footballer, so some of what they get up to goes unnoticed. Some of them didn’t go unnoticed last year though.
But when England’s rugby players were pictured throwing dwarves and gallivanting with women before a crucial match in the 2011 World Cup, much of the press simply saw it as a ‘laugh’. One can imagine that the headlines would have been of a far more disparaging nature had it been football players in the same position.
The high wages are likely to be another reason for the general disillusionment with footballers. Some people may think that anyone who earns an obscene amount of money as they do should be liable to a bit of abuse from fans that, at the end of the day (a phrase that many in the game are fond of using), are effectively paying their wages. Yes, they can receive sponsorships from brands and television deals, but the reason they acquire those deals is because those businesses know that there is a very large audience that will tune in and consume; those very fans who abuse players every week.
And that is another thing. Any player who is not wearing a particularly colour of shirt will be verbally set upon by opposing supporters throughout a match that they are trying to win, which can include disgusting remarks about them and their family. They’re bound to be on edge in an environment like that. This hostile atmosphere is in stark contrast to the trials and tribulations that Olympians are subjected to, with, on the whole, polite applause and encouragement given to them no matter who they are.
Overall, it is mainly down to the fact that footballers are focused upon by a far larger section of the public than other sports, so there is more chance of an indiscretion being noted, pulled apart, then twisted and sensationalised for the purposes of a story; plus there are more of them in the world than say, professional cyclists. Society it seems, or at least many a right-wing tabloid, is obsessed with the effect that someone in the public eye will have on a young person’s behaviour and morals, and feel that they have a responsibility in conducting themselves in a ‘perfect’ manner 24 hours a day, forgetting the fact that they’re not robots.
If you or I were watched with as much intensity as some footballers then I’m sure there would be instances where we appeared rude and bad tempered. There are humans from all walks of life that are good and bad, and this applies to all sportsmen and women too. One group is not worse than the other, so bear that in mind when reading about an Olympian who is assumed by the media to be of a higher moral standing than that of their football counterparts.
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