When is someone going to do something about football culture?

Wembley Stadium photo by Brent FlandersThere’s so much going on in the world at the moment, yet much of the media are obsessed with Luis Suarez. Even Question Time and yesterday’s Radio Scotland’s Big Debate had questions about the Uruguayan player who is now serving a 4 month ban for biting a fellow player in a match the other night.

This is far from the first time that footballers have behaved badly on the pitch. I remember watching in horror as David Beckham was sent off during the 1998 World Cup? Why spend years training for something only to ruin it all with brattish behaviour.

Sometimes, footballers will try to use abuse from the crowd or fellow players as an excuse for violent behaviour. That’s no more acceptable on the football field than it would be if I were to go round Liberal Democrat conference head-butting everyone who’s poured dog’s abuse on me over the last wee while. That would never occur to me and there should be zero tolerance of it on the football pitch.

If someone in my workplace bit me, I would expect them to be a) sacked and b) charged. In a few months’ time, Suarez will be back on the pitch as if nothing had happened.

I did contribute to the Big Debate discussion yesterday. I was shocked that so many people in the room felt that what Suarez needed was counselling and support. I felt that this was unduly sympathetic and said so. I also said that there was far too much casual acceptance and tolerance of violent, racist, homophobic and misogynistic behaviour in the footballing world. Only last month we had the scandal over the Premier League’s Richard Scudamore’s utterly misogynist emails. Ultimately no action was taken against him.

Edward Lord, a Liberal Democrat and member of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board said that Scudamore’s position was untenable:

This seeming refusal to accept that the content of his emails were in fact sexist and inappropriate to my mind completely undermines his public apology, and leads to only one conclusion: that it was insincere and therefore unsustainable in the court of public opinion,” said Lord.
“If it is that Richard Scudamore didn’t believe that what he had written was wrong less than a week ago, I think that it is highly unlikely that he has come to that conclusion in any reality since. On that basis it appears to me that his position is now looking untenable.”

The culture around football has to change and it has no chance of doing so while people get away with such egregious offences. It dawns on me that more diversity in the upper echelons of the game is needed. What good are campaigns like the FA’s Kick it Out if  prominent figures in the game, whether players or members of ruling bodies, don’t live up to those values?

Footballers are role models. They even were for me. I had a whole pile of posters of Kenny Dalglish when I was 11. If they get away with poor behaviour, then it encourages those who idolise them to think that they can, too. Look at what happened when Ched Evans fans took to Twitter after his conviction for rape. And it looks like, now, that the footballing world will welcome him back. What message does that send to the world?

Photo of football at Wembley Stadium by Brent Flanders

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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18 Comments

  • If you want you have a serious discussion on football then you need to start talking about the money. That is wha it boils down to. Why such attitudes and behaviours continue to exist within the framework if the wider world where they are not regarded as acceptable, why players behave like spoilt children , why England have a poor national team-because the wealthy clubs call the shots, buy the players in and dictate when they can be free for national games. They don’t care about the development of British football, just winning matches , high share values and TV rights. Ah, TV rights, Sky and Murdoch rearing their ugly heads. I don’t even like or watch football and can see all this. Give me 10 minutes and I’ll get round to the off-side rule.

  • Caron, this rant from Gordon Strachan on Suarez and football morality is illuminating.

    http://sport.stv.tv/fifa-world-cup/news/280702-gordon-strachan-says-football-has-no-morals-amid-suarez-controversy/

  • James Harper 28th Jun '14 - 5:06pm

    Absolutely agree. But I think there is a need to seperate out the issues here. Homophobia and mysoginy are huge problems in football. But the issue of on-field behaviour merits stand-alone consideration. I think most people would agree that moral playing field is different in professional contact sports and the average workplace. In the office I have every right to assume that I won’t face physical harm of any kind from anybody. In a professional football game I sign up to inevitable physical contact and quite a high risk of being hurt. I also sign up to a competitive situation involving human beings under a high level of pressure and physical and emotional stress. I think that’s why being kicked would be grounds for a formal complaint on the office, but at worst grounds for a yellow card in football. Biting involves a particular violation of bodily integrity, and so rightly attracts a much more severe penalty than kicking in both settings. But it is still not quite the same offence on the football pitch that it is in the office. Vile as Suarez’ actions were, I think there is far more of a problem in rugby, where eye-gouging (which puts your opponents -eyesight- at risk), stamping and punching in the face are not unusual. These are egregious offences against your fellow competitor and it’s scary that modern players feel it can be justified by the context of a rugby match.

  • John Clough 28th Jun '14 - 5:41pm

    Sorry, but Suarez is just a sideshow. This World Cup has thus far been a brilliant feast of attacking play and generally free of dirty play. Footballers are no better or worse than most other people, just much better paid and under a more intense media spotlight. Some of the folk in charge are of questionable character and don’t respect the game, instead worshipping the great god of money. Often the media and SKY in particular lack a sense of proportion regarding the importance of the game. A goodly number of fans can be overly partisan and this can adversely affect their behaviour.
    Having said all that the game in England has made massive strides forward in the past 30 years and this article is a slur on the hundreds and thousands of folk who enjoy the game and who wouldn’t recognise the one-sided nature of this article. Am I alone in detecting more than a whiff of snobbery and a holier than thou attitude?
    Even political parties dedicated to a liberal and progressive agenda are sometimes let down by the antics of some of their senior members, who aren’t always brought to book, neither are these institutions always bastions of diversity in the upper echelons. People in glass houses and all that. Politicians in general, unfairly or not, don’t exactly enjoy the respect of large swathes of the population just at present.
    This World Cup, like the 2012 Olympics has proved to be a celebration of high quality sport and vibrant colourful fans coming from all continents to take part in an amazing and heartwarming spectacle. Just enjoy it and if you don’t like the game there’s always Wimbledon, Glastonbury or the garden.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Jun '14 - 5:51pm

    ” Vile as Suarez’ actions were, I think there is far more of a problem in rugby, where eye-gouging (which puts your opponents -eyesight- at risk), stamping and punching in the face are not unusual.”

    Suarez appears to be a serial offender deserving of a serious penalty.

    I take your point about eye-gouging etc. in rugby.

    It seems to me that biting and eye-gouging, being totally outside the rules of the sports concerned, should be dealt with as criminal offences of assault unless/until the relevant sports authorities put their houses in order. If the sports authorities can’t or won’t deal with such offences the law should – wouldn’t be for the first time – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duncan_Ferguson#Prison

  • I think it is the high media profile of football that blows these incidents out of all proportion to their relative importance. This one is close enough to ‘man bites dog’ story to make it particularly worthwhile.

    As James Harper notes above – such an incident would hardly be noticed in rugby and there are much greater risks of being hurt in a dangerous tackle on a football field then being clouted or bitten by an opponent.

    Football is a physical contact sport. Certainly, players should learn to take their punishment for committing offences without complaint, as is generally the case with rugby, but we don’t need to obsess about culture. Despite the rise in popularity of women’s football, the professional game remains largely a man’s sport and the culture derives from the nature of that male competitiveness.

  • John Broggio 28th Jun '14 - 7:08pm

    “What message does that send to the world?”

    That football has learned far too much from the world of politics.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jun '14 - 12:36am

    I have thought for a while that we need more women’s football on the TV. Women’s athletics is popular, so why not football? There’s hardly any of it on.

    I’m fascinated by football culture, I play it regularly and my friends always talk about it, I often try to steer the conversation onto things like the news and politics, but they are rarely interested, or perhaps they don’t want to talk about controversial things, or alienate other members of the group, perhaps it is a combination of all three.

    However, I see football culture as quite an innocent thing most of the time. On nights out I get the impression that people think we talk about girls all the time, but most of the time it is football and sport. There’s much more of a football culture than a misogynist culture going on, with my friends. I was told off by one for a harsh joke not so long ago, so I’m not even always the most politically correct.

    I would love to engage my friends in things other than football more often, but it is quite hard.As I said earlier, more women’s football might help change society a bit. The drink culture is also kind of connected to the football one, which again I’d like to change a bit.

  • Paul Blakeman 29th Jun '14 - 11:28am

    Whilst I don’t condone Suarez’s actions at all, I think this article is a bit misguided. Firstly, he hasn’t gotten away with the offence. The 4 month ban is the longest in a very long time for any football administered by FIFA.

    You make the point that had you been bitten in the workplace, you would expect the offender to be sacked and charged. However, a football field isn’t a workplace, it is a battlefield. Once again, this isn’t to condone Suarez’s actions, but I doubt that in your workplace there is so much emotion, so much hormonal activity and ultimately, the hopes of a nation resting on your shoulders. A lot of people don’t like to accept this but football, despite its ostensible triviality to many, is actually a very important and very emotional competitive sport.

    Also, only a very small minority would watch football and seriously think that biting somebody is okay. But this is an individual case regarding an individual player, who certainly has problems. However, how many people play football? How many football matches take place on a daily/weekly/yearly basis? And how many of these matches pass without incident? Don’t try and pretend that this is indicative of football culture – the very fact that it has been viewed so sternly is because it exactly what football isn’t!

    Lastly, to try and link Suarez and Scudamore, as if they are connected in some intrinsic fashion, is just plain wrong. These are incidents where people, not sport, is to blame. This article reads like a rant about football, not a seriously considered article.

  • Football will change when the fans and organisers want it to change,not because the chattering classes think it’s uncouth. It’s a self funded business just like hollywood or pop music and certainly no worse behaved. No one is forced to watch, screen or bid for the World Cup. It’s done because it generates income and prestige not because it’s a tool for education or a public service. In truth Politicians attach themselves to it to bask in reflected glory and popularity. IMO football would be better off if politicians stopped trying to hijack and impose agendas on it.

  • The irony of this article is that Suarez was actually given a disproportionately harsh punishment precisely because biting isn’t part of football culture. If the punishment had been based on the level of injury caused by the foul then it would have been much more lenient as it was quite a minor offence. The dive he did immediately afterwards was much more emblematic of a current problem with football culture – blatant cheating and gamesmanship. I would have given a one match ban for the bite and a two match ban for the dive.

    @Jennie
    Have you ever seen a football match? It is quite definitely a contact sport (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_sport) – sudden, high energy collisions between players occur throughout matches and are completely within the rules as long as the collisions are secondary to winning the ball and aren’t reckless or excessive . Far more dangerous fouls than that committed by Suarez occur frequently and are punished much more leniently.

    Football players always come in for excess criticism based on the fact they are (a) men, (b) well paid and (c) working class – none of which should have any bearing on an examination of their behaviour, hence the comments pointing out the lack of criticism of rugby players for doing far worse, etc.

  • The fact that many football fans think care more about the success of their team than general decency is the first problem.

    I was horrified to hear, see and read comments by Liverpool fans saying how unfair it is that their team will not do as well now that Surez cannot play. To them, him giving people ‘a little nibble’ here or there is just collateral damage.

  • Once again, this isn’t to condone Suarez’s actions, but I doubt that in your workplace there is so much emotion, so much hormonal activity and ultimately, the hopes of a nation resting on your shoulders.

    I think I now understand why Prime Minister’s Questions is the way it is.

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