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Football is not to blame for cricket's sledging issue and the emergence of diving in rugby union
By SP_COP on January 21, 2015 | From
Football is not to blame for cricket's sledging issue and the emergence of diving in rugby union The phrase “we mustn’t become like football” is often muttered in other sports. Since the 1970s the national game has bristled at the depiction of “yob ball” as the dumping ground for rudeness, arrogance, contempt for match officials and now diving and feigning injury.

Guess what: the slogan flipped. “We do want to be like football,” cricket and rugby began to think. The growing emergency in rugby union over backchat and thespianism – and the constant bilge of sledging in cricket – prefigure the day when football can be led slobbering from its dungeon and make eye contact with other sports.

Why do they suddenly want to “be like football” (the players, that is, not the administrators)? If people are throwing themselves over and disrespecting referees in rugby union the blame can hardly be laid at football’s door. To think a wing at Saracens or Wasps watches Manchester United’s Ashley Young impersonate a sniper victim and then auto-copies the crime in Premiership rugby is daft in every direction.

Football does have its regular convulsions. But its willingness at least to talk about its problems gives it a head start on rugby and cricket, where the “hideous energy” (to quote Martin Crowe) of David Warner is supposedly turning the bat and ball game into a punch up waiting to happen.

Is a columnist allowed to argue in favour of a proper fight instead of the gargoyle taunting that passes for intensity and passion in modern cricket? Probably not, but an outbreak of hand-to-hand combat might bring us closer to a resolution.

In his piece on ESPNCricinfo, Crowe raised the spectre of an opponent sticking one on Warner at the forthcoming World Cup. An apocalypse from Crowe’s perspective strikes some of us as the shock the game might need to confront the sheer vacuity of abusive sledging.

If you need Warner telling an Indian opponent “speak English” to sell your sport then you probably have a problem selling your sport. It heightens the drama only if you are easily excited by blockheads. Its defenders say cricket needs edge, needs hostility. So it does, but Warner and England’s sledgers are not it. They dilute the contest by dragging the focus away from bowler versus batsman to the kind of gobbing-off you see in the high street at kicking-out time.

In the moral realm, football is engaged on countless fronts. Ched Evans, the Malky Mackay texts and Dave Whelan and his “chinks” are among the crossover controversies: the sort that make the Today programme. Beneath those is the hum of weekly fodder: diving, elbows, the crowding of referees, obnoxious chanting, managers slagging off referees, players getting themselves in trouble on Twitter.

In all these areas football is the grizzled vet. Its face reveals a thousand battles. Its arm bears the imprints of Luis Suárez’s teeth. There is not an -ism you can surprise football with. And each time it is dragged out in front of the public by the scruff of the neck and ordered to apologise for its utter degradation. I know, because, like most reporters, I have dragged it out there myself. But let us not confuse Fifa corruption, scandalous ticket-price rises, money gushing into the pockets of agents and obscene weekly wages with the stuff rugby and cricket are now fretting about: individuals, or teams, violating the spirit of the game in ways with which governing bodies are only just starting to get to grips.

Credit, here, to the Rugby Players’ Association, which has called a meeting with referees to discuss injury-feigning and backchat. This is a rare case of a union reporting itself to the authorities – holding out its hands to be cuffed – after an apparent dive by Yoann Huget of Toulouse against Bath prompted the RPA to admit its members have a problem.

“It is pretty commonly rolled out that we are different to football because of the respect shown to referees and it would be a real shame if that was lost,” Christian Day, the RPA chairman, said. “The game is becoming more and more professional, and more and more competitive, and professional people will always look for the edge.”...
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