The lost art of sportsmanship.

With the increasing number of players feigning injury, diving, timewasting, and deliberately getting booked for tactical reasons, has the game lost one of its core values and become increasingly embarrassing with the antics that take place on a regular basis?

Several players have reputations for dramatic falls and going down under the slightest of contact, yet they seem happy to continue play-acting in the hope that for every time their appeals are waved away, another effort will be rewarded by the man with the whistle. It is all based on a game of probability; if a striker tumbles in the penalty area enough times then eventually he is bound to win a penalty. The situation has become so chronic that during the analysis of a game, pundits are often saying that if a player had gone down when he felt contact then his team would have been awarded a spot kick; in effect saying that he was wrong to be honest in valiantly trying to remain on his feet.

The desire to win hasn’t changed since the beginning of time, regardless of whether the competition is in sport or any other field. It is implausible to say that football players in the past had less desire to win matches than the players of today. The inbuilt desire to compete and show that you can’t be beaten is a fundamental characteristic of being human, and has allowed our species to develop as we constantly strive to think of new, and better, ways of working and functioning. What has changed over the last twenty years, especially in football, is the amount of media coverage it receives.

There are two ways of looking at the argument that sportsmanship is a dying art of noble men. The first argument is that the modern day player is more cunning, sly, and dishonest, and will attempt every trick in the book to gain an advantage. The second argument is that the players in the past were exactly the same, yet due to a lack of television coverage of the matches, and not being able to watch slow motion replays from numerous angles for every controversial incident, the public have a misconception that the football was fairer, players were scrupulously honest, and diving only occurred during the post-match bath. The reality is that neither argument is perfect, and it is most likely a combination of both. Players in the past did feign injury, time waste, and look for help from the referee when required, but we are unaware of the majority of these incidents. Nowadays we can instantly access the internet to watch a moment of simulation, or a soft penalty call, and decide ourselves whether the incident is genuine or not.


Fair play is crucial to the integrity of the game, and it was during the 2002 World Cup where the world witnessed one of the worst pieces of sportsmanship seen at an international tournament. Rivaldo’s embarrassing acting during the final moments of Brazil’s match against Turkey (the ball hit his thigh yet he fell to the floor clutching his face) ended with Hakan Unsal receiving a red card. Although Rivaldo was later fined, and Brazil went on to deservedly win the World Cup, a sour taste had been left in the mouth as the world considered whether winning had become so important that it was now acceptable to cheat. A strong word and not something to lightly cast upon a professional sportsman, but the consensus was that one of Brazil’s finest attacking players was a cheat.

Players have used their own interpretation of the laws of the game in many instances, mainly because they are so desperate to win. Unfortunately not all players have such genuine intentions or desire to play to their best. There are those who are more interested in the financial gain they can receive from a bribe, and so deliberately underperform. Numerous leagues and competitions have been affected by scandals surrounding match fixing, and it is another area of sportsmanship that the public feel has been negatively affected since the amount of money in the game dramatically increased during the 90’s and new millennium. Fortunately such occurrences are not common, and we tend to see individuals trying to bend the rules for the good of their team.

How far should players go to see their team benefit from such actions? Is it acceptable for a player to try and get an opponent sent off? Should a striker go down when he feels contact in the penalty box, no matter how slight? Many would say that all of these situations are fine, as long as their team is the one that gains an advantage. When the roles are reserved it is an entirely different story, and fans will immediately criticise the player in question.

Within the football community there is much debate about players. A current topic of much contention is the argument surrounding two players; Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are dividing opinion about who is the best in the world today. However, there is one element that often separates them and swings the vote in favour of the little Argentine. It’s actually not related to talent, and is based on the idea that Messi is better because he is an honest player, always trying to stay on his feet, never diving, and accepting the referee’s decision even when against him. On the contrary Ronaldo is accused of going to ground with alarming regularity, and has a reputation for throwing his toys out of the pram when decisions don’t go his way.
An interesting comparison between the world’s two greatest players at this moment in time, and one that highlights that even today we value sportsmanship highly and appreciate those that respect the rules of fair play.

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