The World Cup Runneth Over With Unsportsmanlike Behavior

The Group Stage of the World Cup soccer tournament is nearing an end. There have been some surprises and many close calls. In fact, South Korea defeated Germany yesterday, eliminating last year’s champion from the competition. The Knock Out Stage with the 16-quarter finalists will begin in a few days on June 30.

Many of the matches have been really exciting and undecided until the final moments. Not to rain on the World Cup parade, but there is one pervasive issue that has tainted the matches— the players are poor sports for the most part.

Professional soccer is a pretty rough sport even though there’s no blocking or tackling in the American football sense. But the contestants have been hitting new highs, literally. Unnecessary grabbing, pushing, tripping, elbowing and violent actions away from the ball are occurring constantly during the games.

Exacerbating the situation are players feigning injury trying to encourage yellow and red cards against opponents. How many times have you seen a player writhing on the field in pain until the referee makes a decision, and the offended jumps up like nothing has happened? So often a simple bump is dramatized by a “dive” making an observer think someone has been seriously injured. More than often it’s a ruse that detracts from the game. In some cases referees penalize players who are too effusive about being fouled.

Another annoying and unsportsmanlike activity is badgering referees. For some reason the refs are very lax responding to complaints, bad-mouthing and even physical contact. In almost all other sports, a player who accosts an official is ejected from the game. For some reason referees give too much latitude to the soccer crybabies.

Some of the teams have a huge chip on their shoulder. They clearly resent the most celebrated players on other teams. In fact super stars like Messi, Rinaldo and Neymar are abused from the beginning to the end of matches. In order to temper the far superior skills of the opposition, teams resort to aggression. In some cases this works, but not usually.

A new development is the replay available to referees, and sometimes imposed on them. I have mixed feelings about second-guessing officials. As an old school fan, I prefer as little high tech interference as possible. The game of soccer has persevered for hundreds of years without reconsideration of referee decisions. And besides it destroys the continuity of the game. The same thing has happened to football, baseball and even basketball. I find constant interruptions unappealing.

The World Cup is a gigantic party as most people around the world play soccer and/or are huge fans. Unfortunately fans can become rabid when things don’t go well for their teams. Soccer games are famous for huge melees between supporters of competing teams. They really don’t need encouragement from the players in this regard.

Nevertheless the nationalistic spirit is really fun to observe. Attendees root with their hearts and souls. During the World Cup everything is even more dramatic especially when the teams of rival countries meet on the pitch. Better to fight it out with a soccer ball and one’s feet than with guns and bombs.

The World Cup is a grand worldwide event. It would be even better with more sportsmanship for the benefit of the millions of young people who watch it and play the sport themselves.

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