Alan Hubbard: Football has learned nothing from the Olympics

Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Alan HubbardThe fact that Bradley Wiggins romped home in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards surprised no-one. Least of all himself, I imagine.

Eleven Olympians and Paralympians, plus a golfer who will be an Olympian in 2016, comprised the dozen who vied for the viewers' votes, a true reflection of Britain's sporting year.

No surprise either, that the so-called national sports, football, rugby and cricket, merited merely a passing mention.

In fairness, rugby and cricket came good in the past few weeks but even England beating the All Blacks at Twickenham and winning a Test series in India would not have eclipsed the achievements of those who starred in the Olympic Park and its satellite centres of sporting excellence last summer.

Football was summarily kicked into touch, and deservedly so. For it would have been a poisonous presence on the rostrum such has been its abominable misbehavourial pattern in 2012.

Ugly as it has become, co-host Gary Lineker still briefly referred to it as the Beautiful Game.

Was his tongue in his cheek? Maybe it was still beautiful when he and his contemporaries were lacing up their boots but it has since become scarred beyond recognition.

Recent incidents remind us just how toxic and tawdry it is, despoiled by racism, thuggery, arrogance and indiscipline.

Manchester City and Machester United fansManchester City and Manchester United fans separated by police during this derby this month

So many players have become rich and infamous, with no respect for the laws of the game on the field and an attitude off it which suggests they consider themselves immune to the laws of the land.

Ok we may have travelled so way from the mass hooliganism of the seventies and eighties (though you might doubt it when making inter-city train journeys carrying fans on match days) but the malady lingers on.

Now we have regular vile taunts about Munich, Hillsborough and the Holocaust almost every weekend, with a return to pitch encroachment by nutters.

Plus scenes like that in Manchester when Rio Ferdinand left the pitch with his eyebrow streaming with blood after being hit by a coin. Who says there's a recession when Neanderthal idiots happily throw away money? Football certainly isn't feeling the pinch.

Yet sadly it attracts the dregs of society who applaud the misdemeanours of players and fellow fans which are largely received with a shrug, a slap on the wrist and mealy-mouthed denunciation by the so-called guardians of the of the game.

The Premier League has been seduced by Murdoch money and mesmerised by celebrity culture, sacrificing both pride and principles, turning a blind eye to the fundamental ills of a game for which they, and the Football Association (FA), supposedly have a duty of care.

Both bodies appear to be happy to sit back, doff their caps to Mr Abramovich and co and watch it spin beyond their control as long as the bottom line is glowing with health.

Football has become a game which fosters the worst excesses of human kind.

Rio Ferdinand of Manchester UnitedRio Ferdinand was taken off the pitch after a coin was thrown at him from the crowd

Of course other sports are not squeaky clean. Cricket has a crime sheet full of betting scandals and rigged matches for which players have served jail sentences.

There was the deplorable use of the fake blood capsule in rugby, a plethora of pulled horses in racing, and as for cycling, well the all-conquering Brits may be clean (we hope) but principal dope peddler Lance Armstrong has put a spoke in the wheel. Endemic doping is a situation which continues to besmirch athletics too.

But at least governing bodies have been spurred into trying to do something about it, if in cycling's case the blind eye had to be prised open.

Football remains stubbornly myopic.

The fact that it also remains the only game where fans need to be segregated tell us something.

Those in charge say it is all about passion. Rubbish. It is unadulterated tribalism which too often breeds a hatred which spills over into violence and verbal abuse.

This is a sport I used to love but from which I am now totally disaffected. I retain fond memories of covering England's World Cup victory in 1966 and following West Ham when, under the celebrated Ron Greenwood, a team which included Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst played such sublime football.

Now fear not it has become so up itself, so consumed by greed and global marketing that it fails to see the dismay it causes among those, who like me, cherished the game for what it was.

Today it smugly harbours the incorrigible, the persistent cheats like those who appear to have been taking diving lessons from Tom Daley.

Yet too often those who make the rules look away when they see things which would not be tolerated in any other sport, encouraged by sycophantic TV interviewers and cheerleading commentators.

What we have witnessed since this grossly disfigured season began indicates that football has learned nothing from the Olympics, even though vowed it would.

Why this apparent reluctance to inject the sort of decency, dignity and real sportsmanship that epitomised the Olympics? Is it because those in charge have neither the will, nor the bottle? The Sports Minister Hugh Robertson was absolutely right when he said football was the worst governed of all sports.

His patience understandably is wearing thin and some Government intervention may be the only way forward.

Seb CoeDoes football need someone like Lord Coe to as an independent NFL-style commissioner?

What the game needs, but sadly is unlikely ever to get, is an independent NFL-style commissioner (Lord Coe would be my choice), who knows that the one way to stop the rot is to restore the authority of referees, deduct points in double figures, start closing grounds for several games and ban consistent offenders, both players and managers, for months rather than the odd game or two.

Drastic? Of course but football, is in need of major surgery to cure its incipient ailments, not the odd bit of casually applied sticking plaster accompanied by placebos and platitudes.

If anything requires a Levenson-style inquiry with the prospect of new regulations which necessitate statutory underpinning it is football.

Please, somebody blow the whistle.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
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