So I'm watching the Olympics and reveling in its unbridled positivity and marveling at what a cracking bloke Sir Chris Hoy appears to be even with all his success and I'm thinking "God, aren't footballers a bunch of twats?"
But then I thought about it a bit longer and I figured that Hoy doesn't complain to the ref because, well, there isn't one. Not one that influences what's happening during the sprint anyway. Then I thought, "Hoy doesn't dive either", but then it occurred to me that's because there wouldn't be any point.
I'm not sure how everyone will react to the uglier side of football once the season resumes, I guess gobbing off at the ref will (briefly) be tolerated less than it was before the Olympics. That is of course absolutely a good thing. But I always find myself getting defensive on behalf of footballers themselves. I don't think these guys were born without the capacity to act morally and there are plenty of players who, generally speaking, compete pretty fairly.
Pretty much all athletes, in any sport, are gaining an advantage any way they can. Some of them don't know when to stop and go too far. But cheating takes many forms, it's just that footballers cheat in an ugly way.
Pretending to be hurt, pressuring officials, these are unpleasant ways to behave and many point to rugby as a shining example of sportsmanship. But, rugby is a sport where it appears perfectly acceptable to punch your opponent in the face or gouge their eyeballs, as long as you shake hands afterwards. It doesn't seem so much that football's critics have a problem with cheating, but rather that they just prefer the cheating takes some 'manly' form.
I hate diving in football, though I hate two footed lunging tackles even more. I can't stand it that players aren't penalized for swearing at the refs and I think kids should be set a better example. But I also don't think that there is something wrong with footballers as a species, largely because they aren't a species. Most of them are responding to the incentives laid out in front of them. Those who still act honorably should be noted for doing so, much as clean Olympians are lauded for resisting the temptation of doping.
Football has problems, but endemic drug problems and on field violence don't seem to be an issue. Maybe instead of talking about footballers, rugby players and athletes as different species, we should consider them all as human beings who succumb to temptation in different, but perhaps not so morally distinguishable ways.