What Football Needs To Learn From Rugby

The spectacle that is the Rugby World Cup has come and gone once again. It will be another four years before the sport takes to its most glamorous stage with a fresh bandwagon of fans behind it.

In failing to beat Argentina, Ireland has failed to surpass an all too familiar hurdle and fallen short of the nation’s expectations. The post-mortem points to the void left by Sexton and O’ Connell, however the fact remains that Argentina really are a very good team.

Ireland may have fallen short when it mattered most but once again, rugby has emerged triumphant. It has proven to the world that it really is a gentleman’s sport.

From South Africa’s Lood de Jager apologising to the referee for giving away a penalty to New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams giving his winner’s medal to a fan, rugby has shown itself to be a sport exuding sheer class.

Rugby allows for no egos, no showmanship and no off-field drama to spice up action on the pitch. Perhaps this is why football remains the more popular of the two. The big names combined with the aforementioned aspects sees millions obsess over the Premier League and Champions League.

So how is rugby getting it so right? Why do the players show so much respect for opponents and officials? Why do players not dive and look to get opponents penalised? How can fans of opposing clubs and nations share stadium space during the match and pub space afterwards?

Well, perhaps the question isn’t what rugby is doing right, rather what football is doing wrong. After all, is it really so strange that those practising a profession act professionally? Surely we don’t collectively agree that respecting an official in any facet of life is unusual?

during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Nigel Owens during the RWC Final

A comparison between the refereeing highlights the difference in core values currently defining the two sports. Football referees are challenged on almost every decision and regularly surrounded by irate players.

On the other hand, the word of a rugby referee is law. It isn’t a totalitarian system. Referees like Nigel Owens lead the way in fair and justified officiating.

Amongst rugby fans there is a universal disdain for the antics of the football world. Football is like rugby’s impudent little brother. We love football, but we’re slightly ashamed of it.

In 2018 football’s grandest stage, the World Cup, is to be hosted by a nation whose footballing culture is overrun with racism. In 2022, it will be passed to a nation where human rights have taken a back seat in their hasty preparation for the tournament. Incidentally, both are logistical and infrastructural nightmares.

With criminal charges pending across FIFA’s hierarchy, the legitimacy of both Russia and Qatar’s bids is unsure. One thing is certain however, it sets a precedent which percolates right down to the grassroots of the game.

The culture of football both on and off the pitch really is taking some unfortunate turns. At its highest level, corruption has seen the governing body FIFA embroiled in scandal while at its lowest, fans won’t let a man onto a train because of  the colour of his skin.

Obviously there are social and cultural reasons for this and football certainly isn’t to blame for the issues pervading society. However, somewhere along the line football went wrong. A certain culture has been nurtured which has seen diving on the pitch and violence off it. Frankly, it’s becoming tedious and downright embarrassing.

In the wake of Sonny Bill Williams giving away his medal you could argue, “well, Jose Mourinho threw his Champions League winner’s medal into the crowd.” Mourinho was making a statement, not intentionally making a fan’s day/week/life. ‘The Special One’ exemplifies the egotism and showmanship that has come to define football in the 21st century.

There are those who will argue for the history and identity of football and claim that rivalry, unhealthy though it often is, is a part of the game. Local derbies and heated rivalries run deep into the history of football and should be recognised as a crucial part of the identity of the beautiful game.

However, should it supercede all levels of decorum and general sportsmanship? No, it shouldn’t. Football has shown itself to be a sport which is lacking the qualities which make rugby a pleasure to watch and it’s because of this that many have lost patience with “the beautiful game”.

Jack Cahill

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