Thursday, March 08, 2007

Football Fighting

Seconds Out – Round Three?

Arsenal and Chelsea footballers have been brawling again – this time at a reserve team match. Coupled with the fracas at the Inter Milan v. Valencia match we now await Round Three to break out, somewhere.

No doubt, some do-gooders will claim society is tearing itself apart or predict the imminent demise of the national game. Fortunately, neither case is true or likely.

Football is a violent game. Twenty-two athletic men run about trying to kick a ball. Mostly they succeed. Sometimes they kick each other by mistake. Sometimes they kick each other intentionally. That's pretty much inevitable. Perhaps deplorable but almost certainly inevitable.

When they do kick each other, either by mistake or on purpose, they get angry. Sounds reasonable so far. You and I would get angry if someone kicked us. There however the similarity ends; for, if you or I decide to kick or punch or bite or whack over the head with a shoe our assailant, we would find ourselves in court. Footballers don't.

Why you might ask?

Perhaps if footballers were prosecuted for assault there might be less assaults. Certainly it's worth considering.

Clubs and players find themselves in front of the FA Disciplinary Committee instead. This is where the fun starts. If not fun, then, at least, laughs.

Having looked at the referee's report and viewed the video evidence, the FA then dispenses “justice”. Players, managers and clubs get fined. The problem is the fines are not really very expensive. Some money ( nothing like what the players earn! ) maybe, and a few weeks of forced rest. Everyone moves on – until the next time.

Is there a better way? Probably. Could we stop footballers from fighting? Not likely.

So, what's to be done? First, make the players primarily responsible. Second, get some independence into the investigation and punishment process. Third, make the “punishment” fit the “crime”.

Making clubs responsible is really just a cop out. If there is evidence that a club actively or even surreptitiously supports or condones violence by their players, throw the book at them. I doubt this happens. Players lose their tempers and irresponsibly retaliate. Players who are violent to each other should be banned (for a substantial period – months not weeks) and their clubs should not pay them while they are banned. Their salaries could go to support youth football or battered wives.

The FA should not be judge and jury when dealing with violence among the players. An independent body composed of members of the public, serving magistrates, retired judges and ex-professional footballers should adjudicate on appropriate punishments for acts of violence in football.

By removing wages from banned players, some kind of self-regulation just might ensue.

Yesterday's laughable slug-fest between Valencia and Inter Milan would be a good place to start. A UEFA panel will decide what to do with the players who spent quite a long time chasing each other about the pitch trying to hit, kick or otherwise injure or maim.

Whoever said, “It's a funny old game!”

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