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FIFA Task Force 2014 meeting

Date: Mar 01 2012
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I was recently asked to sit on a specially selected FIFA panel to examine the issue of sportsmanship during football matches.

Working on the panel alongside me were such distinguished football greats as former German captain Franz Beckenbauer and ex-Brazilian defender, Cafu, both of whom can boast World Cup winners medals to their names alongside numerous other trophies collected during the course of glittering careers – so I was in good company!

The issue of sportsmanship and conduct on the pitch is not a new one. Top-level football by its very nature is incredibly competitive. Any player performing at that level is there partly due to ability, but also due to an in-built desire to win.

That is an essential part of the DNA for any player to succeed. As a result, there is a certain inevitability that things will boil over from time to time when there is a dispute over a decision or perhaps an over zealous tackle. And that is fine, too. It’s part of the passion of football, which, in turn, accounts for a huge part of the game’s universal appeal. Fans want to see that the players care.

However against all this it is also vital to remember that football is still a sport, and as such, sporting behaviour should also be expected as the norm. It’s not unusual to see two opposing players have words in the heat of the moment after a heavy challenge, but that is fine if those words are followed by a conciliatory gesture such as a friendly handshake.

Having examined footage of a number of high profile, but bad tempered matches – including the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and Holland; last season’s Champions League Semi Final between Barcelona and Real Madrid; and last season’s Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Penarol – the FIFA Panel made a number of suggestions that we felt could improve sportsmanship in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

One such suggestion we put forward is that teams should gather in the centre circle at the half time whistle and leave the pitch together, as well as re-emerging together after the break, and then gathering in the centre circle again at full time to leave the pitch collectively. That way, players would have to shake hands at full time, and there would be no opportunity for the high profile avoidance of this simple gesture that has made so many headlines of late. Such actions only overshadow the football and fill newspaper pages for all the wrong reasons.

Of particular note to me when analyzing the games mentioned was the conduct of those not actually on the pitch in antagonizing heated situations. Coaches and substitutes on the bench are so often the first people to get upset when they see a decision or challenge they don’t like, and in many cases this only creates a problem that might otherwise pass by without incident. Footballers and coaches at the top level must always remember that they have a huge responsibility as role models.

Millions upon millions of people – often youngsters – look up to them, follow their every move, and try to emulate them. And that is what we want – young players to be inspired by their heroes. But if professionals also demonstrate unsporting behaviour alongside their superlative technique with a ball, this too will be copied and passed down to grass roots level.

I am delighted that FIFA are taking these steps to really enforce the Fair Play Code in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup. This isn’t about disciplining players. It’s just a gentle reminder to them of the responsibilities that come with the job. And if some of our recommendations help, then we will have done our job, too.

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