Association Football’s continuing popularity despite all the diving…

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What makes association football—a.k.a. soccer–the world’s most popular sport?

Clearly, as a professional player, there is the attraction of fame, fortune and free tattoos. But what’s in it for the spectators who are paying top dollar to go to the stadium*, pay pay-per-view cable and/or buying in on one of the countless merchandising opportunities?

At some point, I must invoke the argument that, because the spectator sex is mostly masculine, football is the ideal replacement activity for those bellicose natured human beings. Whether or not that holds true, because of football’s wide appeal, one could also say that as go football ethics, go audience ethics.

An article I read in The Evening Standard of June 3, 2008, tackled–if you excuse the pun–an issue that I have commented on before: the moaning, diving, cheating tactics that we see too often on football pitches. And, it would seem that the paying public has voiced its opinion via a survey of 2,814 fans through Football Fans Census (footballfanscensus.com — sorry but you have to register).

Sixty-seven percent of those polled recalled that a player had protested at least once in a manner that was unacceptable during the course of the season – maybe the 33% that didn’t recall a single instance were too intoxicated to remember? Interestingly, for Chelsea, England’s number two club, its fans gave the Blues a 91% [bad] mark.

Seventy-six percent remember at least one instance of a player deliberately taking a dive to win a free kick or penalty.

Sport is entertainment. It is in the business of entertainment. However, like all other businesses, sport should be held to certain ethical standards, especially considering its impact on impressionable youth and fans. Poor behaviour on the field inevitably spills over into the psyche of the local public. Perhaps this may explain why England’s national team has had such a poor record in recent years?

The success [and wealth] of the English clubs has everything to do with economics (size of stadiums, capacity attendance, high value tickets as well as the high wages…). The higher plane of economics has enabled them to attract higher quality talent and, therefore, more success in Europe. However, such success and wealth gives no just cause for petulance, poor sportsmanship or trickery. Indeed, football athletes should be given a code of ethics – just as corporate employees do. And, no spitting, head-butting, diving or rudeness should be tolerated. In the words of the legend, Pele, what counts is “honesty and hard work.”

So, for the high-paying spectators, are they getting their money’s worth? Are the players held to a high enough standard? Are the battles (of England) being won on these playing fields?

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*The Evening Standard of June 3 reported the following prices paid (including ticket, transportation, merchandise and refreshments) for going to see a game live at one of the London clubs: £102 for Chelsea, £92 for Arsenal, £84 for Tottenham…£52 for QPR …£42 for Watford…and, down to £26 for Barnet (Coca Cola League Two).

Among the staggering thoughts: there are 14 professional teams in the London area. Secondly, just limiting the exercise to the regular season games (38), that means that Chelsea fans spend £162 million in a season just on the regular season games. [In comparison, Barnet supporters pay somewhere around £5 million, with a stadium capacity of 5568].

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