OPINION: Rugby and soccer - can’t we all just get along?

2018-07-08 09:00
Neymar (Getty)

Johannesburg - The abiding memory of this year’s World Cup will be that of Brazil’s Neymar rolling around the turf like an assault victim just because some would-be defender has checked him skeef.

READ: Strange days at the World Cup

As the gifs, videos and memes of Neymar and his colleagues feigning fatal injury – only to be speedily restored to their feet the moment a card has been brandished to the opposition – have done the rounds on social media, it’s safe to say footballers haven’t covered themselves in glory with their behaviour despite being involved in a tournament for the ages in Russia.

As someone remarked on Twitter, it’s hard to imagine how footballers have managed to get that many tattoos given their dangerously low threshold for pain. The main reason we don’t like footballers is our envy over how barely educated youngsters earn more than doctors who save lives on a daily basis, let alone ourselves.

The fact that they’re guaranteed to win the Lotto once a week as long as they’re employed as footballers is worsened by an entitlement – as evidenced by their treatment of referees – which suggests they’re fully aware of their privileged status in life and aren’t afraid to abuse it.

But has any of the toy throwing in Russia justified rugby fans swanning around as if their sport is the missing ingredient to what it would take to achieve world peace? In among the ripping memes, there are some self-righteous comparisons between dastardly football and saintly rugby.

Before I start sounding like a football apologist, I probably should declare that I’m not a big fan despite having loved playing it competitively, albeit crappily. My gripe has always been the blurring of the line between outsmarting opponents and cheating.

It’s one thing to use your smarts to get the better of the opposition and another to go on to the field with the intent to cheat by diving to get penalties or red cards issued to defenders. And when footballers demand the referee issue a card, it takes everything I have not to throw the remote at the TV.

Already the most popular sport in the world, the pity is that football – a game that constantly forces you to think and problem solve, and teaches spatial awareness – could be so much more than the seat of petulance and lack of sportsmanship it is.

But that doesn’t give rugby, a sport in which on-field problems are still solved by eye-gouging and biting among grown men, the right to grab the moral high ground. If anything, rugby is becoming ever more like soccer.

Referees may not receive the direct invective their football counterparts do, but players conduct their own mental disintegration during the game by running consistent commentary at the top of their voices about what the opposition is doing wrong, with aggrieved scrumhalves there to helpfully wave their arms in protest to what the official has missed.

The game has also stood by as said referees have, in rather contradictory circumstances, been given way too many powers and had their influence weakened at the same time. For every referee who officiates on his own interpretation, as opposed to the laws, there’s a colleague who’s paralysed to make decisions because of the television match official.

There’s a big confusion as to what constitutes a high tackle, and the severity of the punishment depends on the official deciding on the basis of such intangibles as intent and severity. Pretty much the world over, the game is in financial trouble: soccer may be a haven for the unpleasant, but it sells a product people will pay to see.

And from a South African perspective, racism is as big a problem in rugby as it is for soccer, if not bigger. With a World Cup coming in exotic Japan next year, maybe we shouldn’t get too carried away about how much “better” rugby is than soccer as our moment in the spotlight is just around the corner.

It would be nice if we watched soccer for the spectacle it can be when played properly (let’s face it, you’re not getting that with Bafana) instead of trying to settle a nonexistent debate about how it relates to rugby.

The two are cousins, not twins.

sports@citypress.co.za

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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