Football has been exposed during this Olympics. The lack of professionalism, absurd financial financial frivolity and the attitudes this propagates are now clear for all to see.
In Plato’s Cave theory the men chained staring at the shadows on the wall of the cave accept these to be the real objects. It is only once one of the men escapes the cave and experiences reality that he can see the shadows for what they really are. He tells the remaining men, but they believe so blindly in the reality of the shadows that they kill the man who escapes.
For me at least, the London Olympics have been my escape from football. I’ve watched everything, from rowing to cycling to camp horse dancing, each of them incomprehensively different from the next but enjoyable nonetheless. I worry that returning from two weeks of submersing myself in a plethora of different sports that my fellow football fanatics will castigate me for the comparisons I’m going to make.
I’d be lying if I said that football didn’t take up nearly my whole mind when it comes to sport. I love it. It is the sport that I and so many others watch week in week out. It is exciting, gives us all something to look forward to at the weekends and something to talk about with builders, plumbers and guys from school you bump into in the pub. But it is also, particularly in England, flawed and is starting to lose its way on a number of levels.
Why is it that Jessica Ennis can sprint the 100m hurdles, high jump, throw the shot put, sprint 200m, long jump, throw the Javelin and cane the 800m all to an Olympic standard that the majority of people can only dream of; when Liverpool’s Stewart Downing can barely use his right foot? Downing is paid tens of thousands of pounds a week; Ennis’s earnings from her sport will barely touch this. Obviously this is a result of the economic system of the world – football is in higher demand and therefore the money flows to that demand… It’s still a shame though.
Olympians display a level of professionalism and respect for their sport that is so often glaringly absent from football. Did you see Victoria Pendleton jump off her bike and scream ‘YOU WHAT YOU F**KING W****ER?!’ into the face of the referee? Have you seen any athletes from opposing teams yell obscenities at each other or square up? Of course you haven’t. Everyone competing is in full appreciation of their place in the games and feels privileged to be there, why would they blight the name of their sport through acting like a nob? The degree of respect for sport and the Olympic Games themselves from the athletes involved is clear.
So why is it that footballers are so often seen tarnishing the name of a wonderful sport? Why can’t they treat their sport with respect, and acknowledge the fact that without it many of them would be working in their local chippy and driving a clapped out Saxo? Olympic athletes become entirely proficient in all aspects of their sport, it’s a real shame that not every footballer possesses that level of determination to become as fast, strong and skilful as they could possibly be. I’m a strong proponent of the fact that sports need characters to keep them exciting, but I don’t see why they can’t be characters who have trained to the point of being the best they can possibly be.
I sound like a moany whiney fool and I’m very aware of this, but what has happened to sport’s original philosophical basis in football? The reverence of competition and taking part, a lack of complacency coupled with a drive to achieve the seemingly unachievable and a pride and respect for the sport and its code of conduct. Ashley Cole was kicking up a fuss this week because he wants to be paid £200,000 a week to play for Chelsea, when was the last time he or any other footballers wanted to better their sporting ability for anything other than their paycheque?
Britain needs to use the surge in enthusiasm for sport to reassert the original sporting values of the Olympics into British kids. Use the positive role models from the games to distance them from the warped, money-hoovering caricatures of the footballing world. These men are the shadows on the wall; they are not the reality of football or sport en masse. The reality is to never be satisfied with your ability and to constantly want to improve. That is sport at its most real.