Unnecessary Sportsmanship.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘sportsmanship’ is described as,

“Fair and generous behaviour or treatment of others, especially in a sporting contest.”

But who is obligated to show sportsmanship and is it necessary all the time? Let me give you my opinion on sportsmanship in football.

I feel that I need to highlight the fact that sportsmanship is a behaviour we need to praise in the modern day football. With all the issues football currently faces, it is always refreshing to that the players can still be professional and courteous towards their fellow footballers, and it is somewhat an expectation that athletes we idolise treat their opponents fairly.

I want my son to grow up knowing that sportsmanship is an important aspect of life and that without it, we may as well return to our neanderthalic ways. Yet a recent football match between Leeds United and Aston Villa in the EFL Championship has me feeling slightly conflicted…

Before I talk about my opinion please watch the below highlights video from the incident which occurred during the match.

This incident first began when Aston Villa player, Jonathan Kodjia, went down injured after being beat to a loose ball in the midfield.

Currently in football, sportsmanship dictates that you kick the ball out of play so that the player can receive treatment, therefore your opposition are not a man down. And this is where there is a ‘grey area’ in football as there are no rules which govern sportsmanship.

In my opinion, unless the result of the challenge was a visible head injury, or the player looks to be in proper distress, (easily identifiable with all the poor level of acting in football), why not play to the referee’s whistle?

Football officials are able to identify if play needs to be stopped for a player to receive treatment and will do so accordingly. In this particular match, the referee did not blow his whistle to stop the play, signalling that the challenge for the loose ball was fair and play should continue.  

Players are not football officials. They cannot dictate to the opposing team that the ball needs to be kicked out of play. That is not how football works.

Leeds United were well within their right to continue play, which they did. Mateusz Klich then scored the ‘controversial goal’ while the Aston Villa fans were protesting that the ball be kicked out of play. After the goal was scored, the Villa players were evidently angered and expressed their displeasure with Klich and Leeds United.

When the minor brawl that had erupted was settled and a red card was shown to an Aston Villa player, Leeds manager, Marco Bielsa, urged his team to let Villa equalise. Which they did much to the displeasure of Leeds defender Pontus Jansson who did attempt to stop the equalising goal from being scored.

This is football. Any stoppages in play should be left to the discretion of the match officials, not the players. The Aston Villa players are to blame for switching off when play had not been halted by the referee. Regardless of the body language or previous actions in the game by the opposition, every football player is taught from a young age to play to the referees whistle! Villa’s inability to do so should not be to Leeds detriment.

If this were war, Sun Tzu’s would be rolling over in his grave. He did not teach us, in his famous military treatise ‘The Art Of War’, to let our guard down. Why would we treat a football match any differently?

This was a pivotal game for Leeds and for Villa. A win for Leeds would of kept them in the hunt for an automatic promotion spot to the English Premier League while Villa were looking to cement their place in the EFL Championship play off places.

The game resulted in a 1 – 1 draw, meaning that Leeds United will now have to try and obtain promotion via the Championship Play Offs. The club has received obvious praise for allowing Aston Villa to equalise, but in doing so they gave up their hopes of automatic qualification.

With the football world being heavily controlled by money, this could prove to be one of the most expensive decisions made by Leeds United.

This incident has challenged my beliefs. We still need sportsmanship in football, but decisions like stopping play, should be left solely to the match officials to dictate.

What are your thoughts?

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