Saturday, 6 January 2018

Why rugby is a better game than football (objectively)

It's another sports post from me, and I'm going to put this on Steemit simultaneously, in case you see it there.

To avoid any confusion for readers from the US, it’ll be helpful to point out right off the bat that when I refer to football in this article, I mean what you would call soccer, and what the rest of the world calls, well, football. (This makes sense if you consider all the time people spend using their feet to interact with the ball.)

The second thing it’s worth saying at this point, before I launch into the laundry list, is that I love both games, and enjoy watching them when they’re played well. Having been born and raised in New Zealand, it was almost assured that I would like rugby, while having spent twelve years now in England (and having a father from here), took care of the football side. The points that I want to make will refer to more than the pure subjectivity of either game, more than the immeasurable thrills that either can provide.

So, to the points themselves:

Rugby has no diving. In fact, such activities are openly condemned and roundly mocked. It’s not an exaggeration to say that ‘simulation’, as it’s sometimes referred to, is encouraged in football, both by the structure of the game, which often rewards such behaviour, and by commentators, who regularly say things like ‘he might have been better off going to ground there’ after the slightest of collisions.

Similarly, in football, the disciplinary system, doesn’t really work. It’s somewhat of an all-or-nothing system, apart from the caution players are supposed to show when they’re ‘on a yellow’. Professional fouls are often a desirable action, and again, commentators will say that a certain foul made sense within the context of the game. To break up a dangerous attack, particularly in the late stages of the game, players will happily pick up a booking. By contrast, a rugby yellow (much less often received) results in a ten-minute spell on the sidelines for the player involved. I’m not unaware of the numerical differences in the number of players on the field in both sports, and the proportionately larger effect use of the sin bin would have during a football match, but currently there’s nothing between what is effectively a strong warning with no real (or immediate) consequences, and being sent off completely.

I also think that the penalty area, while logical in some ways, has become an anomaly in terms of how the rules are applied. It makes sense that players shouldn’t be able to get away with cynical play preventing goals or goal-scoring opportunities, though there is something odd about the fact that if a particular action happens seventeen yards from the goal it results in a penalty, while the same action another yard back is only a free kick. What we see are a lot of smaller infringements in the box which go ‘unnoticed’ by referees, which again means that the game encourages certain actions by its very structure.

Football players have no respect for the referees. The contrast between the two sports could not be greater. In rugby, generally only the captain speaks with the referee, and the manner is markedly different from football, where the entire team have been known to surround the officials, hurl abuse, and behave like children, often with no clear consequences. In rugby decisions are far more often calmly accepted, as back chat will bring its own disciplinary action.

The above point though, is not entirely the players’ fault; whilst the behaviours and attitudes are something which have been allowed to build up over time, they also have roots in what may be considered inconsistency, incompetence, or outright bias on the part of the officials. Decisions are often applied without consistency in games, and some decisions are laughably bad. It’s easy to understand why players and managers get frustrated with officials who, often with clear and unobstructed views of incidents, seem incapable of making the correct call.

Corruption. This point deserves a paragraph of its own. In a game where a player can commit a deliberate offence, to win his team a spot in the World Cup, and the team which lost out is later compensated (see: paid off); in a game where a country with no footballing history or infrastructure, and temperatures unfit for even playing the game, can be awarded a World Cup; in a game where match fixing has occurred and where no one would be surprised if it were to occur again; well, all these examples and more point to the deep-seated problems at the heart of football.

The above issues are aided and exacerbated by the FIFA’s consistent refusal to press ahead with technology which could eliminate, or at least reduce, many of the controversial moments within matches. It doesn’t seem likely that the motivations for this refusal are those claimed. The argument that the game should be the same at grass-roots level as in the highest tiers is ridiculous when you have players earning thousands for every touch of the ball. The argument that the use of video review would slow down the game ignores the fact that the game is already slowed down by minutes of players complaining about every decision. It also ignores the fact that cleaning up the game may be worth half a minute’s pause. Let’s face it, there’s more money to be gained by having France in a World Cup than Ireland, and this reality would not have been achieved if video review were available. So, this all swings back to the fact that in the game of football, cheats do prosper.

All this would be less galling were there more than mere token efforts to enact change. Controversial decisions, diving, abuse of the officials – all these could be eliminated using simple video technology, employed at the time or retroactively. The means are there, but the will is lacking.

Money. Now, rugby is not without its problems in this regard, but in one sense football is very much a victim of its own success when it comes to money. The worldwide appeal of the game means that measures like salary caps, which can be introduced and controlled in other sports, also means that there’s very little practical chance of such a thing occurring throughout the world in all footballing nations. And without this universality, players simply move to the countries/clubs with the biggest available fund pool, and winning trophies becomes a function of bank balance more than anything else. And of course, where there’s money, there’s corruption.

The staggering amounts of cash available also leads many of the players to behave, quite frankly, like assholes. I am aware of the measures clubs take to prevent this, and the ways in which they aim to protect younger players from their own riches. However, there is something about the sport, even beyond the pay packet – the adulation, perhaps – which often infects its proponents with arrogance. This is not unheard of in rugby, and perhaps I am benefiting from the New Zealand perspective, but in that sport the players seem to be held to a different standard of behaviour, both on and off the pitch, and are thought less of by the public when they fail to fulfil the requirements of the role model position which they occupy.

Thus far, my points have not really been related to the game style. But, there is one aspect of football which annoys many fans, which ruins the game, and which often yields results: parking the bus (otherwise known as the ‘Mourinho Method’). This essentially defensive style of play might be considered a lack of any style of play, but is perfectly legal within the rules, and would be difficult to legislate against, even should one desire to do so. Stifling an opponent’s attack by placing all your available players in the defensive third is just not something that can occur in rugby, where games are won by an eighty-minute graft, rather than by a stroke of luck and a whole lot of negative thinking. I appreciate this could be considered a detriment, as in rugby, upsets are much harder to achieve, and the underdog seldom prospers, but I look at it more like, victories must be earned. When you win a rugby match, it’s seldom due to a fluke try or a fortunate decision by the officials.

In closing, I feel it’s worth reiterating that I love football and rugby, and have enjoyed many hours watching them both. And while neither is perfect, there are so many problems in football which can rear their heads, that as often as not they ruin an otherwise fantastic experience. I find myself feeling frustrated that the bad can so easily outweigh the good, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

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