necessary to combat this?
I am about to wade into controversial territory here, but here it goes.
This week the NHL general managers met and reviewed the league’s rules regarding fighting. This was met with the usual screaming from certain portions of the US media saying how fighting ought to be completely banned (you should know better, Mr. Wilbon) and Canadian media saying that fighting is completely fine and that anyone who says otherwise is a nancy-boy. As always, the reality is somewhere in the middle.
Hockey “allows” fighting because it serves at as the on-ice disincentive for all the truly unsportsmanlike actions we see every weekend in soccer. Without it, hockey would more resemble soccer and would be a lesser sport for it.
I have been an enormous fan of both sports for many years and I am an ardent believer that fighting is a necessary bit of moral turpitude in order for hocley to maintain any kind of order on the ice.
The diving, acting, and overall cheating we see in soccer takes place because there is no method for players to police themselves anymore within the rules. If soccer referees are not going to consistently enforce against diving (which they never do*), then there is absolutely zero disincentive for attacking players to dive, playact, and act like children in order to get a foul called.
Retired English pros moan about the end of the tackle from behind and the quick whistles and bookings of the modern game. As wrong as the stereotypical “retired English pro” is about most things (tactics, foreigners, cuisine, etc.), they have a point here. In the old days, it was said that every team had one “proper psycho” whose mere presence played a part in ensuring opposing players didn’t get out of line. One of the earliest and most famous players of this kind was Chopper Harris at Chelsea. But even as the sport in England entered its modern era, there were a few still around like Neil “Razor” Ruddock and Stuart Pearce. I argue that that kind of work in the margins of the rules and morality raises the overall level fair play because you know what might happen if you dive or feign injury.
Fighting in hockey is that sport’s method of maintaining order through violence, or at least the threat of it. That said, are there acts of violence in hockey that go beyond the pale? Of course, and those are completely unacceptable.
Am I suggesting that soccer should allow fighting? No, that is ludicrous. All I am saying that the people who don’t truly know hockey who scream that fighting “has no point” in hockey are wrong. All they need to do is watch your average soccer match in Italy, Spain, England or even MLS to see why it exists.
As hockey decides to focus on enforcing the rules it already has on the books to curb some of the excesses of fighting, it would be nice to see soccer do the same. Referees need to not be afraid of booking players for diving. The mechanisms exist in soccer to curb this behavior, it’s just time for the sport to make this its focus for 5-8 years in order to really change the culture of a sport, that unlike hockey, really has lost its way regarding fair play and sportsmanship.
* Remember, there is nothing wrong with a ref blowing a foul against a defender, and then booking the attacking player for behaving like he just hit by an artillery strike. All you’re saying to the attacker is, “yes you were fouled there, but there was no need for the behavior you displayed afterwards.” Referees don’t call it that way simply because they’re cowards.