Chelsea's unwise reaction

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The Independent Online
People who devote their lives to children's games are often so tunnelled in their thinking that an obligation to society escapes them.

In selecting their captain, Dennis Wise, for last night's FA Cup replay against Millwall after he was dropped immediately by England following conviction for assault and criminal damage, Chelsea indicated this clearly. The case moves each according to his or her nature. The habitually hysterical raise the scream of "scandal," and their number includes some who are equally quick to make a case for bizarre behaviour. The moralists fulminate as moralists must. No affinity is felt here with the part-time bleeding hearts, the professional sob-sisters who seize these opportunities to parade their own nobility. But Chelsea's response to the dilemma raised by Wise's conviction was unavoidably disturbing. The interests of the club and its supporters must come first is the philosophy Chelsea appeared to be putting forward, their decision bleakly in concert with prevailing attitudes.

Only people who have been living in caves lately, without electronic communication or newspapers, will be ignorant of sport's failure to maintain a sense of moral responsibility.

If the sense of values, especially in football, is screwed up then the important question is how it got that way? There was a time in the game when miscreants were not permitted on campus during the period of their suspension or to receive remuneration. An unwritten code made it unlikely that players sent off for unmitigated violence would be selected for England.

To argue that times have changed for the better is merely conceding to corrupting commercial influences.

What price Manchester United's authority when less than 48 hours after a club statement forbidding officials and players to comment on the issue of Eric Cantona and Paul Ince, an article in which Ince asserted his innocence was given considerable prominence in the Sunday newspaper that has him under contract? Also, that Cantona should be spending part of a club suspension in the Caribbean on full pay, ignoring the fact that the police wish to interview him, does little for United's credibility. Even theFootball Association's decision to remove Wise from the England squad for next week's match against the Republic of Ireland seemed to have been taken with some reluctance.

Chelsea's pronouncement - "We do not condone what Dennis has been found guilty of doing, but we feel it would be wrong to punish him again as this was not a football-related incident and any punishment will be decided by the courts" - rang with expediency. A Cup tie in the offing and their Premiership status in jeopardy. In all this there is a clue to the future, a growing and perhaps irreversible conviction that ethical standards will continue to deteriorate. It is not my intention to sit in judgement on Wise or any of today's heroes. The trouble is that there are precious few standards left for them to observe. Taking a dearth of outstanding talent into account, clubs are prepared to put up with behaviour that might once have resulted in the sack.

There must be many people who look at modern trends in sport with foreboding. Unfortunately, a majority in the audience today convey an alarming ignorance of even reasonable standards. Intellectuals with access to the public platform are among the worst offenders.

In their foolish belief that sport can be divorced from the real world, in ridiculously airing the view that Cantona's outrageous behaviour could be excused by specious references to genius, they contribute to the present deplorable circumstances.