The red card to bad language on the pitch

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The Independent Online

Martin Ward, the deputy leader of the Secondary Heads Association, is so upset about the bad behaviour of professional footballers that he thinks matches should be shown on TV only after 9pm because of the bad example the players set to children. It is an interesting reaction to foul-mouthed behaviour on the pitch, and a little eccentric, not to say extreme. Censoring football matches is a somewhat impractical approach to the problem and is, in any case, unlikely to have much impact on the players concerned. Football, it is safe to assume, will continue to be tea-time viewing in many British homes.

Martin Ward, the deputy leader of the Secondary Heads Association, is so upset about the bad behaviour of professional footballers that he thinks matches should be shown on TV only after 9pm because of the bad example the players set to children. It is an interesting reaction to foul-mouthed behaviour on the pitch, and a little eccentric, not to say extreme. Censoring football matches is a somewhat impractical approach to the problem and is, in any case, unlikely to have much impact on the players concerned. Football, it is safe to assume, will continue to be tea-time viewing in many British homes.

However, Mr Ward has a point. It is true that the way footballers abuse each other and match officials can be pretty uncivilised. Fans are rarely better mannered, and, in the worst cases, descend into racist chanting and abuse of black players (as, sadly, do some managers who ought to know better). The worst of the violence, on and off the pitch, may be behind us, but verbal aggression is unfortunately very much part of the game. It is not necessary, even for the huge stakes that are so much part of the modern game.

It would be naive to try to turn football matches into nativity plays, but it should be possible to try to expunge the worst excesses of misbehaviour by players. Given the technology that is now available to officials to monitor play, it should be possible to use that same approach to discipline players if they fall below agreed standards of conduct. Such transgressions could be punished by a system of fines and, in the worst cases, by imposing match bans. Referees could pay more attention to this aspect when considering whether to caution players or send them off. Perhaps some players might usefully be offered the option of anger management courses. It might even help them play better.

The extent to which impressionable children look to football stars to set an example is impossible to measure but obviously real. Their posters adorn bedroom walls and their autographs are treated like holy relics. If our footballers were just a touch more civilised on the pitch, our school classrooms might be a little less unruly too.

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