If you don’t mind my indulging in sharing a pet peeve of mine perhaps unrelated to leadership and my other usual topics, playing Ultimate again this summer combined with being outside the U.S. during a major soccer event (I think the European cup was major), I got to think about soccer and values. I find soccer players often shameful and occasionally repulsive. Just my opinion, of course, but I already mentioned I’m indulging myself today.
People speculate Americans don’t like soccer as much as the rest of the world because it doesn’t score as much or doesn’t allow for easy commercial breaks. If only those were the problems I had with the sport I wouldn’t mention anything. Sports are more important to me than just watching highlights or for business. For me the problem is in the ethos of the players.
Ultimate has a clause called the Spirit of the Game, which creates such a community among all the players I’ve ever played with, no matter how competitive — and I’ve played with the most competitive — that it’s spoiled me for other sports.
Here is Ultimate’s Spirit of the Game clause, almost rule number one in the rule book.
Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling, or other ‘win-at-all-costs’ behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.
Soccer players, on the other hand, at the top levels of play, at least as I observe them, blatantly cheat and lie. Not just cheating and lying in trying to get away with what the referee doesn’t see — I don’t mind that, which is part of most sports. Soccer players cheat and lie about things only they know about — they fake injuries. At the highest levels. Soccer players — not all of them, but plenty — lie to act like victims.
In Ultimate such behavior contradicts the Spirit of the Game. If you act injured and then play again, your own team will discipline you before the other team does. Fake injuries a few times and you may not be able to find any team to take you. Even in many games without spirit clauses such cheating doesn’t happen or is taken care of by rules. You can foul out of basketball, for example. Red and yellow cards in soccer don’t match that effectiveness.
The cheating and lying prevalent in soccer are against what I consider the core values of sport and athleticism — winning by competing on agreed-upon rules.
How can you like a sport where lying to act like a victim can make you a champion? Maybe a few bad apples make everyone else look like them, but I see it in nearly every game I see.