No matter the sporting code you hold dear to your heart, your passion for that game has come from somewhere – fond memories have been developed that will stay with you forever, and no doubt a prime reason you still follow ‘your club’ or ‘your code’ to the end of the Earth.
It is no secret that to stay relevant sporting administrators need to move with the times, grow as their supporter base does, keep their product fresh and exciting.
With the recent acknowledgement of the effects concussions can have to a code’s athletes, it has become imperative for administrators across all sporting codes to make modifications to rules in order to protect the athletes from the long-term effects, and the hopeful prevention of various neurological disorders, most notably chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
For most sport fans, CTE was not something they had to invest their time into knowing about.
Some may not have even heard about it until watching Will Smith in the 2015 film Concussion, where he played the role of accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who uncovered the truth about brain damage in NFL football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.
Some may not have known what it was but could see the results after years of watching boxing legends like Muhammad Ali deteriorate, or the tragic ‘brain snaps’ of other sporting professionals such as – and if you are a WWE fan, block your ears as his name is forever banished – Chris Benoit who snapped and tragically took the lives of his wife and son before taking his own life, where research suggested that depression and CTE, from the numerous concussions he had sustained during his professional wrestling career were both likely contributing factors leading to the crimes.
Injuries in sport happen – we know that, and we all accept that. To be fair and honest, injuries in life happen. We all know someone whose life has been turned upside down as a result of some sort of injury.
It is for those reasons that no matter what we miss about the good ‘ol days of our favourite sporting code, we all accept that rules are required to be modified to prevent these life-changing injuries from happening – even if we aren’t on board or in agreement with the rules.
But what we do not have to accept is all of the current ‘carry on’ from the footballers that we have all come to love in their respective sporting codes laying on the ground in their attempt to get penalties.
I know what you are thinking – it’s all part of the game.
It’s all tactics – yes, I agree it is. But they are pathetic tactics and each and every time I see them, it ‘grinds my gears’ – if this were social media, round about now we’d be queuing the trolls with their ‘triggered’ gifs.
Let me break down why it grinds my gears, and why it should be grinding yours as well. These aren’t really ranked as they come into the mind, but I urge you to consider the following.
1. The look of the game
I enjoy rugby league, but honestly watch most sports. Rugby league has a reputation around the globe as one of the toughest sports.
Look at the Americans who are baffled as to how our league players pull off the tackles, their agility, their speed, all without pads and guards on.
Remember the good ol’ days where on Facebook as a fan of AFL, union or league you could all come together with one common denominator – sharing images and gifs about soccer players falling over with a suspected broken leg following an opponent’s ‘tackle’ where absolutely zero connection was made?
We’d laugh – sometimes for hours, sending these images back and forth. Fake headbutts that didn’t connect and yet the player would fly backwards like he had become the latest victim of a Tim Tszyu right hand?
Yep. Those days? Those days are over.
“Nah ah” me all you want but take a second to think back to the last game you watched. Let’s make it enjoyable, think of the game where your team played.
Immediately when you were asked to think back, you knew where we were going, didn’t you?
You immediately remembered a time where they ‘were taken out’ by a defender, maybe staying down to try and get the penalty, set restart or when they thought they were collected high and would be out cold until they big screen showed the replay and confirmed no penalty all of a sudden that player was okay and got up and kept playing…
Yeah, now you understand why the image to the game is taking a massive hit. How it’s a bad look. And how our favourite past time of watching all the dives in the EPL and A-League is over – no sport is exempt anymore.
2. A mockery of what is trying to be achieved
Their hunt for a penalty after staying down, and coaches exploiting the HIA rule to continuously obtain a ‘free interchange’ – with that player remarkably being replaced by someone else who had just completed their 15-minute HIA-check – together is just making a mockery of what we are all trying to achieve.
We as fans are as part of this as the players. Whether we turn up or not, whether we jump on the bandwagon when they are doing well, or what not the players still get paid their salary.
But it is us accepting the rule changes, knowing we may ‘hate’ the opposition on the field but off it we don’t want anyone permanently affected by doing their job that keeps the game going – without us accepting these rule changes and going to matches, buying merchandise, or even supporting from a far with paid TV subscriptions, we are doing our part for the future good of the player.
I mean, we loved the shoulder charge when performed right. The timing of a Sonny Bill Williams old school shoulder charge was a sight to be seen. But it is now illegal, due to the whiplash of the brain on the person on the receiving end.
We accept that for the long-term health of the player.
But when players, and coaches make a mockery of it, take the piss, it is like crapping in our hands and telling us to clap.
They are putting lives at risk just to try and find a loophole in the rules to get free interchanges. Now obviously not all HIAs are for tactics – there have been some sickening blows across all codes this season, and even some innocently looking knocks resulting in a player’s day being over and done with.
And obviously we have seen some careers come to an end, others put in jeopardy due to head knocks and concussion concerns.
But their constant search for a loophole is the reason game administrators must set the standards so high. The National Rugby League recently introduced an 18th man which was originally earmarked as clubs needing to have three players ruled out due to HIA and needed to be a development player.
As is usual, the clubs dictate to the NRL what is happening and before coming into effect, the 18th man rule had been pulled apart and become that the 18th player will be someone from within the clubs’ ‘top 30 players’ – the clubs’ top players for those not familiar with league terminology – and was for when three players had become unavailable due to HIA or when a player is ruled out due to an act of foul play resulting in the infringing player being sin-binned or sent off.
But the fact remains that the administrators first targeted such a high benchmark because they know the clubs are focused on exploiting the rules at every given opportunity.
3. Time wasted
There is so much time wasted in each and every football – it is taking away from the reasons we all love the game and sporting codes.
I know this isn’t as important as the first two but hey, while I have the microphone. First of all, I will not get into my full complaint about time wasted because that is a triggering moment.
In the final five minutes of a rugby league contest, any time the ball is out of play, the referee stops the clock – it was meant to help give us fans more ‘bang for our buck’.
But we all have seen the ten-odd seconds that tick by when a player thinks he has been hit high, where they lay on the ground, all groggy, like they just went a few rounds with Anthony Mundine (back in his prime), before we finally hear it: the whistle of the referee and the clock finally stops.
At home, the camera cuts away for a replay we are shown whether it was or wasn’t high, the video then cuts back to on-field and the player is perfectly fine, ready to play the ball or handing the ball over for the side’s designated kicker to kick for touch or goal.
We don’t get those ten seconds back – it’s once again exploiting the fear around concussion and neck injuries, along with the referee’s duty of care, to direct the game in their favour. They know staying down gives them a 50-50 chance of a penalty but either way, they get a break.
We have seen the effects of head and neck injuries in recent times, in the rugby league community the likes of Alex McKinnon and more recently Mose Masoe, with stories like theirs across all sporting codes.
It may not seem that big of an issue in attempts to milk a penalty but what these players are doing, and what is coached through the systems is affecting the overall research into CTE.
As fans we are being ripped off watching good quality football when ‘an injury’ occurs to stop a team on a roll, all the time wasted with these fake injuries. We accept that rules have to change, but so do the players – you have to change.
Just go out there and play football.
As someone who has suffered from a neck injury at a younger age that put any aspirations of a sporting career I had to an abrupt end, I like to spend my time researching head and neck incidents in sport – yep, exciting, I know.
There are people out there who are much smarter, and know more than I do about the subjects, however, with the feigning of injuries in an attempt to obtain the penalty you are ripping fans off. More importantly, you are making it difficult to obtain or research statistically what we are all working to understand.
How many times has a player hit late resulted in concussion? We do not know, because of the theatrics involved in football now.
How many times has a player involved in a crusher tackle later been involved in an HIA test? We do not know, because coaches are exploiting the current rules for free interchanges.
Go and watch some replays of your favourite team from this season. Take the weekend, watch from start to finish and you will notice the same positions (because teams rotate their starters) being taken from the field for an HIA around the same time every match – luckily for most they are cleared to return 15 minutes later when their replacement, or someone in a similar position, requires their 15-minute HIA test.
Stop rorting the HIA system.
Players, coaches and tacticians – there is more to the game than a penalty.