InTheLoose writer, Connor Dickins and ThisIsFutbol writer Dimitri Sotirios examine what their sport can learn from the other.
What Rugby can learn (Connor Dickins):
Be all Inclusive:
The biggest glass ceiling for rugby is the global fame and coverage which football gets. One factor for this is that they are far more inclusive of developing nations. Even San Marino have the chance to play top-notch opposition, having faced England in the World Cup qualifiers. Rugby, meanwhile, has just ten nations involved in elite international competition outside of the World Cup. Be it through promotion/relegation in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, or forcing top nations to have an annual test against a lower-ranked nation, rugby needs to act.
Some animosity from football fans stems from snobby remarks about the their sport by those who follow rugby. While they may be justified to an extent, it only serves to set a divide between the two sports. This is a minority of rugby fans, but it does make you wonder how these fans can laud rugby’s spirit and yet be this petty. It marginalises those who could be fans of both sports. Football fans usually do not act so negatively, so we need to learn to give their sport the same courtesy.
Celebrity Rugby Matches:
The UK has a celebrity charity event, Soccer Aid, where a match between two teams containing a mixture of celebrities and footballing legends is played. A rugby equivalent of this game has the potential to be phenomenal. Not only does this sort of event have clear benefits for everybody, but also it would contain a huge comedic element even for non-rugby fans. It is doubtful that anyone wouldn’t love to see Lawrence Dallaglio accelerating towards Will Ferrell, or Russell Crowe trying to thwart a sidestepping Joe Roff.
Make rugby a sport for all
In many nations, football is the national sport because it has the extraordinary power to unite everyone across the country. Rugby has a strong community, but does not invigorate everyone. For some countries, the reason for this seems to be that it tends to be played at private schools, and not enough in most state schools. There needs to be more demand for state-school participation even close to football’s by introducing grassroots projects to spread the game. Not only would this promote rugby as a sport, it would also spread rugby’s conspicuous values.
What Football Can Learn (Dimitri Sotirios):
Playing in the true spirit of the game
The rise of player-power and the culture of footballers being celebrities have not taken away any passion from the modern-day footballer. Look at David Beckham’s tears after he played his final club game, and he is perhaps the biggest celebrity football has ever known.
However, there is a difference between passion and doing whatever it takes to win. The latter lends itself to underhanded tactics that seem to have become accepted by fans and professionals alike in the modern game. How often have we heard the phrase ‘he should have gone down there’ as a commentator shakes his head at the fact that a player has chosen to stay on his feet rather than try and deceive the referee?
Some call it intelligent play, especially when a younger player does it and their lack of experience is used as a stick to beat them with. Perhaps it is not their lack of intelligence nor experience but simply that said player wants to play in the spirit of the game. It is insulting that a player should be criticised for choosing not to con a referee into giving them a decision by the commentators who would brand them as a diver if they did go down.
In rugby this problem does not exist, or is at least a lot less prevalent. Perhaps it has something to do with the pride of the players but the concept of ‘diving’ in rugby is almost alien. Players will, usually, stay on their feet or play an advantage rather than bend the rules. The Ashley Youngs, the Neymars of football simply do not exist in rugby.
Respect from fans
There are always going to be local rivalries in football that serve to promote healthy competition. On the whole behaviour of fans in this country is not a cause for concern, with hooligans being part of a minority.
Between rugby fans, however, the level of respect seems to be significantly higher. When conversions are kicked in rugby, the stadium falls into silence. Home and away fans join in allowing the kick-taker the concentration he needs. The attacking side respect as the defending side co-operate. In football however, the crowd behind the goal will do their best to put off an opposition striker about to take a penalty, aided by the goalkeeper on the pitch below. It is as if the respect between fans, or lack thereof, resonates down to the players on the pitch and vice-versa. Would the overall atmosphere improve if all fans were more sporting?
A controversially-unified British team represented the home nations at the London 2012 Olympics. It was a breath of fresh air and a chance for all Britons to unite (despite our footballers exiting the tournament in unexpectedly prompt fashion). Unfortunately, this is as close to a novelty match as football has come in the last few years. While there are testimonials and Soccer Aid matches every year, these usually only draw half-hearted efforts from the players and do not compare in intensity to league football matches.
Rugby offers an annual game featuring a ‘Barbarians’ team consisting of highly talented, experienced players to essentially create a ‘dream team’. The idea of the same being done in football, the idea that a team featuring both Ronaldo and Messi could one day take the field, is a mouth-watering prospect and one that fans from all over the globe would flock to see. Manchester United played a European XI in 2007 at Old Trafford in a game that ended 4-3 to the hosts. Lining up for the Europeans that night were players such as Ibrahimovic, Pirlo, and Gerrard. Even Ronaldinho had been scheduled to make an appearance. With nothing on the line and the best players in the world to choose from, attacking football would be encouraged and it would be almost certain that high scoring fixtures, such as the seven-goal thriller at Old Trafford, would become the norm.
Respect for referees
This point can be made in two short video clips. First look at the post-match reception Howard Webb received after the 2010 World Cup final, which he described as ‘the worst two hours of my life’, then look at the way Nigel Owens is shown respect by a player in his game. Would a footballer show the official that respect or would a group of his teammates surround him? As Owens points out, ‘this is not soccer’.