Football Codes, particularly the ones with body contact being a central part of the game, have evolved remarkably over the last 25 years. Expressions such as stiff arms, head butt, Liverpool kiss, and all-in brawl are no longer in the vernacular of the games, and intentional physical contact such as punching, attacking the head and the like are no longer acceptable within the sport.
Issues around concussion and the health of former players have driven a lot of this change, as well as social change itself. In recent times, we have seen team captains sent off for abusing the referee and a great deal of controversy in relation to comments that the players are making to each other on the field.
In cricket, there are issues around what is euphemistically referred to as ‘sledging’, with the advantage of stump microphones over an extended period.
To what extent, however, are the Football Codes going to intervene and act as moderators of what footballers say to each other in the hurly-burly of body contact sport? Racial vilification and homophobic comments have been outlawed, but to what extent should, or could, teams or Football Codes start regulating rude, offensive, and objectionable comments?
In football (we are speaking of male and female footballers) if a player calls another player ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’, is that okay? If they make some horrible comment about their spouse or partner and call them ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’, is that okay? If a player makes a comment about another player’s spouse or partner and what they may or may not have done, is that okay, and who decides? What evidence will there be if these statements have been made? An AFL field, for example, is a big arena. If at one end of the field, a player makes an inappropriate comment to another player, is the player’s complaint sufficient to take action against the other player for the alleged misconduct?
I am not in favour of rude and offensive language on or off the football field, but if two people at a pub make inappropriate comments to each other, what happens? Nothing. If two footballers make inappropriate comments to each other, what should happen? I suspect the answer is nothing.
I am far from convinced that Football Codes or football teams need to be holding their players to higher standards than what exists in the rest of society. By all means, let us lift standards and take the violence out of sport. Let us get rid of racial vilification and homophobic comments; but do we really need to go so far as to decide who said what to whom on the field?
If Football Codes are going to determine what constitutes abuse, are they the appropriate bodies to make that determination? That seems to be the question.