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Allardyce missing the point when it comes to rugby criticism

West Ham United manager, Sam Allardyce has managed to create something of twitter storm after suggesting that other sports are ‘jealous’ of football and that people are not as roundly criticized for misdemeanors in rugby as they are in football.

In an interview on Yahoo sports, Allardyce said:

“I think that the game is a volatile contest so people will lose their temper, but nobody seems to highlight the fact that rugby players stamp on each others heads, gouge each others eyes, and that seems to be acceptable.”

“Or fans go to watch ice hockey players beat themselves up with the sticks and that also seems acceptable, but a footballer kicks somebody, or does something that’s slightly untoward to the rules and it’s ‘lock them away, ban them for life’.”

“There’s a lot of jealousy around the way football is in this country, I think, and as it’s known as the peoples’ game, then I think more and more people complain about the price, whereas all the other sports it’s not quite the same.”

“So, it’s something we have to live with. In comparing it to the Olympics, it’s not as fierce a competition, because there’s not that day-to-day, week-to-week, competitive edge. It’s a build-up of four years – a very dedicated four years of course – and the delight of winning and the end of it must be one of the biggest highs anybody’s ever experienced.”

The rugby community has been out in force on twitter in outrage at his comments, with Brian Moore (perhaps unsurprisingly!) leading the charge.

“Utterly idiotic Sam Allardyce ‘rugby players stamp on heads & gouge eyes & that seems to be acceptable’ No & see bans made of up 70 weeks” said Moore.

Now we could begin with the fact that Allardyce’s comments themselves smack a little of jealousy but that would be churlish.

I have a deep love of just about all sport, stick me in front of the TV or in a stand with any sport on and I’ll watch and get passionate about it. Through that I have witnessed the problems that many sports have, be it cycling and drugs, tennis and in play ‘coaching’ or the occasional bursts of violence on a rugby field.

Foul play on the rugby field has long been seen as unacceptable, you only have to look at Callum Clark’s 32 week ban for hyper-extending the elbow of Richard Hawkins, he was banned by his club Northampton before the disciplinary hearing even began by the way, or David Attoub’s 70 week ban for gouging, for evidence of that.

Football by contrast has a reputation of giving out somewhat pointless punishments. Does a four game ban for John Terry sound serious is comparison with the above? Does Chelsea’s decision not to publicly punish Terry stand up?

Perhaps the most serious punishment in recent memory in football was the seven month ban of Eric Cantona for his assault on a fan in 1997. This was a serious punishment, yet when Toulouse’s Trevor Brennan assaulted a fan in 2007 he was banned for life.

As I said before, I am a sports nut, and a huge football fan too, but Allardyce is wrong. Foul play is treated seriously in rugby and players are handed heavy punishments. A major reason why they are not treated to the vitriol that some footballers are is that it is generally understood that the authorities will punish players, history shows us that.

Football authorities have consistently shown that players or coaching staff will not be punished harshly. That is why people demand punishments; there is a fear that without causing a fuss the authorities will not act.

Football is also encountering a new problem, it is alienating the casual viewer. The increase of diving and the abuse of referee’s and each other is creating a scenario where footballers are seen as rather unlikable characters.

This is a real shame, as clearly all footballers are not unlikeable characters, but they are all being tarnished by this growing reputation, much as all of cycling is being tarnished by the aura of drugs.

Nobody would deny that rugby has its problems, but it does at the very least take them seriously. Football, and ‘Big Sam’, should do the same.

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