What Steve Harper has, that Ji-Sung Park lacks

The Newcastle United stand-in goalkeeper was the beacon of fairness last weekend, which saw QPR captain snub Chelsea captain John Terry in the pre-match handshakes.

Sportsmanship. A word that should define what football, or any sport for that matter, is about. Defined as ‘fairness in following the rules of the game’, it is little wonder why football as a sport has its critics for fielded foul-mouthed, aggressive players. It’s what often gets tempers flaring and serves as a catalyst for further confrontation.

Just look at the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand affair, which has gone as far as making the Chelsea vs Queens Park Rangers match previews more about pre-match handshakes than on-field performances. The same can be said of Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, when Suarez allegedly racially abused Evra on the pitch, ensuing in a full-blown court case.

There have been countless cases of sporting bodies attempting to prevent such language, including campaigns like Kick It Out (‘let’s kick racism out of football’). Referees can produce disciplinary measures if they overhear foul or abusive language towards themselves or other players, and their post-match report can also mention what has been said, resulting in further disciplinary action by the FA to ensure the player doesn’t do it again.

The footballing world may have its fair share of players stirring debate through a continued use of diving, trickery such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous winking incident against England during the 2006 World Cup, or just lashing out at the wrong times such as David Beckham’s red-carded kick against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.

However, the majority of professional players avoid the limelight by performing with the utmost sportsmanship. On Monday night, Everton’s Victor Anichebe challenged Newcastle’s Steve Harper for the ball after a soft back-pass by a Newcastle defender had Harper rushing to clear it away from the charging Anichebe. Anichebe slid for the ball, and Harper fell to his feet. A foul was given, with the referee tempted to take further action than merely award a free-kick for the manner of Anichebe’s tackle. Upon seeing this, Harper approached the referee and indicated Anichebe had eyes only for the ball, and fundamentally saved the Everton striker from receiving a yellow card.

The pre-match handshake has been a controversial topic of debate recently, with Anton Ferdinand and QPR captain Ji-Sung Park refusing to shake the outstretched hand of John Terry, but for a sport with its fair share of drama, the handshake should be actively encouraged. Even if there may be disputes off-the-field, as a professional surely a respectful handshake for your on-field opponent is the least that can be done.

Do you think there is enough sportsmanship in football? Should we get rid of the pre-match handshake?

image: © mikebrown59

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