As British athletes decorate the back pages on a daily basis and sometimes even the front, in the case of Wayne Rooney and his exploits in recent years, surely a responsibility exists for the modern day sportsman to fulfil the “role model” status.
In regards to gamesmanship, the phenomenon of diving in the Premier League has sparked widespread debate, with 22 yellow cards brandished for diving last season. This subsequently resulted in the introduction of a retrospective two-match ban for any player guilty of diving this season. This area of the game, one which the FA are keen to clamp down on, is a prime example of an area in which professional footballers must set an example to the next generation. If the professional game allows for deception towards the referee, then inevitably the grassroots level will too, as the youngsters imitate and copy their idols.
A shining light in this dark area of the modern game is the arguably now reformed reputation of Eden Hazard. Chelsea’s talisman, once known for a willingness to go down too easily, was not awarded a yellow card for such a crime in the 2016/17 season. The example Hazard has depicted is solely positive. The Chelsea star let his natural ability do the talking last term, with a record best 16 goals in the Premier League, an inspired recovery after his dismal performance in the 2015/16 season. Hazard’s rediscovery of form certainly sends the message to all young footballers that while bad games will inevitably come, class is certainly permanent and the Belgian’s disciplined attitude is one which receives many plaudits from pundits and players alike. If Hazard’s recent performances cannot quite be deemed to be a sign of a more honest player staying on his feet, then his recent record of fair play certainly promotes values of sportsmanship – a fantastic example to be setting.
Professionalism is a trait that Hazard has certainly demonstrated and careers, both in and out of sport, require dedication to be successful. Yet the activities of many of Britain’s leading sportsmen and women are scrutinized to a much larger extent than say those of the local GP. One may go as far to say that it would be more comical than shocking to find your doctor in Timepiece on a Wednesday night and thus, should one rule not apply to all?
England Test Cricket vice-captain Ben Stokes will certainly argue so if he is instrumental to an Ashes triumph this Winter – should he be cleared to travel with the squad. A victory down under and the actions of Stokes may be as quickly forgotten as when Rooney was knocked out in his own kitchen by former teammate Phil Bardsley, only for Rooney to score on the following day for the Red Devils against Tottenham in 2015. In this instance, we hope Stokes won’t recreate his misdemeanour in a celebration during the first Ashes test match at ‘The Gabba’ in November. While both of these two household names pack a fair amount of punch in their aggressive on-the-field displays, is it fair to ask them to keep their post-match antics in check? Rooney, 31 and Stokes, 26 can be forgiven for wanting to celebrate their youth in the way that their friends may do so. Respect should be given to the lifestyle choices of these athletes. Indeed, without their contributions the respective English football and cricket teams may not have been as successful as they have been in recent years.
On this basis, does the media place far too much pressure on these high-profile figures, so much so that any opportunity to exercise their freedom leads to behaviour which would not be apparent if consistent downtime was permitted. Perhaps the persistent focus on the private life of sportspeople will deter the next generation of athletes, as they may prefer to celebrate their youth as they see fit. A life away from the limelight is arguably far more attractive than repeated speculation created by ‘the Sun’ and the ongoing pressure of being a role model. Who can blame these stars for wanting to have fun, after all, did we all not want to do that one thing we were told was forbidden?