Talking Soccer: The great sport myth

Sweden's Victor Lindelof, left, comforts Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon after the elimination of the Italian team in the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Sociologists have coined the term “the great sport myth,” and as its name suggests, it is the myth that sports are always good, always fair, athletes work hard, etc. It’s the idea that sports are pure.

Of course, if you follow sports, you will find many examples that contradict the great sport myth. People tend to see it as an outlier, rather than the norm, in sports. Sports in America are intertwined with cultural values about hard work, success and reward for doing the right thing.

The great sport myth came into play this weekend in the AAC semifinal between the

UConn men’s soccer team and the UCF Knights. The Knights scored the first goal to take the lead. In the dying moments of the game, UConn’s top scorer Abdou Mbacke Thiam took a free kick from 18 yards out.

The kick was perfect, went over the wall, left the goalkeeper frozen and hit the cross bar and bounced down inside the goal line. However, the goal was not given to UConn, sealing the team’s fate for the season.

What happened to UConn was unfair, but is not uncommon in soccer. It happened to

England in 2010 and to Team USA in the 2002 World Cup, just to name some notable incidents.

But I’m not going to debate whether or not the AAC should incorporate video review. I’m here to talk about the great sport myth. After the game, there was a gif that clearly showed the UConn goal should have counted and two people online got into an argument of whether or not the UCF goalkeeper, Matt Rosenberg, should have admitted it was a goal.

One person said yes, vehemently, because of decency. The other said no because people in sports will take anything to get an edge and win.

The person arguing that Rosenberg should have said it was a goal because of sportsmanship and decency is someone who clearly believes in the great sport myth.

I happen to agree with the argument that anyone in Rosenberg’s position would have done the same and not admitted it was goal. It doesn’t mean he is a bad person but, in that moment, the final result was at stake and he couldn’t risk it.

Soccer is one of the few sports which has had difficulty dealing with technology and how to use it for decades, something I’ve previously written about. Regular season and the AAC doesn’t have video review. It doesn’t have extra referees behind the net.

Thierry Henry punched a ball to the net to send France to a world cup against Ireland. Arjen Robben faked a penalty to win a game against Mexico in the World Cup. The list goes on and on.

It’s not up to the players to officiate the game, and honestly, we shouldn’t trust them to officiate the game.

I’ve seen players protest offside calls when it’s clear they were offside. So when there’s something they are playing for, are they really going to think rationally and admit they have done something wrong?

There have been instances where players do admit they have done something wrong, but they usually do so in a game with no real consequences, not in the case of a championship or a qualification match.

There’s a commercial produced by the Foundation for a Better Life that illustrates this.

Two high school basketball teams are playing in the championship game and there’s a ball out of bounds that goes to the white team. A timeout is called by the coach and Alex, the protagonist in this commercial, comes to the huddle and says “I touched it coach, it’s their ball.” His teammates get angry and tell him it’s the championship game and the ref didn’t call that.

The coach agrees with Alex and tells his team to not foul when the other team passes the ball in bounds. The team is upset at Alex, but his coach assures him it was the right decision.

This commercial is cheesy and in talking with people I realize most people don’t expect players to follow the commercial example. They expect the referees to be able make those calls to make the game fair.

Unfortunately for UConn, luck was not on their side in the AAC semifinal. But, there will be a time where the roles will reverse and many UConn fans will say it was the ref’s fault for not calling it.


Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at daniela.marulanda@uconn.edu.