The pre-match handshake ritual does not equate to sportsmanship, argues Jack Mollart-Solity.
The FA sees the pre-match ritual of opposition players shaking hands with each other as an important aspect of their respect campaign, hoping to improve the way football is conducted. As such, they were adamant that this would go ahead in the match between QPR and Chelsea despite accusations against John Terry that he had racially abused Anton Ferdinand the previous season. Terry was eventually acquitted in July. Understandably, Ferdinand snubbed Terry’s offer of a handshake.
For several reasons, the FA’s continued insistence on pre-match handshakes is incorrect. Firstly, far more important than a handshake is the way in which the game is played. The FA should do much more to punish footballers that mock the spirit of the game. Players should be sent off for foul language towards other players and officials, although this is in the rules it is very rarely followed. Additionally, dissent and playacting should be punished far more frequently with retrospective bans being given to players following the use of video evidence.
Secondly, if players were to shake hands it should be following the completion of the game. It is a far more powerful sign of sportsmanship when players shake hands following a game of high intensity and emotion. A clear example of this comes from the 2005 Ashes series. Following Australia’s defeat by two runs in Edgbaston, man of the match Andrew Flintoff went to immediately console the dejected Australian Brett Lee. In this spontaneous act he epitomised what a handshake should be about. Both men had been fiercely competitive during the match, as soon as the game had finished you could see the respect between them as athletes and men. This mutual admiration could never have occurred before the game had started.
Ultimately though, if the FA continues to persist with the pre-match handshake ritual, we will continue to see incidents like those that were seen at Loftus Road. Events like that, and those at Old Trafford last season when Luis Suárez rejected the handshake of Patrice Evra, do not show football in a good light. Rather, they highlight incidents where respect is lacking between players and cover moments of more genuine sportsmanship.