Skip to main content

Should we expect more from World Cup footballers?

FitPro’s deputy editor Aislinn Kelly comments on whether World Cup footballers are good role models for the next generation …

On Tuesday night we in the FitPro editorial team were parked in front of our television sets like much of the rest of the nation watching England play Columbia in the World Cup. However, for much of the match, there seemed to be little football actually being played; instead, we witnessed arguing with – and disrespect for – the referee, pushing and shoving, complaining and moaning, and a lack of sportsmanship. It was both tiring and depressing to watch.

This ‘bad behaviour’ seems to be a fairly common thread running through these high-profile matches, with Gary Linekar suggesting that FIFA should “stamp out that sort of nonsense” after a game between Morocco and Portugal in which Portugal’s Pepe was tapped on the back by Morocco’s Benatia in a friendly fashion but fell to the ground in a gross overreaction of the sort you probably wouldn’t even see in the school playground. Former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand called his reaction “embarrassing”, adding, “If you’ve got kids, you’re thinking I don’t want my kids to see that sort of stuff.”

Working in the fitness industry, we are constantly bombarded with messages about how we must engage young people in sport and fitness – particularly with the current childhood obesity crisis – so for professional sportspeople at such a high level to role-model such behaviour seems at odds with this message. Surely, with so many young people watching and idolising footballers across the globe, the emphasis should be on inspiring children with good sportsmanship and ridding the game of intimidation and bad behaviour. Perhaps this is an issue FIFA should address across the board?

On this topic we spoke to Jermaine Beckford, a professional footballer, father of three and co-founder of Supernova Living protein powder, who has played at Premiership level for Everton and international level for Jamaica and is currently signed to Bury. He tells us, “I’ve been lucky enough to play professional football in the Premier League and on an international level in front of millions on TV. It does cross your mind the importance of being a role model, seeing so many children with your name on their backs. Without asking for the title, the role does come with responsibility.”

He continues, “This is something that has become much more prevalent for me since I have become a father and see my son, particularly, want to emulate my every move. If anyone has a platform in the public eye, I feel it should be used in a positive way and, if we can inspire the next generation, then it’s a step in the right direction.”

Liam Weavers is a Socatots and Brazilian Soccer School coach based in Leeds who has witnessed some of this behaviour filtering through to his young soccer school players. He tells FitPro, “Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the World Cup that teams have the weight of a country on their shoulders and, with emotions running high, they can go overboard. At youth level they wouldn’t get away with it – I don’t let my players get away with it – but the refs should be able to crack down on it.”

He adds, “VAR (the video assistant referee) will hopefully help, as players are starting to look stupid with their histrionics when really nothing happened. Unfortunately, kids will copy that – if they see their hero pushing another player or being disrespectful to the referee they will take that on board and it’s not a good example to set for the younger generation but, with my cynical head on, it probably makes good business as it adds drama. I do think FIFA should tell the refs to crack down on it – they have the ability to stop it and they just need to do it.”

Let’s hope they do crack down on it. Wouldn’t it be great if sport could consistently be a positive platform from which to inspire the next generation? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below or drop us an email to

Where to next? Check out how to build community in your group X classes.