Evening Standard

Crowd pleasers: fans of both sides at Wembley appreciated the talents of Britain’s Kelly Smith and Brazil’s Renata Costa. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Nobody who witnessed the crowds round Hampton Court as Bradley Wiggins fulfilled his destiny can doubt that the Olympics has put football in its box. It is no longer the only sport that matters.

I know it will not last — the first kick of the Premier League season takes place six days after the Olympic closing ceremony. Even Lord Coe, good Chelsea supporter that he is, believes the nation will revert to its first love once the Games is over. Nor is such momentary downsizing of football unique to London 2012. It happens in every Olympic city.

But what is different this time is that the national game is struggling to deal with bad behaviour by players and in town we have other sportsmen against whom footballers are being judged.

To appreciate this, ¬consider that the Football Association’s decision to charge John Terry for using abusive language against Anton Ferdinand came just before the start of the Danny Boyle show. Rio Ferdinand has since been charged with misconduct over comments he made on Twitter. Both men deny the allegations.

When the announcement on Terry was made, it seemed the FA were using the opening ceremony to manage bad news. But when I put this to FA ¬chairman, David Bernstein, he insisted the decision was arrived at independently of his board.

What he and other football bosses cannot deny is that the Olympics are making them examine their game, even admit there is something to be learned from the spirit we are witnessing in London.

This was most vividly illustrated on Tuesday night when, at Wembley Stadium, Kick it Out held an event to discuss racism in the presence of Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA.

It would have been nice had Blatter, who has been going round the country, acknowledged that England has the capacity to stage a wonderful World Cup. But that would be too much to expect from the Teflon man of world sport. Instead we had a characteristic Blatter show before he admitted the shortcomings of the game he runs.

First he joked about football’s anti-racist campaign being called Kick it Out. “In our game we kick it into goal and we don’t want to kick it out.” He then suggested that, perhaps before a match, players should line up and kick to demonstrate that they will not tolerate racism.

For his finale, he got the entire audience, including Bernstein, to turn to their neighbour and shake hands. He came across as a vicar conducting a modern church service but then Blatter has an almost evangelical belief in the power of a football handshake to solve the problem of racism.

It was only after all this that he made his most revealing admission. It came in answer to the question of whether footballers could learn how to behave from Olympians.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “At the beginning of the game, [the behaviour] is okay in football. But, at the end, we still have problems to bring the players together. This is because the losing team will not come to shake hands because they have lost. This is a pity. In the other games which I have witnessed in these Olympics, at the end of the match they are all coming together.”

Blatter did not offer any solution but football can draw some comfort that the 2012 matches have been touched by Olympic magic, at least in the behaviour of the fans.

So the match between Great Britain and Brazil at Wembley, which followed the Blatter show, not only attracted the largest crowd for a women’s game in this country — 70,000 — but there was no segregation. And many in the crowd even had a drink as they watched, something that would be impossible in any non-Olympic football match. Some even cheered the opposition.

The question for football is how can it find a way of sprinkling this Olympic magic dust on the wider game. If it can, then football crowds, even beyond the Olympics, could be made to behave like the one that lined the streets to cheer Wiggins. They desperately wanted a Team GB gold but had the grace to applaud Wiggins’s main rival, the German Tony Martin.


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