Soccer is suffering

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Soccer is the beautiful game. It's too bad all that beauty is often lost under piles of ugliness.

The beauty has been attacked on the field many times. From players who fake injuries, to cheaters who fake fouls, to coaches and players who would rob the game of its skill with cynical and destructive tactics.

Off the field, the game is going through a black period. Less than three weeks before the World Cup begins, soccer is in the midst of yet another game-fixing scandal.

This one is in Italy, where several teams are under investigation, including glamour sides Juventus and AC Milan, for gambling and arranging for specific referees. Now, the Netherlands is beginning investigations into its league games.

This comes on the heels of a game-fixing scandal in Germany. These have been the most highly publicized because they happened in countries of world soccer powers. But there are several other scandals that occurred in nations were soccer is less visible. That doesn't make it any less odious.

The world governing body is moving in the right direction with its rule changes when it comes to removing some of the play-acting, cheating and game-stifling fouls. When and if it's proven Italian teams attempted to fix games, severe suspensions and demotions to lower divisions are a necessity, regardless of a team's stature.

But what's really needed is a constant reminder of what the game is really all about.

Flash to the advertising campaign called Joga Bonito. Remember the Hockey Canada ad campaign that ran repeatedly, reminding parents hockey was only a game?

It was a controversial campaign that put the onus on parents to stop acting as if every minor game had the Stanley Cup on the line.

Joga Bonito is a brilliant piece of advertising that should be required viewing to make us all remember what the game is about. It's advertising that makes you laugh, makes you feel good, makes you remember that, in the end, it's all about the game.

A famous sports shoe and sports apparel company sponsors the ads.

Joga Bonito, means "play (it) beautifully," in Portuguese. Eric Cantona, a former French national player who became famous with Manchester United, appears as the lead spokesperson. Cantona probably knows what it was like to forget the joy of playing. Always temperamental, he was once suspended for leaving the field to kick a fan.

The Joga Bonito movement is dedicated to eliminating unfair and unsportsmanlike play from soccer. It promotes honesty, fair and creative play. The motto is "play from the heart."

There are film clips of Brazilian Ronaldinho playing as a preteen. Then clips of Ronaldinho as a professional making the same moves. The smile never leaves his face.

There's a wonderful segment of Wayne Rooney during a training session with Manchester United.

Rooney doesn't like the lack of enthusiasm shown by a goalkeeper, so he proceeds to play in goal, making a variety of stops, before heading out of net to lead the charge in the other direction, all this with manager Alex Ferguson looking on, shaking his head and the sheer joy of playing oozing out of the English striker.

When you play it from the heart, it is a beautiful game.


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