In today’s society we are frequently reminded that one must have a “digital presence.” We are also frequently told that various activities such as sport are “inclusive.” Are these statements really true? Is there a time and a place for both.
Cast your mind back to the dawning of the new millennium and FIFA decided to have a poll as to who was the greatest footballer of the century was. The poll was conducted on-line and at that time the older generations were still coming to terms with the wonders of the internet.
It came as no surprise that those who voted were predominantly 35 and younger. It also cam as no surprise to those over 30 some of whom were fortunate to have seen Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and George Best play, that the youngest of these four players came out on top in the poll.
FIFA realised too late what they done, and so in the end they had Maradona and Pele share the award. Maradona won the award based on the Internet poll, while Pelé won the award based on votes from FIFA officials, journalists and coaches.
Maradona had received 53.6% of the votes via the internet. Pele 18.53 and the great Portuguese player Eusebio who came in third 6.21%.
Rounding out the top ten were the following greats: Roberto Baggio, Romario, Marco van Basten, Ronaldo (Brazil), Franz Beckenbauer, Zinedine Zidane, and Rivaldo. These results are a giveaway as to the ages of those who voted.
For the record Johan Cruyff came 13th, and George Best 20th.
The votes compiled by FIFA Magazine readers and the Grand jury had Pele receiving 72.75% of the votes. Alfredo di Stefano was second with 9.75%, Maradona third with 6% and Beckenbauer was fourth with 2.5% while Cruyff and Best tied for fifth with 2%.
The debate as to whom was the greatest will rage for many years to come. Neither decision is right or wrong, they are simply the results of two different forms of polling. However such polling can cause a great deal of angst to fans, and sometimes players. Maradona insisted at the time that he was the Greatest, Pele showed a little more class and let him do the talking.
As we saw a year ago with the naming of the research vessel owned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) internet polls can be extremely hazardous.
The name “Boaty McBoatface” had been jokingly suggested, before long it was sailing ahead in the poll. When voting closed “Boaty McBoatface” was the most popular suggestion in the #NameOurShip poll. The Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, did not follow popular demand and the vessel was named after Sir David Attenborough and the Boaty McBoatface name has been used for the submersibles on board.
So should sport be going to the internet to decided the best players in a given sport each year? Or should there be a “People’s Choice” award voted on by the public, and then another award that is decided on by people with experience in the sport, who have watched the finalists in action and are in a position to declare that one player is indeed the “Player of the Year,” due to their performances over the past year?
Having such an accolade based purely on votes via the internet is open to corruption. Hackers can easily bypass systems to ensure votes are cast by one person more than once. Companies can pay for “Likes” and “Followers” so it stands to reason votes could also be bought. The return on investment to the athlete or his/her management being more financially rewarding sponsorship and endorsement deals.
Yet the burning question is should the decision on who is the best athlete in a sport come down to what is nothing more than a publicity contest?
The answer is a resounding “No!”
It should come down to whom has performed the best during that period. Some will argue that the way a player conducts themselves should also be taken into account, and there is merit in that, especially if they help promote the sport in a positive light.
Some sports as we know penalise players who may have been cited for foul play during a game. They make them ineligible to win the Player of the year award. That is their call, but again it seems extremely unjust in some cases. It also seems unfair that the player is ultimately punished twice for one indiscretion; however some indiscretions deserve severe penalties.
There are a number of sports in which players are sin-binned and others where a card system sees a player suspended for a set period of time. Some of these sports have made a decision that any athlete who picks up a card or is sin-binned during a match is unable to win the “player of the match” award. This again seems foolish, and not thought through. Take for example field hockey, if a team makes an error with their interchange and find they have 12 players on the field of play the Captain is the player suspended. They are deemed the one responsible as the leader, but should they be prevented from wining a “Player of the Match” award for something that they really had no control of, simply because they received a card?
Obviously each sport has their own criteria on which they decide their players of the year. Many, because they have a “goalkeeper of the year” award do not allow goalkeepers to win the “Player of the Year” award, which again is ludicrous and seems unfair. It is fair to say that Maddie Hinch of Great Britain’s women’s Hockey team was outstanding for the Olympic Gold medallists in 2016, and would probably have swapped her “Goalkeeper of the year” award for the “International Player of the Year” award.
It will ultimately come down to how each sport wants to manage their highest accolade, but it has to be hoped that having it decided by the fans is not just a way of having the sport tick two boxes. It would be extremely sad if such a system of deciding such an honour were based solely on internet votes because that showed the sport to be both “inclusive” and have a strong “digital presence,” based on the number of people who voted.
The best should be voted on by their peers, or by those in the game who have performed at the highest level and know the sport intimately. This ensures the long term integrity of the sport itself.
With apologies to Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” An award such as this is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.