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English footballers told to behave more like 'role model' Olympians and curb bad behaviour

08/11/2012 06:07 EDT | Updated 10/11/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - England manager Roy Hodgson wants footballers to behave more like British Olympians.

Two weeks of medal-winning displays have provided the benchmark that the English Football Association now expects footballers to be judged against, after last season was tarnished by high-profile misconduct cases.

"The Olympics have really shown us the way to go," Hodgson said. "So there is now an extra burden of responsibility on our players to make sure they are good role models and professionals in the way they speak to the nation as our athletes have done."

Where the athletes have appeared affable and engaging with the British public — and the media who frame their achievements — professional footballers struggle to shake off the image they are badly behaved and isolated in a gilded world of excess.

"It's been very refreshing to see talented people showing a good face to the nation and the world at large," Hodgson said. "The way that Team GB have conducted themselves in a home Olympics must make the world of athletics very pleased and proud and so many of them have done such a great PR job."

Britain has won more golds in the last two weeks than at any Olympics for 104 years — 28 and counting — raising spirits in a recession-hit nation.

The athletes' success is in stark contrast to English football's past season that was marred by two high profile racism cases.

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for repeatedly abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

And John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy after being ordered to stand trial for racially abusing Queens Park Rangers counterpart Anton Ferdinand.

While the Chelsea captain was cleared of the criminal offence, the English FA is pursuing its own charge against him, and the court case sullied English football with foul-mouthed evidence providing an insight into the game's crude culture.

The season of shame has prompted a statement from chairman David Bernstein urging players to clean up their act once and for all.

"After the incredible high performance and sporting spirit we have seen at the Olympic Games, players must recognize that with the privilege of playing comes the responsibility for managing themselves and their behaviours in a similar way," Bernstein said.

"In so doing they can also have a positive effect on young people who follow and play the game. The discipline and dedication of our athletes has provided a benchmark that all sportsmen and women and can aspire towards."

In Terry's court case, it emerged that Ferdinand had been taunting Terry over an alleged affair with the former girlfriend of then-England teammate Wayne Bridge.

"Some on-field dialogue between opposing players undoubtedly crosses the line between what was once viewed as banter into serious personalized abuse," Bernstein said. "While I fully understand football is a high octane sport, played with tremendous passion, I believe players really do need to exercise some self-discipline in expressing their emotions on the pitch.

"This doesn't mean players will never curse when they make a mistake for example, or suffer at the hands of a bad tackle, but this is very different to singling out an opponent for personal abuse."

English football had a rare insight into the Olympics as players were allowed to feature in a British team for the first time in decades, reaching the quarterfinals.

Steps have already been taken to ensure England players aren't so distant, with training sessions opened to the public at the European Championship in June.

Now, unlike previous attempts by the FA to improve the image of football, Bernstein wants the new campaign to be the legacy of the Olympics.

"It is important players embrace what we have seen over the past two weeks and maintain it," Bernstein said.

FA general secretary Alex Horne has also praised the Olympians for being "humble" and demonstrating "humility."

But he points out that they do not have the constant scrutiny footballers experience, living largely in obscurity.

And London Games chairman Sebastian Coe cautioned that the Olympics should not be used to bash footballers.

"The vast majority of Premiership footballers are really decent people who do a massive amount in their local communities," said Coe, a Chelsea fan. "I know them personally, I know the amount of time they do spend doing that and, like any walk of life, yes, there are some that do fall below those standards."

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Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris

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