Johannesburg - The infamous Luis Suarez biting incident at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil raises questions about how far footballers will go to give their team an advantage.
SA Football Players Union (Safpu) deputy president and University of Pretoria defender, Tebogo Monyai, reacted to the hefty Suarez sanction with bemusement, arguing that passion took over once a game was underway.
Monyai said he had witnessed firsthand the lengths people would go to in an effort to get an edge over the opposition.
“Crazy things happen on the field of play that go unnoticed,” Monyai said on Monday.
“You find players spitting at each other and stomping on another player's foot. Sometimes, they go as far as saying some very unpleasant things about someone's mother.”
The “beautiful game” had become synonymous with underhanded tactics, including time-wasting and simulation - an attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by diving to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to appear as if a foul had been committed.
Such ploys were all too familiar and had become commonplace on the pitch.
Although gnarling an opposition player was considered unusual and extreme, football was played in such a highly-competitive spirit that competitors had been known to contradict Fifa's “fair play” philosophy.
Over time, unsporting acts were becoming accepted behaviour in football, commonly referred to as gamesmanship.
Players sometimes targeted an opponent with a reputation for being temperamental, knowing it could result in a red card, Monyai said.
The “win at all costs” mentality did not only exist among the players, but it was a thinking encouraged by the clubs.
The 34-year-old defender gave some insight into the strange tactics employed by opposing clubs before games.
“While I was playing for Moroka Swallows, there used to be a team in Limpopo that would prevent us from doing the routine walkabout and inspection before the game started.
“You would find ashes in the dressing rooms which showed that muthi was being used. In those very same dressing rooms there would be no hot water, no toilet paper, the toilets didn't work and the place was just filthy,” Monyai said.
He mentioned a legendary club owner/coach in the PSL who was famous for making an axe-like gesture to his players during a game which was a signal to crush the opposing attack Ä as well as any of the players that got in the way.
“When that happens, you know that legs are about to get broken,” Monyai said.
Although footballers were not generally coached in cheating their way to victory, certain methods of gamesmanship were acceptable, making it more difficult to differentiate between right and wrong.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Koketso Mmotong reiterated Monyai's comments and said there were many incidents both on and off the field which were never reported.
“It's all part of the game. Sometimes players will do whatever it takes to win a game,” Mmotong said.
Despite the wide condemnation of Suarez, players behaved with more passion and intensity on the battlefield and committed acts they would not normally do in every day life.
It made it harder to justify which was the worse of the evils Ä a bite to the shoulder, a kick to the heels with studs or having spit flung in the face which was said to happen frequently.