The big Dane was not displaying an outlandish act of madness, nor was he doing a sexy dance. No, Bendtner decided to reveal his pants for money.
After scoring an equalising goal against Portugal on Wednesday, Nicklas Bendtner decided to celebrate his goal by showing his pants. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it was the nature by which Bendtner decided to reveal his underwear turned this into an act to be reviled. The big Dane was not displaying an outlandish party-style act of madness, nor was he doing a sexy dance. No, Bendtner decided to reveal his pants for money.
If you sense a hint of prostitution in that last sentence, then you have stumbled upon an apt metaphor for what was being carried out. A betting company has thrown a marketing masterstroke into the European Championships by sponsoring a goal celebration. Nicklas Bendtner, eyes bulging with imagined riches, was only too happy to oblige with this trade and sold his moment of glory so the company could make a wry quip about it on their Twitter page. There is something deeply sinister about this. Though the act itself is nothing particularly harmful, one does fear for quite where this could lead.
That is why I was pleased that UEFA had come down hard on Bendtner, dumping a £100k fine on his rather large head and suspending him for one match. Though an outcry has been led by those who believe the fine is ridiculous when compared to the punishments handed out for recent incidents related to racism (and these points are undeniably poignant), I also worry about the game in terms of its susceptibility to being pulled apart by commercial machines. I am, by no means, suggesting that Bendtner deserved more of a fine than Croatia, Russia or Porto. But I am saying that Bendtner deserved that fine.
Let me give you an example to cool your already raging fists. Last night I had a very strange dream. It involved the 100m final at the London Olympics. The gun was fired to start perhaps the most famous and prestigious event an athlete could compete in. However, the runners took a few paces off their starting blocks and then paused to unfurl a giant banner. All eight of them, proud sportsmen, interrupting their own final to hold up an advertisement for... well I never quite saw what it was for. I guess my brain was trying to tell me that wasn’t important. It was the principle of the whole darn thing.
Now, my subconscious cinema is clearly capable of some artistic licence, hyperbole and falling down the slippery slope fallacy, so let me bring home a more plausible example. Think back to May: more specifically, the title-deciding game between Manchester City and QPR. Aguero scores his winner and everyone in the Etihad Stadium goes crazy. The players, receding momentarily from their otherwise unbridled joy, decide to all lift their shirts and reveal a slogan for a well known fast food chain. An iconic moment falls to the tacky domination of the players’ bank accounts. It would be a disaster.
I’m not saying all commercial involvement in football is bad. Indeed, advertising is the very lifeblood of football as we know it. Sponsors on shirts we can take. Advertising hoardings, stadium sponsorships, advert breaks during half-time, etc. They are all part of the system that makes football work so successfully. However, the game itself is a sacred thing. It is dependent upon being untouched by the outside world of politics, economics and war. Whatever packaging you put around it, the very core of football should remain every time.
And you may argue that “Yes, football should remain sacred, but Nicklas Bendtner’s plug was pulled during the celebration, not during the actual football”. This is true, but a goal celebration is really that – a goal celebration. We recognise that scoring a goal is a special moment, and so expect players to show their jubilation. Some players do that in spectacular ways, but it is always infused with passion. Nicklas Bendtner’s celebration was infused with money.
What Bendtner did was no act of menace, but merely showed us a blind spot that companies will be only too happy to exploit. Nicklas says that he was unaware of the rules on advertising, and there’s no reason to doubt that this is the case. However, his naivety gave the betting company a window to get their hands into the 90 minutes of a football match, and it should be made clear by UEFA that this is unacceptable. What we are witnessing is one of the most exciting international tournaments for a while. It would be shame if a precedent were to be set in Euro 2012 that bit away at the sport’s integrity over time.