Four days into the 2022 FIFA World Cup, big news from this mega event is already in the air. From Saudi Arabia’s shock victory over Argentina to the Iranian players silent during the national anthem, football has been the order of the day.
Amidst all the drama unfolding in Qatar, the only constant visual element football fans see is the players spitting on the pitch during the game. But why do players do this? What is spitting for? Why do soccer players do it so often and not other athletes?
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We will take a closer look at the situation and give you all the answers you were looking for.
The science behind spitting in soccer
Spitting is a common practice in football. It turns out that there is some scientific and performance-building factor behind this, not just players showing aversion to the situation.
Studies have shown that exercise increases the amount of protein secreted into the saliva, especially a type of mucus called MUC5B. This makes the saliva thicker, making it harder to swallow. Hence so many visuals of players spitting out, even though it seems distasteful.
Dr. Udit Kapoor, Senior Consultant, Asian Hospital, Faridabad, was quoted as eloquent Indian Express that the saliva in the mouth thickens during physical exertion, such as football matches, which players find better to spit out. “Thicker saliva makes it harder to swallow. So it’s best to spit it out,” he was quoted as saying.
He added that not only soccer players, but even cricket and rugby players spit – it is considered legal in the sport.
Also read: Why Qatar is the controversial host of the 2022 World Cup
Similar thoughts are echoed by Joseph Dosu, a former Nigerian goalkeeper. He was quoted as saying that football players spit because “they need something to clear their throat … they run maybe 10 to 15 yards and they need air to breathe.”
There are several other theories about spitting being a common occurrence in football. Some argue that this is a case of OCD behavior, while others believe that it may be a display of masculinity intended to be intimidating.
Since the start of the World Cup, there have also been visuals of players such as England’s Harry Kane forcefully spraying a drink into his and then spitting the entire mouthful onto the nearest patch of bare ground.
However, there is an explanation for this activity called carbohydrate flushing. The basic premise of boosting carbs is filling your mouth with a carb-packed liquid, in this case a sports drink high in sugar and salt, it activates the pleasure and sensory receptors in your brain that make it think extra energy in the form of food is on its way. Theoretically, this stops the brain from thinking the body is tired.
Asker Jeukendrup, an exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist, said The New York Times earlier that the practice is similar to “twisting” the brain a bit. In fact, in a study he conducted with the University of Birmingham in 2004, he found that a carbohydrate rinse made cyclists about a minute faster in 40km time trials.
The benefits of a carbohydrate flush have also been recognized by others in the field. Dr. Sourav Poddar, a sports medicine physician, also said that a carbohydrate flush can improve performance by two to three percent.
Another study published in European Journal of Sport Science in 2017, he also found that carb flushing improves performance. The study involved 12 healthy men in their 20s and found that they could jump higher, do more bench presses and squats, run faster, and were more alert after flushing with carbohydrates.
Similarly, a study published in International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that 12 high-performance male athletes experienced less fatigue after flushing with carbohydrates.
Why only football?
Spitting soccer is not illegal in the World Cup. However, spitting at someone is a red card offence.
Also in other sports such as cricket and rugby, spitting is not considered illegal. However, many say that only soccer players spit during matches.
There is also an explanation for this: many sports enthusiasts have stated that perhaps you don’t see cricket players spitting on TV because the players are spread so thinly on the ground and there is so much “inactive” time that it is statistically unlikely that a spitting player would be caught in television.
Furthermore, players see spitting on the screen due to the style of coverage – highlighting a player who has just made a long sprint to score a goal up close.
When spitting became the biggest news
For years, soccer players spitting on their opponents during a World Cup match made headlines.
Undoubtedly, the most famous spitting incident in football occurred during the World Cup match between Germany and the Netherlands during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Dutch player Frank Rijkaard aimed a spit at Germany’s Rudi Voller after a crunchy tackle.
Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira was in hot water in 1999 for a spitting incident. He was suspended for six matches and fined £30,000 for spitting at West Ham’s Neil “Razor” Ruddock.
Despite his great play, Cristiano Ronaldo spit at Derby’s Robbie Savage during an FA Cup match in 2009.
Argentine Lionel Messi was also found guilty of this offence. In 2008, he was seen aiming spit at the back of Málaga winger Duda’s shirt.
With agency input
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