Disappointed football player

Why Do Footballers Take Their Medals Off?

Big houses, fast cars and legions of adoring fans: there’s plenty of perks that come along with being a professional footballer at the top level. But when those players were starting out as kids, the millionaire lifestyle is rarely on the agenda – they play simply because they love the beautiful game.

The vast majority of professional footballers have an innate competitive instinct – that’s what saw them make it as a pro in the first place, and so while some fans will tell you otherwise, the main motivation for any player is winning games and winning silverware.

That’s evident by the huge grins on their faces when they hoist a trophy after winning a league or cup, and conversely the rather morose demeanour that have tasted defeat in a major tournament final. That also helps to explain one of the more curious behaviours in football: why do players take their medals off after being presented with them.

Tough to Take

‘Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser’, is a harsh but perhaps somewhat apt adage used in sport. That was a quote that originally came from the mouth of Vince Lombardi, the NFL legend who’s name now adorns the trophy handed out at the Super Bowl, the sporting extravaganza watched by hundreds of millions of people each year.

Those that lose the Super Bowl are generally not all that chuffed to be receiving their runner’s-up medals, and that’s a theme that pervades across the sporting fraternity. Make no mistake, you will occasionally see somebody that is absolutely delighted with silver or bronze at the Olympics or a World Championship, but that’s usually an athlete with expectations that fell below securing a podium place.

In football, when you reach a cup final it really is all or nothing – success or failure, glory or despair, victory or defeat. So, you can forgive those who have just endured heartbreak in front of a sizeable audience to be less than enamoured with their consolation medals. Some of England’s players, including Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and John Stones, were criticised for taking off their medals as soon as they received them when they lost in the final of Euro 2020 to Italy – bad sportsmanship was the accusation.

But you can hardly blame those that did remove their medals from around their necks for not wanting to display their failure for all to see – they were, after all, a few penalty kicks away from securing a historic night for their nation. The takeaway point is that footballers, and many athletes across the spectrum, don’t feel as though finishing second is something to be proud of, hence the premature removal of their medals.

Who Has Removed Their Medal?

Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford (canno73 / Bigstockphoto.com)

England’s football team are just one of many sporting outfits that have begun to remove silver medals as soon as they have been placed around their necks. The emblem was barely around the necks of some Manchester City players for a second before they were abruptly removed following their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final of 2021 – and they did likewise when they lost out in the Community Shield game against Liverpool a year later.

It’s not just in football where this behaviour occurs. England’s rugby union team removed their silver medals after losing to South Africa in the World Cup final in 2019. After facing criticism, former England international, James Haskell, wrote in his column:

The players who get silver will be p****d off, they will be upset, and they will be despondent. It’s how we are all built and it’s frankly how it should be at an elite level. No one got anywhere being happy with defeat.

Sometimes, Olympians take off their medals – or refuse them altogether – as a form of protest. One of the most famous examples came at the 1972 Games in Munich, where the men’s basketball final was disrupted by a bizarre situation in which R. William Jones, the then secretary general of the International Amateur Basketball Federation, demanded that an extra three seconds were added to the clock after the final buzzer.

The Soviet Union would score during that extra time to overturn the USA’s 50-49 lead, leading to mass protests on the part of the Americans – they boycotted the medal ceremony and refused to collect their silver medals. They remain locked in a secure vault in Switzerland.

Greco-Roman wrestler, Ara Abrahamian, removed the bronze medal from around his neck and dropped it onto the floor during the medal ceremony of the 2008 Games – he believes that bad judging cost him a place in the gold medal match, and followed in the footsteps of Eastern European weightlifter, Ibragim Samadov, 16 years earlier, who had done much the same. Whether it’s a symptom of bad sportsmanship or a motivational move, everyone has their take on whether footballers should remove their ‘loser’s’ medals from around their neck.