Petulant and rowdy sports stars are a bad influence on children, a leading headteacher said this week. David Kidd said poor sportsmanship was undermining the work of teachers trying to instil a spirit of honesty and fair play in pupils.
Mr Kidd, chair of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, told its annual conference: "Every time a player dives in the penalty area, or is seen in close-up on TV mouthing obscenities, every time a player clearly pulls a shirt or feigns injury to get an opponent off, our job becomes that much harder.
"The television images of footballers dissenting and harassing referees do nothing to help us when we are attempting to teach our pupils to win with grace and to lose with dignity."
Mr Kidd, who is head of Culford preparatory school, in Suffolk, said it was not just footballers who had to take responsibility for their actions. He also criticised top-class rugby players who are guilty of "systematic thuggery" and first-class cricketers who cheat.
"Where sport is concerned, I believe passionately in the traditional values of fair play, total commitment within the laws of the game and an unquestioning acceptance of the referee's decision. Would that those who play in, and manage, the higher echelons felt the same," he told the conference in Torquay this week.
"Children can spot injustice very quickly. If we want our schools to be full of good, caring citizens who pursue all aspects of school life with vigour, honesty and enthusiasm, that's what we must do ourselves."
Sports organisations defended their stars, saying that it was too easy to tar all players with the same brush.
Sir Trevor Brooking, the former England and West Ham star, now director of football development with the Football Association, said: "In any sport, you'll always have a minority of players who act badly but most are well-behaved and can be good role models.
"It's up to us to identify the good examples and clamp down on the bad elements."
Gordon Taylor, chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, said that the community work carried out by players was often eclipsed by a media obsessed with high-profile incidents.
"The discipline record of players at the top level of the game is probably 10 times better than it is at the grassroots," he said.
The Rugby Football Union said red cards handed out to players fell by a third last season. "The game is as clean as it's ever been at the top level," said a spokesman.
"There's no evidence to suggest that perceived violence at the top end of the game has caused a decline in schools' participation."
Two years ago the England and Wales Cricket Board launched an initiative called Spirit of Cricket, aimed at encouraging the values of fair play and honesty.
An ECB spokesman said: "Players are aware of their responsibilities but of course in all levels of sport, there will be people who perhaps won't be as honest as they could be."