It's Hard to Take Soccer Seriously When It's Full Of So Many Bad Actors

Apparently, there is no diving in the World Cup.

FIFA admits, however, that “simulation” may occur; their quaint term for players blown over by a strong gust of wind, leaving them writhing in agony on the grass, grabbing their faces like they’ve just been kissed by Hannibal Lecter.

I assume the reason soccer players cover their faces – when not clutching at their shins after a push in the back – is to both hide their embarrassment and laughter at their own terrible acting.

At least FIFA and Sepp Blatter show they have a sense of humour in letting these antics continue throughout the World Cup.

The diving and bad acting adds a nice comic touch to the tournament. After all, 62 games passed before the first yellow card for “simulation” was handed out in the penultimate match, The Netherlands v Brazil, to home side midfielder Oscar. You could argue the Brazilian was hard done by. He was far from the worst offender.

Ironically, Arjen Robben of The Netherlands, a serial diver, who for years has apologised for diving, promises to never do it again, then does, scored a penalty, with the help of a theatrical swan, dive after being grabbed, that led to a goal.

Robben admitted diving in helping his side win in its World Cup encounter with Mexico. Here’s a player with talent to burn, who, when faced with a challenge, takes the soft option every time. And he wonders why he’s remembered more for diving that his extraordinary ability?

If you want to see how endemic diving is to the sport, go have a look at The Golden Dive, a tongue-in-cheek compilation of the best and biggest divers in Brazil. And yes, it includes some Australians.

And this compilation, from games at other times, appropriately set to the Benny Hill theme, says it all.

All sports have players who hope to catch the eye of a sympathetic, inattentive referee. State of Origin fans might remember Tony “The Penalty Puller” Hearn, the Queensland prop, so nicknamed by Roy & HG for his tendency to take a dive, hoping to score a penalty against NSW.

But nothing rivals soccer for both melodramatic acting and the consequences.
When an AFL player does it in front of goal, the potential is 6 points in a game where the team will score between 80 and 100. Some argue that it’s just a natural part of the game, but that sounds a lot like the excuses made for doping in cycling. It’s still cheating to gain an unfair advantage.

Why do they do it? Because in a high stakes game, the rewards for diving far exceed the penalties. Scientists have even studied the deceptive behaviour involved

Argentina, who play Germany tonight, remember well Rudi Völler’s dive in the 1990 World Cup final against West Germany. He cheated his team’s way to tournament victory. Australians won’t forget Fabio Grosso’s effort in falling over Lucas Neill in the 2006 World Cup with 3 minutes to go, scoring a birth in the quarter finals for his team thanks to his theatrics earning a penalty kick.

Part of the problem is that FIFA and its referees don’t seem to be up to the task. Monday’s experts can always dissect poor refereeing in any sport, but soccer seems to invite more commentary than most. Perhaps it’s time, now the game moves faster than Usain Bolt, that soccer employed two on-field referees to keep a closer eye on players. AFL uses three umpires, while rugby league has used video referees since 1996.

Technology-phobic FIFA finally got around to installing goal-line technology for this World Cup, nine years after tennis and 12 years after cricket. They resisted it for the 2010 World Cup, but a couple of howlers during that tournament forced the organisation’s hand.

Imagine the difference if a soccer referee called for a video ref’s opinion on a foul before awarding a kick in the penalty box. Perhaps the video ref could also advise on yellow cards for “simulation”.

You might find players standing there with their hands covering their face again as the slow-motion replay of their cheating appears repeatedly on the big screen.

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