Austin Kelley has an article up at Slate that tries to justify diving as a civilizing influence on the beautiful game. While his overall intentions are reasonable, using diving to achieve them is just, well, wrong.
First, there is diving and there is DIVING. If a player gets fouled by a hard tackle and adds a little flair to his fall, that’s not a huge deal because it shouldn’t matter to a good referee who will call the illegal tackle, regardless of how the player fell. (Wishful thinking, I know) A player who trips over his own feet and writhes in pain from some alleged contact needs to be shown yellow – that’s DIVING.
Now Austin sees diving in similar terms and also feels DIVING should be carded no question. However, when it comes to normal diving, it is seen as an equalizer between smaller skilled players and bigger brutish players.
Consider the classic matchup between a skilled dribbler and a big, tough defender. The attacker must use his quickness and wit to get by. The bigger man, though, can always resort to a "professional foul" – an intentional foul in which there is no attempt to play the ball. The defender will give away a free kick, but that will hurt only in certain parts of the field. So, what is the attacker to do? If he finds a flailing leg in his way, he can do nothing except barge right into it. And maybe writhe around on the ground for a bit, encouraging the referee to hand out a card, thus discouraging the brutish defender from trying such rough tactics in the future.
Far from being a sign of corruption, diving is, in certain ways, a civilizing influence. Divers are usually quicker, smaller players. As athletes get bigger and stronger, the little guy gets nudged aside. If professional fouls and brute force reign supreme, creative play and joyful improvisation will suffer.
Almost leaves you speechless doesn’t it? Fear not – lack of speech has never been a problem of mine!
The problem with this theory is you assume the referee isn’t able to card the foul for the foul, regardless of the theatrics. This rationalization simply says you feel that referees don’t see fouls often enough unless a player dives. But that’s an impossible situation and will only lead to more calls based on the effects of a foul instead of the foul itself. If you go cleats up into an ankle, you should be red carded regardless of the injury or lack thereof to the tackled player.
All too often I see this desire to ‘fix’ things in soccer with reverse methods. Youth coaches coaching to win too much instead of developing players? Take away scores and standings instead of training better coaches. Too many brutish fouls being missed? Encourage diving instead of working to improve a referee’s ability to see fouls when they happen.
The key point here is Austin is trying to fix a deficiency in officiating by justifying dives and using them to draw a referees attention to a foul that’s already happened. We need to make sure officials call the fouls for what they are, regardless of the outcome. Does this mean some fouls might be missed? Sure. But saying that an official in any sport should judge the severity of a foul based on the antics of the fouled player is just asking for trouble. Find officials who can judge fouls as they occur and ignore the antics of the fouled player and things will improve.
Now I do have to give Austin snaps for calling out the British fans who feel diving is a foreign influence when they have their own master divers. All countries do. But regardless of where diving originated or who does it the most, it needs to be dealt with. FIFA wanted World Cup officials to show more cards to reduce ‘simulation’ only to have more cards shown because of dives instead of to punish them. Imagine my happy surprise to see two yellows handed out in the Brazil-Ghana match for diving.
Dave Eggers has his own article at Slate where he faults diving for what it is – theatrics:
First there will be some incidental contact, and then there will be a long moment-enough to allow you to go and wash the car and return-after the contact and before the flopper decides to flop. When you’ve returned from washing the car and around the time you’re making yourself a mini-bagel grilled cheese, the flopper will be leaping forward, his mouth Munch-wide and oval, bracing himself for contact with the earth beneath him. But this is just the beginning. Go and do the grocery shopping and perhaps open a new money-market account at the bank, and when you return, our flopper will still be on the ground, holding his shin, his head thrown back in mock-agony. It’s disgusting, all of it, particularly because, just as all of this fakery takes a good deal of time and melodrama to put over, the next step is so fast that special cameras are needed to capture it. Once the referees have decided either to issue a penalty or not to our Fakey McChumpland, he will jump up, suddenly and spectacularly uninjured-excelsior!-and will kick the ball over to his teammate and move on.
Fakey McChump – classic.
In the end, we all want the same things. Fouls get called because they are fouls and dives get carded to preserve the flow and beauty of the game. If a player ‘dives’ because he got fouled, he still got fouled. Otherwise, lets leave the theatrics to Hollywood and let the match go on.