In many ways, the story of the 2010 World Cup has been less about great plays and more about blown calls – starting with Theirry Henry’s handball that cost Ireland a place in the tournament and continuing with the United States being robbed of an historic comeback by a foul that the referee refused to explain both during and after the match.
Dave Eggers writes in Slate that soccer was long thought of as the sport of communists. He writes in the past tense, though plenty of evidence suggests many still think of it this way. But to me, the football pitch seems more like the Wild West than the Soviet Union. It’s a vast expanse populated by ambitious, self-interested, dangerous men and it’s patrolled by one lonely sheriff, who cannot possibly watch over the entire area by himself and must rely on his own dubious judgment in unclear situations in an attempt to maintain some sort of law and order.
The ‘deputies’ who patrol the sidelines are basically the equivalents of a neighborhood watch. They’ll wave their little flags if they see something they don’t like, but they’ll leave the dirty work to the man in the middle.
Then there are those who try to exploit these limited resources. Whether you call it flopping, diving or ‘simulation,’ it’s one of the aspects of professional soccer that casual fans find most unappealing. Eggers describes it bileously, “Flopping is essentially a combination of acting, lying, begging, and cheating, and these four behaviors make for an unappealing mix.”
Those people I know who began playing and watching soccer before 2006 mostly seem annoyed at how casual fans tend to dwell on the dives. To them, and to most professional players, managers and officials, it’s an unfortunate but inevitable part of the game. Another Slate writer, Austin Kelley, offers a good defense of the practice when he writes, “Diving is far from outright cheating. Rarely do athletes tumble without being touched at all. Usually, they embellish contact to make sure the referee notices a foul, not to deceive him completely.”
Of our nation’s big three sports, flopping is only really prevalent in basketball, and players such as Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman spent years perfecting the art of getting away with fouls before Derek Fischer and Paul Pierce (yes, you, Paul) started flailing wildly as they entered the paint. I wonder if the phenomenon in soccer is similarly reactionary.
The bottom line is this: underhanded tactics and blown calls are part of every sport. In fact, as Landon Donovan recently pointed out, a blown call might be the one factor that finally brings the United States together in support of their national soccer team. We’ve been tortured by slow-motion instant replays of Edu’s disallowed game-winner for four days now and, call me crazy, but I have a feeling that the ratings for our crucial match against Algeria tomorrow will skyrocket in comparison to the previous two games.
After all, nothing brings a nation together like collective outrage.
**For a more in-depth analysis check out this bizarre video I stumbled upon today. Joke? Real? Who knows?
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