I love soccer. I don’t think anyone just likes it. It’s a commitment. You love it or you hate it, and there are two main arguments soccer lovers always hear from haters:a)it’s boring, and b)there’s diving. I can’t argue the first point in a short enough blog, but I can defend against the second one to some extent.
First of all, I hate diving. It’s disrespectful, it’s embarrassing, and it’s uncomfortable to watch. No other sport is as conducive to it except hockey, and the NHL is cracking down on it before it really has a chance to be a problem. So how can we respect soccer when it allows it?
Since hockey is the only other major sport that regularly creates the opportunity for diving, I’ll use that as a comparison. There’s only ONE reason a hockey player dives: to draw a non existent penalty out of the ref. That’s it. In soccer, players obviously also dive to draw a foul. There’s a lot of faking out there, and it’s just as embarrassing in hockey as it is in soccer. Soccer players play up the injury part a bit more, and believe it or not soccer fans hate it more than you do. It’s about the integrity of the game for everyone no matter what the sport is and THIS type of diving in soccer is admittedly more shameful. But that’s not the ONLY reason soccer players dive like it is in hockey. There’s another reason and it makes a big difference in how I look at each case.
This second reason has to do with the “advantage” rule. In hockey when a player is “fouled”, that team gets to keep playing to make something happen until the other team touches the puck. However, the penalty is still enforced after the opportunity is over and a powerplay is still awarded. In soccer when a player is fouled, the referee has the option of either calling a free kick on the spot or allowing play to continue so long as he thinks the ball carrier or his team still has a decent opportunity to make something happen. Once the official has made the choice to allow play to continue, that’s sometimes the only reward the team gets. In a spit second, the soccer ref first has to decide whether there was a foul at all, PLUS decide whether he’s going to give a card. Then on top of all that, within a reasonable amount of time, he has to scan the field and decide whether or not the team would benefit more from a free kick or possession as is. That’s a lot to take in. Sometimes a soccer player takes that pressure off the ref and goes down in an obvious fashion just to help him out. It’s not to try and deceive about whether there was a foul. It’s about letting the ref know hey, yes he did clip my ankle a little and yes it was enough that even though I could stumble for eight strides and probably keep myself up, I’m just going to shut it down and take the kick. These “dives” are usually just a regular dramaless soft little drop down to the knees where the player often ends up sitting down with a look of disgust and does the token shin pad adjustment. To someone who doesn’t watch regularly or understand the rules, this probably looks like a fit, athletic, grown man basically just crumbling to his knees like a newborn deer without even trying to fight it. That’s pretty much exactly what does happen, but not for the reason you originally thought. It’s no different than when a hockey player gets hooked and could probably stay up but doesn’t fight it that hard. He ends up usually just softly dropping to his knees and, once the whistle goes, sits there and does the token elbow pad adjustment. Sound familiar?
If you eliminate this second type of dive as a problem and accept it as a non offensive product of the rules of the game, it definitely cuts down on the percentage of disrespectful incidents.
Now, this doesn’t excuse the excess drama soccer players demonstrate when faking a foul. But again I submit that a rule difference makes it more difficult for a referee to crack down on diving. In soccer, there are no “coincidental” penalties. It’s one or the other. A dive or a foul. Not both. To call out a soccer diver means that in one fell swoop the ref not only takes away an advantage, but also slams them with an immediate disadvantage of a free kick the other way. Also consider that often these fake dives happen inside the 18 yard box. Whatever choice the ref makes here, he has to be 380% absolutely certain. To determine a player down by diving means taking away a penalty shot. In case you didn’t know, that’s a direct kick at a huge net from 12 yards out. It’s a GAME CHANGING event. Because the stakes are so high, a truly fouled player will make any legitimate contact in the box seem, shall we say, more pronounced, just to make sure the ref takes notice. The unfortunate bi-product is that for the same reason, it’s also extremely tempting to take a dive on the off chance the referee makes a mistake. Both of these cases result in overly dramatic falls, but only the dives without contact are really dishonourable.
There is nothing in hockey comparable to a penalty shot in soccer that’s worth diving for so it will naturally happen less, but as I’ve said, in only one third of soccer diving situations is there dishonourable intent. The number of cases of true lack of integrity in both sports is actually much closer.
This isn’t the whole answer, but IF diving is your main reason for hating soccer then I hope it at least changes the way some of you look at it.