So I’m a casual soccer fan. I watch some international matches when they happen to be on TV if I’m in a rare minute at home on the couch. Once in a while I might tune in to a British Premiere league contest. But when it comes to the World Cup I’m all in! I know the key players on most teams. I can tell you who is in which group and which scenarios might allow which teams to advance. I watch any game under any circumstances even while I’m at work. I have no idea why but I’m sort of obsessed.
In my mind it is one of the two purest tournaments on the planet, the other one being the NCAA College basketball tournament which captures an equal level of obsession in my world. It’s just a ton of fun and the excitement is second to none in the sporting arena.
But here’s my struggle. I just can’t stand the diving and flailing around on the ground in artificial pain when a player is trying to draw a foul. It’s so distasteful that it makes me not want to watch no matter how compelling the matchup might be. Slow motion replays often show a situation where there is not even any contact and the player who took the dive is writhing in feigned agony like they had a limb severed. Here’s my question: If you are not hurt and you are pretending to be aren’t you lying? If you are lying to gain your team competitive advantage aren’t you cheating?
My friends who are bigger soccer fans than I am tell me that it is just part of the game. I don’t accept that. In one of my two favorite sports (hockey) they have adopted this thing where if a player takes a dive trying to get a penalty (foul) he is the one who actually gets the penalty. He gets it for faking and cheating. I can’t help think that this amazing game of soccer that has more interest worldwide than any other sport might also benefit from a similar adoption of rules.
I don’t pretend to know all the intricacies of the game but I do know that much of the corruption comes from the fact that there are no consequences for cheating. Both in the actual game and even beyond. In fact there seem to be no consequences for cheating on where the games are awarded (see bribery scandal in the 2022 Qatar games) or in officiating within the games (see opening match Brazil vs. Croatia). I think it’s so sad that a tournament that means so much to so many people all over the world is allowing for a huge window of opportunity for people who actually think about these things to find fault.
I have the privilege of watching these games on the comfort of my own couch on my 55 inch flat screen TV in my air-conditioned home. I can’t help but think of people in a village in a Central American nation like Honduras where an estimated 65% of all people live below the poverty level. Or in an African nation like Cameroon where an estimated 40% of all people live below the poverty level. I can’t help but picture a group of people gathered around the one radio listening with intent and excited to cheer for their nation on what might be the most looked forward to event of an entire year. Do they deserve to be disappointed because their team might lose on a free kick that results in a goal from a fake dive? I think not!
Yesterday’s USA vs. Portugal game was one of the lesser “flop and flails” I’ve seen so far in this world cup, so perhaps my timing on this piece is off. Maybe I’m reading more into this situation than I actually should. Maybe I should boycott on principle but I probably won’t. Maybe it’s not a big deal but maybe it is. I’m just wishing that something I’ve really grown to love was just a bit more pure. Call me an idealist or whatever you like. I just know that when I go to work tomorrow if one of my coworkers bumps into me I’m not going to fall on the floor and try to get them in trouble for my own benefit. At least then I can go home and look at myself in the mirror and know that I played fair for the day…