Thursday, February 28, 2008

Counterpoint: These Are Not the Dives You Are Looking For

One of my favorite books about contemporary culture and media is The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner. The conceit of the book isn't that unique - Americans are made to feel paranoid by the sensationalist media and opportunistic politicians who push non-problems and non-issues to the public. But he's masterful in debunking myths about road rage, date rape drugs, and welfare queens, and gets to the mechanics of manufacturing fear.

I bring this up because whenever I hear people complain about diving in soccer, I'm reminded of The Culture of Fear. Simply put, diving isn't an problem in soccer (well, at least in the Premier League, any way), and hearing people whine about its pervasiveness is more annoying than watching Cristiano Ronaldo appeal for a penalty.

This isn't to say that diving never happens. Couple of years ago, Drogba was forced to backtrack when his "Sometimes I dive, sometimes I stand" comment caused an entire nation to gasp and cry out "Well, I never!" in unison. Nor am I suggesting that it's a natural part of the game (so you can put that strawman away). All I'm saying is, yes, it happens, it affects results, and it sucks. But over the course of the season, the amount of diving is simply not enough to tilt results in any significant way.

Maybe it's because I'm a Moneyball disciple and everything can be quantified if you look for the right numbers, but I'm not willing to believe diving is a problem until I see evidence that it is. I'm more willing to believe that diving is a phenomenon is a classic Culture of Fear non-trend, a "man bites dog" story that has the illusion of being an increasing trend (not to mention the barely hidden xenophobia that rears its head when people decide diving is a pervasive problem).

On the "Great List of Something We Must Do Something About Right Now or We're Doomed, Doomed", diving ranks somewhere between the quality of the pitch at Wigan's JJB Stadium and those new orange Nike Vapors that the kids are wearing these days.

Which is all a very long-winded way of saying, revamping the video review system to catch divers and shame them is silly, if not necessarily wrong or evil. In fact, it's similar to the system the Football Association already has. A video review panel that reviews incidents that weren't dealt with by the referee, so it's not like we're being technophobic here. And simulation is a punishable offense - remember the Tal Ben Haim case from a couple of years back? And except in the most blatant of cases, video evidence is rarely conclusive. If a guy going full speed gets tapped on the heel, he's going to go flying.

The only difference between what my colleague proposes and the current system is that under his suggestion, the panel reviews every incident from every match, whether anyone asks or not. That's nice, but to what effect? Believe it or not, matches are already televised, so I'm not sure if players are that worried about being publicly shamed. And players who do develop reputations for diving become the boy who cried wolf. Which is to say, any effect the added video review won't be worth the trouble.

And curbing diving will somehow prevent incidents like Martin Taylor's tackle on Eduardo da Silva? Are you kidding me? That tackle happens whether or not there's a culture of diving in the Premier League. It's what happens when a slower, less skilled player tries to stop a quicker, skillful player by any means. Taylor knew he would get at least a yellow when he went into the tackle - that was just a professional foul (hey, that's kinda like the name of our blog!) gone very, very wrong.

And, the referee isn't going to have trouble recognizing intentional fouls just because he's watched too many players take a dive, and decided, fool me twice, they won't get fooled again.

The Eduardo incident wasn't about refereeing. It was about recklessness condoned, and too often celebrated, as tough defending. As World Soccer's Gavin Hamilton points out, that's a far more pressing issue than the mythical foreign hordes landing on English shores and flopping all about the pitch. The only gripe I have with FA's current disciplinary system is that there is no sliding scale for suspensions, and how dangerous, career-threatening plays are treated as harshly as harmless displays of petulance.


The NY Kid said...

C'mon now! In a game between the French and the Portuguese, you show the Frenchman diving? That was like a 1-217 ratio, and you pick the 1!

T.J. Donegan said...

Also, pretty sure that was one of the less clear cases of Henry's diving, (and there have been quite a few blatant ones) considering the defender did admit he made enough contact and it was a foul after the game.

I prefer the Messi swan dive if you're going to go after a Barcelona player for diving.

Lingering Bursitis said...

I'll fess up to that picture. Chalk it up to an editor pushed for time who needed to find a diving picture quickly... it came up almost immediately in the search!

Still, Henry's no saint. There are plenty worse than him, but that image is a little cheeky.