Diving and US Soccer Popularity

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Andrea Pirlo delivers a lofting ball into the box over the head of the defense to land perfectly at the feet of Mario Balotelli.  With acontroling touch, Balotelli advances toward goal with the defense right at his heels. Again, with another touch it looks as if a goal is certain to come of this beautiful play.  With the third and final touch the keeper comes out to challenge the attack.  Although, the ball falls just out of reach and Balotelli goes down in the box.  A riot ensues as the referee reaches for his card to send of the culpable center defensemen. Balotelli receives a penalty kick on goal and buries it into the side netting.

Here in America millions of us sit on our couches and watch these events unfold on the biggest stage in sport.  We direct our attention to watch the best players in the world display their skill and battle for the most coveted trophy in international sport.  Every year more and more of us Americans give this sport we call soccer and most call “futbol” a chance to capture our attention and our hearts like football, basketball, and baseball do time after time.  As we are drawn to the edge of our seats to watch the beautiful game, we sink back into the couch as we see Balotelli moan and groan and writhe in pain as if maybe his femur has snapped right in half.  However the instant replay revels that nothing but a tap to the heel sent him into this spiral of pain.  Consequentially, channels are changed and interest is lost.

This piece of acting coined as “diving” or “flopping” has been an ugly part of the beautiful game year after year.  The fact of the matter is when the ball is out of reach and control of the ball is lost, the final and most productive option is to take to the ground with the next connection of contact.  Why fight for a 50/50 ball when a display of acting prowess most likely will hand you a very high percentage play on goal.  Pride and dignity has no space and this sport where a lone result can cause riots that destroy cities and drive fans to carryout acts of violence directly towards the athletes themselves.  1994 columbian Andres Escobar allows and own goal to give the United States and ultimately eliminates his country from the world cup and just a few weeks later Andres is shot six times for his mistake.

Here in the states we have grown accustomed to the impact of instant replay on our viewing of sports.  A buzzer-beating shot falls at the last second to settle game 6 of the NBA finals and the referees run over to the instant replay to confirm the result.  A game-winning touchdown is hauled in at the corner of the end-zone and the officials inspect every inch to confirm the score.  At home we see what the official sees and get to make our own conclusions on the outcome of the play.  In soccer we see more than what any official on the field will ever see.  Decisions are made instantly and the call that is made stands.  Decisions must be made in seconds by the small three man officiating crew.  This presents the dissension between american viewers and the beautiful game.  The center official sees a man go down on a scoring opportunity and we watch him tumble dramatically on his own accord over and over through the replay.  Yet why can we as Americans not accept diving as part of the game?  Is it the perception of lacking pride or strength or honor to purposely leave your feet to act out an injury?  Is the use of PED’s, the rampant crime and violence, and racism in our beloved sports a better display of pride, strength and honor?

This past summer saw the highest viewing audiences in America for the world cup in the history of the event.  For the first time, millions watched in support of the US men’s national soccer team.  Many of those who lent their attention and support to our national team were supremely disappointed by the final result and the overall standing of our team against the worldly competition.  But how can we expect results from our team when our country as a whole directs most of our attention to football, basketball and baseball?  In these countries whom field teams that we are forced to watch win year after year, futbol is a driving passion.  I hope one day I can say that about America as a whole and see our team hoist the World Cup trophy.  If only we can just accept that sometimes pretending is the best option.

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