January31

Seeing Pink

The U.S. and Canadian professional sportscapes are dominated by NFL football and NHL hockey respectfully. Sports that, unlike association football, celebrate a culture of ritualized violence. This is not to say football can’t be vicious – it can. However, brute force is not something inherent in the game - coordination, speed and technique are the most important factors needed to succeed. Additionally, football is a sport that is structurally democratic. Male and female athletes of all shapes and sizes and from all socio-economic backgrounds can and do play well. While football’s inclusiveness and less violent spirit have helped it boom at the grassroots level, it has also, in our opinion, hindered the sport’s efforts to attain true “major league” standing within the region’s hyper-masculine professional sportspace. In addition, the penchant shown by some players to dive anytime a member of the opposition comes close further tarnishes the game’s ‘manly’ image and invites derision from the mainstream sports media, a good number of who already view football as insufficiently masculine.

While the incidence of diving in MLS pales in comparison to other top football leagues, there can be no denying it exists. If MLS wants to broaden its appeal to include the millions of North Americans who have been raised on a diet of violent collision sports, then it must find a way to eradicate diving from its game. Even though the rules of football now punish by yellow card any simulation intended to gain advantage, it still requires referees to be in almost perfect position to catch the deceit so abjectly caught out by the all-seeing eye of television. This is not always easy for referees to do and as such divers often escape sanction.

The top, middle and bottom of the issue then, is that when players resort to this type of subterfuge everybody is cheated: not only the opponents and the officials but also fans. Therefore, any act of simulation must be intensively fought and sanctioned. A football governing body that fails to punish divers, even after the fact, is complicit in the deceit.

As a way to stamp out the histrionics MLS should equip its referees with pink cards in addition to the yellow and red cards they currently carry. Officials should then issue the pink cards to any player they deem guilty of embellishing or fakery.

While we understand this will never happen, especially as MLS wishes to conform to FIFA’s rules and norms, the idea of embarrassing or publicly shaming a player for trying to deceive the referee could still be used to great effect. In the same way MLS invites fans to vote on-line for the best goals and saves, the league should run a parallel poll for best dives. Players, knowing they risk being labeled cheats by their peers, referees and fans, would think twice about diving and hopefully make a better effort to stay on their feet to help their team. No player, after all, wants to go down in the annals the way Brazilian international Rivaldo has - a once brilliant player, perhaps the greatest of his generation, who is now better remembered for pretending to have been hit in the face to get a Turkish opponent sent off at the 2002 World Cup than for his footballing genius.

Thoughts?