In a week when diving has dominated the English headlines, plenty of public figures have waded into the debate to offer their opinions.
John Terry had the following to say about diving:
“It’s something the England lads don’t do. Sometimes we’re too honest. Even in the Premier League, we see the English lads get a bit of contact and try to stay on their feet and score from the chance.
“The foreign mentality coming in is any little clip you can go tumbling over, because the speed of the game nowadays.”
Wayne Rooney has come under some criticism for allegedly diving for a penalty against Arsenal in last week's Premier League encounter. His response was unequivocal.
"I have never intentionally tried to dive, there have been times when I have tried to stay on my feet and tried to get the shot off rather than going down. I have never intentionally dived."
It has to be said that any attempt to encourage fair play is to be applauded. However, in the age of Youtube it is a simple matter to confirm or deny any such claims. A quick search demonstrates that both Terry and Rooney are, in fact, wrong.
The truth is that English players do dive and Wayne Rooney has occasionally been the guilty party.
This is not a call for condemnation. Quite the contrary, this is a call for recognition. Recognition that diving exists everywhere (to a greater or lesser extent). Recognition that the problem is not the fault of somebody else. What Rooney and Terry are guilty of is hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy of this kind is worrisome because it is a shirking of responsibility. By pointing to foreigners, these two highly influential players are washing their hands of any involvement in making the game more honest.
English football as a whole should be commended for being among the best representatives of fair play, but when exceptions occur they should be treated with equal weight regardless of nationality or club loyalty.
It is obvious that if anything is to be done about this form of cheating, it must be done with absolute consistency. If there are to be punishments, the criteria must be the same in all cases. On this point there is near-universal agreement.
Where there is less agreement is on the specifics of a criteria for diving. There exists a gray area between dive and foul, where conclusions are difficult to make. For example:
What are we to do in situations where a player is legitimately fouled, but embellishes the fall?
What do we do when we cannot judge the intent of the falling player?
Running at high speeds, attempting acrobatic moves in a contact sport, and ending up on the floor is not illegal. Slipping is not illegal either. If we judge too harshly, we risk punishing the innocent.
If a player is fouled, he has no responsibility to fight to stay on his feet if the only result is to increase the chances of the foul going unpunished. Every player who has played the game competitively has probably encountered a situation where an overly permissive referee forces players to go to ground for a foul to be considered. If your only other option is to be cheated all game long by persistent fouling, is it really so wrong?
Even if they agree in theory, two people can watch the same replay and come to different conclusions. If those people are supporting different teams, the opinions become even more disparate. Who should make the decision of what constitutes a dive and what doesn't?
None of these questions have easy answers. Creating a global consensus on them is a daunting task. Any solution requires serious self-reflection on the way the game is played both by yours and others.
It requires an understanding of the difficulties of refereeing, and the partisan environment decisions must be made in. It also requires a public recognition that diving is a problem that does not respect passports.
Wayne Rooney and John Terry are only examples. They are representative of current thought in England that places the blame for diving on foreigners. This ultimately does a disservice to the game — not only because it fuels xenophobia but because it distracts from any constructive conversation about the problem.
Both Rooney and Terry are heroes to many. It is time they acted the part and told the truth.
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