I’ve enjoyed watching some of the soccer World Cup. The passion on display from fans, the way that soccer truly is a world game that has an international reach beyond the dreams of other sports, the sheer level of skill and athleticism required—it’s a spectacle that captures the imagination of even casual observers such as myself.
But there are a couple of aspects of the game that have always limited my enjoyment, and stopped me from being a regular viewer. It’s also, I suspect, why soccer still remains somewhat of a niche sport in Australia. I guess I could move past what I see as the over-the-top celebrations that greet a goal, but the whole diving thing sticks in my craw.
Watching players resort to the sort of dramatics that would make an amateur thespian in a regional musical blush as they try to get a penalty, rolling around on the ground clutching their head after someone brushed their ankle, takes away from the game for me. I know there are rules in place to try to weed it out, but it seems to be one those things that is accepted as part of the sport, and causes little shame to players.
It’s similar to the widespread practice in cricket of players not walking when they know they are out, and, far from hiding it, making excuses for why it is okay, or even smirking about it in post-game interviews. And yet, I’ve never heard a convincing explanation as to what the difference is between not walking when you are out and claiming a grassed catch that you know wasn’t cleanly taken when you are fielding.
Every sport has its examples of acts that may not step over but certainly push the rule boundaries while being generally accepted by players and fans. Often it is players doing the right thing that make the headlines—remember Adam Gilchrist walking in a World Cup final?—and even attract criticism from other players.
This may in part come down to the sheer amount of money at stake these days, where doing the right thing may potentially cost not only the game, but millions of dollars. But perhaps we need to ask ourselves what else it is costing us. Is it this mindset that creates a chain that ends in players seeing the stakes as so high it justifies more serious violation of the rules…like ball-tampering or using their hands in soccer to score a goal?
In the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16), Jesus tells us that how we behave in the small things says as much about us as the big things. Diving, or not walking, may not seem like a big deal in the scheme of things but in the end they may impact us and others more than we think.