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Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo lies on the pitch after being hit by a ball, kicked at him by Turkey's Hakan Unsal, during the World Cup in 2002. The ball hit Rivaldo in the leg, but he went down clutching his face. (DESMOND BOYLAN/Reuters)
Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo lies on the pitch after being hit by a ball, kicked at him by Turkey's Hakan Unsal, during the World Cup in 2002. The ball hit Rivaldo in the leg, but he went down clutching his face. (DESMOND BOYLAN/Reuters)

The dive Add to ...

It's going to happen. You know it and I know it. At some point in this tournament, with the whole world watching, a player will take a dive. Somebody will engage in play-acting of an extravagantly transparent design.

The tut-tutting will start. We'll hear some guy on TV, probably from England, who will be all bluster and denunciation. The game will be declared to be in disrepute. Standards lowered. Somewhere in the denunciation, in the outrage or in the subtle subtext, there will be a suggestion that what the diving, play-acting international soccer player has done is unmanly. Unworthy. Not sporting.

This outrage is just posturing. It is absurd and petty-minded. Some players dive. Just get used to it.

Soccer is the world's game, not ours. It's not a traditional North American sport, nor is it England's game any more. The rules of the game are the same wherever the grass grows, but the culture is different. That's the way the world exists and evolves, outside of soccer and inside it. Sometimes, when I hear those thundering denunciations of the histrionics that some players employ, I am reminded of the archetypal American tourist who fails to see why there can't be a Kentucky Fried Chicken or a Starbucks in every city in the world. I am also reminded of Don Cherry. You know how it all goes - the suspicion of difference. Things should be the same, the world over, darn it. But they're not, in reality. As citizens of the world we know that difference is a blessing and curse.

The fact is, in some countries, mainly Latin nations, soccer is as much theatre as it is athletic endeavour. A win can be achieved by a cunning ruse, and that's okay. It is part of the game there. They don't give a rodent's posterior if some English guy disapproves. They don't care if some barking bumpkin on TV believes the fantasy ethics applied to NHL hockey, Major League Baseball or NFL football have been breached. The play-acting players don't need to show that they are "manly" by adhering to some redneck North American guy code of ethics. They are men. They intend to win. By any means necessary.

Players from countless countries do it really. At the 1998 World Cup, Slaven Bilic of Croatia cost Laurent Blanc a place in the final by exaggerating a nudge in the chest into a blow to the face, during France's 2-1 semi-final win. Bilic is now the manager of Croatia, and beloved. In 2002, there was the Brazilian Rivaldo's spectacular play-acting in a game against Turkey. Turkish defender Hakan Unsal kicked the ball hard at Rivaldo, who was about to take a corner kick. The ball hit Rivaldo's leg, but he fell down clutching his face. The referee sent Unsal off.

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal flirted with outright Oscar-winning dramatics on several occasions. Then in the third-place game against the host Germans, he breezed past three defenders, superbly, but threw himself to the ground in an outrageous bit of acting. It was comical.

Bilic, Rivaldo and Ronaldo have never apologized, never owned up to cheating. They regret nothing, we can assume. Nor should they.

Watching the World Cup should remind us that we have a smug, small-minded notion of fairness, sportsmanship and manliness hereabouts. A very WASP-ish one. We treat professional sports games as life lessons, but in truth prefer them to be more fictional, like Hollywood movies. Most professional hockey, NFL and MLB games have become so tidy they're a tad unreal. The recent fuss over a missed call by umpire Jim Joyce and alleged insult to Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga only illustrated the popular frustration with intrusion of messy reality into fantasies.

The perplexity expressed by North American sports fans about diving and play-acting is also, maybe, an expression of frustration with multiculturalism. That's an issue that emerges through sports all the time, if we are willing to admit it. In some countries and cultures it is more acceptable to exaggerate, to bluff, to be disingenuous for the sake of saving face, for family or for country. And yet in ordinary life and business we learn to accommodate that and each other. We make allowances. That is the strength of our culture.

In sports, bizarrely, we are less accommodating. Some nodded sagely in agreement when Don Cherry famously declared, on the matter on visors in the NHL, "Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys." The unmanly guys, in other words. When diving and play-acting is he focus of frustration with soccer, it's actually much the same. Too often, in the case of the British TV commentators foisted on us here, it's a matter of demonizing the Latino.

Of course, FIFA, soccer's governing body, could try harder to curb diving. More consistent refereeing. Instant red card for the guy whose simulation of a foul was blatant. The World Cup would be better for that.

But it's a big world and we can all be big-minded people about diving. Sometimes it's just theatre, as all sports can become. Sometimes we have to be tolerant and move on. The World Cup is the biggest sports event on the plant. Applying our small notions about manliness and sportsmanship is unsophisticated and small. Get over it.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle


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