Of course, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't watched any of the 2014 World Cup, however last night's biting incident with Suarez was quite enough to push me over the edge.
Watching the behaviour of professional football (or soccer, if you like) players has become so sad and dishonest, it's beginning to become a struggle to be able enjoy watching the game or take it seriously. Embellishment, diving, cheating, or whatever you want to call it, has truly become a disease on the game. You are unlikely to watch a game these days without hearing the commentator make a statement like "Oh! And the referee is not buying it, the player went down a bit too easily". In almost every single match, you will see players go to the ground holding some part of their body, behaving as if they are in absolute agony, only to get up moments later charging back at the ball. How have we gotten to this point? How is that the stadiums and pubs continue to fill up for games while we witness this blatant dishonesty?
This is not to say that the game isn't rough, and that there aren't legitimate injuries. Having watched and played the game myself since childhood, I am all too familiar with how rough the game can be as the stakes rise. I suffered a torn knee ligament playing football years ago, which required reconstructive surgery and 12 months of rehab, it was pain I would wish on no one. Football is inherently a rough game, but this does not make it acceptable to cry wolf.
This particular subject has seen a lot of discussion in the media in recent times, with many fans and commentators trying to find some way to justify the players' conduct or talk about ways to deal with the problem. One such justification is that if the players do not go down or make embellishments when they are fouled, then it's much more likely that the foul will not be called. The so-called "damned if you do, damned if you don't" argument. This line of thinking is a very slippery slope that can be applied to many team sports, and it really only leads down the path we are seeing the game of football go towards today. Players embellishing left, right & centre. Then you no longer have a sport, but a battle of who can extract the most sympathy from the referee. And to some, this has just become part of the way the game is as they see it, and it is not so black and white -"it's complicated" they say. We should question those who see it that way; question if they understand what sport is about.
One charge often levelled against North Americans who accuse football of being a game of diving and whining is that "You don't understand the game, it's all part of The Beautiful Game. Your North American athletes are all wearing big pads, no wonder they don't get hurt. They are the wimps". Nonsense. Anyone making such a statement ought to spend a bit of time watching some professional rugby. Here you will find a demonstration sportsmanship and toughness like no other. For those familiar with the NHL, you'll know that we routinely see players throw themselves in front of 90mph hockey pucks to block shots. Granted, NHL players are wearing some padding, but much of the padding is not hard-shelled, meaning your protection from a 90mph frozen rubber puck will be minimal in many cases. Having experience this before, I can assure you that getting a hard kick to the shins or a fast moving football to the gut is far preferable to the pain a hockey puck can deliver.
But has the game always been like this? Most certainly not. On YouTube one can find many videos of football games from the 1970s, and the contrast to today's game is remarkable. 40 years ago you are much more likely to see players jumping to escape after they know they've had the ball taken from them with a quality tackle. Nowadays, any excuse to go down and most players will take it, especially in the penalty area.
So what can be done? The embellishment has gradually worked its way into the game over time, and slowly people have become adjusted to it. But why do fans tolerate it? Why do they still watch? As John Oliver recently pointed out, people love the game so much that it's like a religion. There has been some talk of retrospective penalties being handed out to players for diving, however this is unlikely to happen as long as the fans keep filling the stadiums. Professional football in its day-to-day form is a business, and as long as the money keeps flowing in, there will be little incentive for giving severe penalties to the players. So you love the sport so much, even though it's tainted with dishonesty and unsportsmanlike conduct? This is a direct reflection on the integrity of the fans and of the governing bodies of the sport. Football fans should be standing up and demanding better attitudes from the players, and harsh retrospective penalties for fake injuries. Boycott the game if that's what it takes; the game could return to being "The Beautiful Game" once more.