Is World Cup soccer diminished by “flopping”?

Did he fall...or was he PUSHED? Image: Vitgotube,YouTube video still

Did he fall…or was he PUSHED? Image: Vitgotube,YouTube video still

Like billions around the world, I’m watching some FIFA World Cup soccer. The athleticism is amazing: what skill! What fitness! What fun!

Writing in the Washington Post, here’s how Eugene Robinson put it (he likes the look of Chile, by the way):

Midway through the opening round, the whole tournament has been a fiesta of the unanticipated. Favorites are looking shaky, dark horses are rising and the United States is undefeated. After just one match, but still.

Most surprising of all, Americans are watching. Monday’s contest in which the U.S. squad defeated archrival Ghana, 2-1, was watched by 15.9 million viewers on ESPN and Univision. That’s the second-highest viewership ever for a World Cup match — a 2010 contest against England had 17.1 million viewers — and the upcoming U.S.-Portugal match on Sunday could set a new record.

But then there’s the unnecessary drama, something that’s called “flopping” or “taking a dive”, in which players exaggerate or even fake injurious contact in hopes of influencing the referee to call a foul or otherwise skew the outcome.

This has become a standard part of the game for so long that discussing it critically is a mark of naiveté, along the lines of “That’s how it is, where have you been?” Heck, players even train for it.

A recent article in the New York Times suggested the U.S. team disdains flopping, to their competitive disadvantage. That generated counter articles insisting the U.S. team does too flop.

In U.S. News and World Report Stan Vuger called the “Americans don’t flop” claim nonsense – just another excuse for a country unhappy with not being great (in soccer). Veuger argues one need only look at U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a good flopper in his player days. Veuger goes on to dissect the claim that:

…the players he is working with are too honest to make use of his advice. This would be due to some sort of special character trait found only in American athletes, a preference for honorable behavior that also keeps them from using steroids in baseball and football, from exploiting EPO and human growth hormones in cycling, from spying in the NFL and from drawing offensive fouls in the NBA. The problem here, of course, is that seven of the 23 players on the U.S. squad have spent at most a couple of years in the U.S.; the entire rest of their lives were spent in Iceland, Norway or Germany. There is no reason to suspect that they would have been bestowed with a cultural aversion toward “cheating.” And good for them: Not diving when given the chance to get a penalty kick or a red card out of it is a betrayal of your fans similar to not living up to your fiduciary duty toward your shareholders by not managing government relations effectively.

Meanwhile, in the Wire Eric Levenson says “Dissecting American Soccer’s Hatred of the Flop Is a World Cup Tradition.

My favorite part of this debate so far came in a comment on the NYT article from Bruce of nara/greensville:

I OFTEN have this discussion with soccer fans–especially Europeans who LIVE in Europe. I tell them that I grew up in Canada where players break their jaws and maybe miss a game; or you see them spitting their teeth out like chiclets but continuing or; or being stitched; or scoring winning Stanley cup goals with a broken leg. it’s a matter of honour for almost all athletes in the four big money professional pro leagues in Canada to NOT show you’re hurt. can be a problem at times as with concussions but…… sickening to see soccer players act like they’ve been shot and trot on the field seconds later

That prompted eye-rolling from others who say NHL (and other North American pro leagues) can’t claim to be shining examples of pure play and heroic stoicism.

Actually, the NYT comment section contained a really good discussion of the whole topic, and soccer as well. I just love the wording (if not the image) of “spitting teeth out like chiclets”.

So, fellow North American World Cup viewers, does the flopping bother you? Or is it all part of a pretty good time? The U.S. plays again on Sunday. How far do you think they will get, and is anyone willing to pick the eventual winner? I was thinking Germany, but now I’m really unsure.

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16 Comments on “Is World Cup soccer diminished by “flopping”?”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    All forms of cheating are poor sportsmanship and should be penalized whenever possible.
    If they want to have “a pretty good time,” they might want to wear flip-flops and really start flopping around. That would be amusing.

  2. FYI-Most soccer fans like myself hate flopping. The issue, which even most soccer analysts miss, is that there’s so much other cheating in soccer. If the defender grabs a forward’s jersey or bear hugs him or kicks him, that’s viewed as “part of the game” even though, as per the letter of the law, it’s cheating too. How come the defenders can cheat but the forwards can’t? Forwards view flopping not as gaining an advantage but as merely evening things up. If you don’t deal with defenders cheating, you won’t get rid of flopping.

    Still, there’s a lot more contact permitted in soccer than in the NBA.

  3. If you grab my shirt and I go down “too easily,” is that cheating on my part, even though I would never get the call I deserve without it? Refs need to call fouls when forwards try to stay on their feet. Otherwise, you reward cheating defenders and punish honest forwards. It’s a lot more nuanced than just “punish floppers.”

  4. dave says:

    It is a problem in hockey too. There, it is widely considered a way of trying to draw a penalty, and is (rightly, in my opinion) very much looked down upon… not only by fans, but by most players too. Notorious and repeat floppers get dealt with in that special way that only hockey still allows.

    I get that there is a cat and mouse game of calls/no calls that go on in sports like this. A jersey tug here, an elbow there. Everyone tries to get away with what they can and push the limits. But flopping to me is taking it one step too far. To me it goes beyond competing at the limits (or sometimes just beyond the limits) of the rules and enters the realm of actual cheating.

  5. Dave: I disagree. That’s the sort of hypocrisy divers seize upon to justify diving. Some cheating is better than others. No, it’s not. Grabbing a shirt or rugby tackling someone is just as much cheating as taking a dive. Until that hypocrisy is rectified, divers will always feel justified in, as they see it, merely evening things up.

  6. dave says:

    Treating different infractions differently is not hypocrisy.

    It is the way sports work.

    There are differences in fouls. There are magnitudes of infractions. Of course you realize that, so implying that all “cheating” is the same doesn’t make much sense.

    A physical battle for a loose ball that involves some shirt grabbing or a hard tackle is in no way on the same level as someone flopping around on the ground in faux agony when they were never even touched. The latter is a degree of deceptive and dishonesty way beyond the former. I don’t know how anyone could argue otherwise. In every other sport that I can think of that behavior is rightly looked down upon as dirty and pathetic.

  7. dave says:

    A baseball example…

    It is the difference between a hitter who crowds the plate and does not try to get out of the way of an inside pitch.

    And a hitter who drops to the ground and rolls around in fake agony to try to get the umpire to think it hit him.

    Both of those players have broken rules, but I think most people would agree that the second hitter has taken it to a whole new level. It is a silly, goofy spectacle, and – to speak to the title of this blog post – it absolutely diminishes the sport when participants are allowed to do things like that over and over again.

  8. Dave: In most cases, defenders cheating ARE trying to get away with it. That’s why they try to conceal shirt grabbing, surreptitious kicks to the heels, etc. It’s proven by the fact that they argue voiciferously no matter how obvious the foul.

    Cheating isn’t just breaking the rules. It’s doing so and trying to get away with it. Going in on a slide tackle and just being a step slow is not cheating because you’re trying to play the ball. Intentionally fouling someone on a break away is not cheating because you do so knowing full well that there will be a consequence (“taking one for the team” so to speak). Grabbing a forward’s jersey outside the ref’s view IS cheating, just as is diving. Diving will continue as long as other comparable forms of cheating are ignored or, worse, excused.

  9. Scenario: I’m a forward and you’re a defender. I’m going for the ball. You give my jersey a tug in a way the ref doesn’t see. Not enough to make me fall down but enough to prevent me from reaching the ball.

    If I’m honest and stay on my feet, I don’t get the call (because that’s how the game’s officiated… no tumble, no call). Your dishonesty is rewarded and my honesty is punished. Does this encourage fair play?

    If I feel the tug and go to ground, I do get the call. My diving may be dishonest but it compensates for your dishonesty. In the end, it results in the correct call being made.

    So why is your action acceptable within this mythical, unwritten code but mine, in the 2nd instance, horrible cheating?

    The real solution is, yes, to punish all forms of cheating (including, but not limited to, diving) but also to call fouls in situations when the attacking player attempts to stay on his feet. Reward honesty rather than punish it.

  10. Dave Kelly says:

    FIFA Laws of the Game – Rule 12 …Unsporting Conduct: Attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)

    Players do get penalized for diving!

  11. Jeff says:

    The deficiency in soccer is at the very least the touch judges cannot call fouls. Alternatively at least a second on field judge is needed for more eyes on the shirt grabbing, pushing and hugging. At least this should be applied in amateur sports. I see enough games with vicious shoving from behind, outright blocking and tripping both near and away from the ball that doesn’t get called and it is dangerous. High school kids who will never get a scholarship can be permanently injured. I saw better sportsmanship when I played college rugby. Some of the issues stem from unskilled judges or judges in poor physical condition and do not follow play. But despite that, there is a lot they cannot see.

    The opposition would gripe that it would slow the game. Soccer is not the safe sport advocates would have us believe either.

  12. Jeff: In fact, the assistant refs can signal any foul or infraction they see. At the higher levels, like WC, there is microphone communication between the assistant refs and the central (main) ref. It is very rare that the central ref ignores or overrules his assistants. So the deficiency you cite may exist at the lower levels of the game but certainly does not exist in the higher levels.

    (And it’s worth noting, there are two sideline officials, a fourth official between the benches and, in certain European club matches, two de facto goal line judges… thus making as many as 5 assistants plus the main ref)

  13. Also consider that we have a top player who REPEATEDLY (three times now) bites fellow professionals and it’s diving that enrages us?!

  14. To clarify: only the central ref can WHISTLE a foul but the assistants can and do signal any infractions they see to the central ref.

  15. Pete says:

    Flopping is so pitiful. Not seeing much soccer myself, I could barely stand to watch the wimps on the field. They could at least stop the clock when the floppers are flopping. Maybe if the USA would get their asses off the ground they could have prevented Portugal from scorring or scored another goal.

  16. Mike (mees) says:

    I am trying to watch the soccer but the flopping generally makes me turn the channel. Flopping is hard to watch in any sport. I thought the NBA was bad until they started penalizing it and the NFL is trying to stop it since teams are trying to slow down the fast pace no huddles but soccer players have got to be the biggest sissies in any sport.

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