Notepad on Life

October 22, 2012

Swooning and diving before football’s villains – this is how morality dies

Filed under: Sport — - @ 10:07 pm
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Spiked (magazine) logo

Spiked (magazine) logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not the sight of wrong ‘uns doing what they do that makes you fear for your country. It’s the sight of people who should know better, declining to fight the good fight

All week, I’ve tried to persuade myself that Spiked columnist Duleep Allirajah is simply guilty of ‘columnist cop-out’ in defending cheating in football; a common condition whereby writers hard up against a deadline and struggling for a coherent idea, simply turn a norm on its head and play devil’s advocate for a thousand words or so.

I want to think that’s all it was because the alternative view of Diving: let’s get real about simulation is too depressing to countenance. Man encounters badness: decides fighting against it is too much of a chore, so elects to accept it and tart it up as something quite charming, in the hope of fooling others as much as he has himself.

 “…do we really need tough action to stamp out diving? Or should we just accept that diving is here to stay and perhaps even learn to embrace the dark art of playacting”

He is by no means alone in this, it must be said. It is the gameplan of moral relativists everywhere, so ornately presented that for a few fleeting seconds, it sounds like a breath of fresh air. Only there’s no suppressing the kind of stench they are trying to hide. Just pick at the seams of their rhetoric and it quickly comes apart.

Just four paragraphs in, Allirajah’s desperation is apparent. Our distaste at cheating in Britain is, wait for it, just another tired leftover of Empire. Yawn.

“There is a strong whiff of chauvinism about the demonisation of players like Luis Suarez…Playacting is frowned upon in this country because, well, it offends our peculiarly British sense of fair play. Conning the referee by diving or feigning injury is regarded as a nasty foreign import…

“…Our British distaste for diving is a hangover from the Victorian notion that football is an instrument of moral improvement. Cheating in sport is not just seen as contravening the rules of a game; it is regarded as immoral. Isn’t it time we jettisoned this outdated aristocratic conceit that sport is a civilising force and recognised that it is simply entertainment?

Only if it came from some self-loathing Anglo-Saxon Guardian reader would this sound more pathetic. Living in the past is clearly something of an Achilles heel at Spiked whenever it turns its attention to the national game. I can tell you exactly when I, for one,  moved on from the notion that diving and Johnny Foreigner are exclusively twinned: it was when I saw a British Manchester United player go to ground in questionable circumstances, during a European game. That player left United all of 17 years ago.

And what exactly makes a yearning for fair play a ‘hangover’ from an age gone by? Since when has propriety had a sell-by date? The great majority of Brits want to see honesty among footballers because it’s a desirable state of affairs, not because we’re besotted with Downton Abbey.

The distinguished Washington Post sportswriter Thomas Boswell would be as bewildered by Allirajah’s logic as I am. Boswell argues that morality in sport is not clutter but rather something to be savoured, in what is one of the last areas of western civilisation where people are still unafraid to praise virtue and shout down the crook.

 “During my lifetime,” he wrote, “sports have become one of the primary mediums through which Americans are able and willing to discuss the ethics of everyday life. Is this as pathetic as it sounds at first blush?”

Similarly flawed is the Spiked man’s contention that battling cheats is a unwinnable fight. While football refuses to pull the gloves on, how can any of us know? Only when its administrators institute sanctions of jaw-dropping proportions – two-game ban for a first offence, four for a second, eight for a third etc – and develop the will to defend such measures against even the most rabid manager made mad by self-interest, will we discover just how feasible this conflict is. I know where my money would be.

And if diving is “self-defeating”, one must question why it still goes on. However tenuous their grip on real life may occasionally seem, it’s the business of professional footballers to know their domain; what works out there and what doesn’t. If diving didn’t yield net gains, it would have long ago withered on the vine.

Allirajah seems a confused man, admitting that he is the first to scream “Get up you tart” at the blatant diver, before turning into his principal cheerleader.

“Just as you can’t have good drama without heroes and villains, so we shouldn’t cleanse football of its imperfections. Yes, we need the beauty of Messi but without pantomime villains like Luis Suarez, the drama of football would be diminished.”

If anyone can provide me with an example of an honestly-fought, skilfully-executed six goal thriller that was crying out for a dive or two, I might be prepared to concede this point.

As I say, though, the article could just be columnist cop-out at work.  Take what is right, good and healthy, invert it and wallow in what remains, like pigs in a sty.

If, on the other hand, it genuinely reflects Duleep Allirajah’s position on this subject, then there is only one thing any of us can say to him.

Get up, you tart.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] enough, given that it has form in this area, Spiked led the way with a piece giving floor-space to the argument that we should chill out about […]

    Pingback by Doping in sport – a few cautionary words as the ‘PED Spring’ gathers pace | Notepad on Life — August 30, 2013 @ 12:29 pm | Reply


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