FIFA’s complaints box in their Zurich head office must be getting pretty full lately. An on-going reputation for unfulfilled promises and glaring blemishes in football seem to call the attention of all but those that wield the wand of power. Amongst calls for goal line technology stretching way back to Wembley 1966, gamesmanship has reared its ugly head once again. It is an aspect that is unfortunately part and parcel of the modern game, with players diving, playacting, and feigning injury, and certain managers even encouraging it. The Swindon manager Paulo Di Canio is the latest to admit encouraging his players to take a tumble in the box under the lightest of touches.
What game would be complete without a mob of players surrounding the referee or the infamous invisible card gesticulation? While some transgressions are more notorious than others and some occur on a more regular basis, all must go, and it is FIFA’s job to do that. A culture has developed where rules are being allowed to stretch to breaking point, with no repercussions for those who offend. Gamesmanship is not illegal and thus utilised by anyone and everyone when the time suits in order to gain an upper hand over an opponent. Fans are just as responsible for its persistence, violently denouncing it when their team is the victim, but averting their gaze in indifference if their side offends and benefits accordingly. There should be no distinctions. No classes of offence. All must go.
Recently playacting has hit new heights. Take this years Africa Cup of Nations where Equatorial Guinea midfielder Narcisse Ekanga fell to the ground after a nothing challenge and after looking left and right to see a free kick has not been awarded, throws his head back, screaming and rolling around on the floor. No gunshot had been fired. He was fine and succeeded in embarrassing himself and the sport.
Similarly, the recent El Classico was reflective of how dire the situation is. Praised and marketed as supposedly the greatest game on the planet, both Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to showcase everything that is wrong with football. In no fixture is a referee more shamefully pressurised than when these two meet. They must be reminded who is in charge. Amongst the diving and persistent fouling, it was Madrid’s Pepe who took the spotlight, erupting in agony at a gust of wind. In a tussle with Fabregas, the Catalonian’s apparent touching of Pepe’s chest caused the defender to go down holding his face. Either this shows that his nervous system is completely different to all humans, or he is a shameful cheat, attempting to get a fellow professional dismissed. FIFA must assert itself and remind the football super powers that they are not the law.
It appears at present that the governing bodies take no definitive stance on the issue. UEFA banned Arsenal’s Eduardo for two Champions League games in 2009 for diving against Celtic, but this was an anomaly, with most infringements going unpunished. The sceptics will say that it is impossible to punish all cases; however, the punishment of the few will lead to the realisation of the many. A mandatory three game ban for all acts of gamesmanship, from diving to surrounding the ref, would quickly remove the problem. Whilst appearing harsh, it is a necessary step FIFA must take to bring pride and respect back to the game.