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Friday, July 02, 2010

Football - the world's most immoral sport

Football:  A sport where morals and ethics are irrelevant

Tomorrow is the start of the Tour de France.  For the next three weeks, media coverage will comprise a mix of adulation and condemnation.   Adulation for the efforts of men who propel themselves over 3,000km of mountains, cobbles and windy flat roads in the world's most demanding sporting event.  And condemnation because all the while, people will question the validity of their performances.  Are they doped? To what extent does success in cycling equate with success at avoiding doping controls?

And here on The Science of Sport, we've been as harsh as anyone on the sport of cycling.  And with reason.  Cycling has a problem of its own making, and its refusal to address its own problem eventually led to media and sponsors threatening withdrawal.  And only then, amid much kicking and screaming, did cycling begin to turn a corner.

Cycling is still burdened by its doping past, make no mistake, and the legacy of its "great" champions means it will forever be questioned - again, this is a deserved reputation.  But it has certainly improved - the efforts of the biological passport and the invasive testing and the sponsors have gradually begun to control the extent of doping in the peloton.  As we will see over the next few weeks, the power outputs produced by the winners are coming down.  They are now "physiologically believable".  And for this, anti-doping efforts deserve some credit.

However, today, I felt the need to comment on another sport, which is, without doubt, more corrupt, more fraudulent and more immoral than cycling.  That sport is football - a sport that is completely without morals and an ethical code. 

This is a post I've been meaning to write for some time.  Ever since the World Cup began, I've commented on the irritation I feel at the diving, the play-acting, the cheating and the open dishonesty of players.  The referees are part of a 'script' that rewards this cheating, and the game is poorer for it.  And then just the other day I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, and he was sharing that he finds it impossible to enjoy watching football, because the fraud leaves such a bad taste in the mouth.  And as the tournament has progressed, I find myself more and more in agreement.

A rugby paradigm applied to football - it just doesn't work

My friend Colin comes from a rugby background, a sport which still has values.  And I think it's important for people reading this to appreciate that if you are from a rugby background, the notion that a player will charge up to a referee and insist on a yellow or red card is completely foreign.  In fact, the notion that players will even challenge a refereeing decision is unheard of in rugby.

A player who goes down and exaggerates the extent of an injury to gain an advantage would be ridiculed in rugby.  In football, he is celebrated.  In football, referees command absolutely no respect from players.  They are tools to be deceived rather than officials to be respected.  And before you point out that basketball shares this trait, do yourself a favour and watch 58 games of World Cup Football, and you will see the difference.

Football is a disgraceful fiasco which rewards cheating, even glorifying it. And I enjoy watching football, but I cannot bring myself to respect it.  The fervor of the fans, the passion, the colour and the celebration of skill make the sport worthy of watching.  However, the shenanigans around cheating, and the glorification of that cheating, destroy my respect for the sport and its players.

From the first whistle to the last, players in football will seek to gain any advantage, no matter what level of cheating it requires.  If two players are attempting to win the ball near the sideline, and it ricochets off one of them, then BOTH will appeal to the referee for a throw-in.  One of them is lying, and thus cheating.  Yet it happens 100% of the time.  If a player is tackled, he will go to ground.  Guaranteed.  And the referee will react, also guaranteed.   Today, in the Brazil v Netherlands match, Arjen Robben launched himself over the tackler with a clearance that the Olympic high-jump champion would be proud of.  The referee bought it, awarded the free-kick, and the game changed from that point.  This is not an isolated incident.  Penalties are won by dives, players are sent off thanks to play-acting (just ask the Ivory Coast for their diabolical cheat against Brazil), and generally, matches resemble the WWE more than they do a competitive sports event.

The other day, I completed a survey being done by researchers in the UK, looking at public perceptions of cheating in football.  The survey wanted to know my thoughts on whether the behaviour is cheating, and whether it is typical of the sport, or whether only certain teams do it.  The answer is that it's pervasive.  Every team, and most players, will seek to gain any advantage by cheating.

What is the difference between football and cycling?

And the tragedy is that the media glorifies it, the fans idolize it, and in general, it is praised rather than condemned.  Now, I can't see the distinction between this cheating and what happens in cycling.  I don't see how diving to win a free-kick or get an opponent sent off is any different to manipulating the system to get away with doping.  Yet it one sport - football - it is glorified, while in another, it dominates conversation.  Quite why this is is beyond me.

Cycling is a sport that, for all its faults, still has some code of behaviour that makes it almost noble.  If the race leaders crashes, the peloton waits, even if the Tour is at stake.  The group agrees to slow down for feeding stations and bathrooms breaks.  And sure, there are occasions where personalities affect the behaviour of the peloton (the Simeoni incident with Armstrong comes to mind as an ugly incident).  But in general, cycling is a peculiar mix of cheating through doping and honesty and sportsmanship.

In football, there is no redeeming value.   The most celebrated footballers of the current World Cup are its most celebrated primadonnas.  Ronaldo dived more two in three times that he ran with the ball.  Didier Drogba collapses like a matchstick man when he feels the breath of an opponent on him.  Arjen Robben exerted himself more rolling on the floor than he did running.  Yet these men are superstars.  They should be jeered off the field in disgrace.

If I were a footballer (and I played a little in my time), I would be so irate at the first opponent to tries to cheat by diving that I'd be liable to lash out at him and get myself sent off. Yet it happens all the time and collectively, the sport embraces it.  Referees must take much of the blame, but ultimately, FIFA are responsible for the decay of the sport into this realm of immorallity, cheating and dishonesty.

And frankly, it is shameful.  It devalues the sport and its athletes.  Yet FIFA is entirely complicit, because retroactive censure for these players could go a long way to stamping it out of the game.  Most footballer followers are equally complacent - they shrug their shoulders and accept it.  "It's part of the game".  Referees buy it, all the time.  FIFA does nothing to prevent it.  And players exploit the system.

Ultimately, football may be the "beautiful game", but given the degree of fraud and cheating that goes on in it, it is the immoral game.  There is no beauty in what we have seen in the first 58 games of this World Cup, only the sour taste that  remains when you've consumed something that should taste good, but for some reason, just tastes spoiled.

Ross

80 Comments:

Michael McBeth said...

Interesting and timely comments! I come from a hockey (ICE hockey) background and feel the same way. The diving element came into hockey with the arrival of european hockey players and they certainly got it from football. The European players brought a number of great improvements to the game, but this element I don't thank them for.

Thankfully there is still enough of the former ethic that penalties have been added for embellishment, and they are being given more frequently. There is zero respect for the practice of "diving" so it is somewhat controled in spite of the obvious and immediate advantage when it works.

If there would be a will then a series of yellow cards and red cards could severely limit the practice, but I wonder if that will exists on a wide enough basis to enforce it. My (German) Wife laughs at the naivety of Canadians when I express these sentiments: maybe there is a cultural factor too!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Michael

Thanks for the comments. What kind of culture approves of that behaviour? I mean, I've been very harsh on cycling in the past, because a big part of its doping problem is its culture, one that evolved over time and eventually led to doping being accepted as "normal". Perhaps the same is in play for football...?

But I can't fathom how these players are role-models and heroes. It's fraud. And I guess it gradually creeps into the game and becomes accepted by the fans, even if they know it to be wrong. Such is life, such is the sport.

Even the players, while frustrated, don't seem to upset about it. If I were playing and my opponent faked a dive to get me booked, I would explode, and speak out about it. Yet in football, it's gone and forgotten. Really amazing.

At the risk of being over-dramatic, I think it is a symptom of a deeper problem of corruption and the decay of the moral fabric of the sport, led proudly by its godfather Sepp and his FIFA machine.

I enjoy watching the game, but respect? That's for real sportsmen, with a shred of nobility in them. Maybe I'll cheer for Lionel Messi, he seems to stand alone as a competitor.

Ciao!
Ross

Rod Diaz said...

Fully in favour of retroactive penalties (suspensions) for diving. Or even better, video replay. There is too much at stake now and I fully agree that the game I love is becoming worse than the WWE.

Eric Grossman said...

How can you reconcile your scientific materialism with this moral stance? Athletes succeed by doing what works. While I would also prefer that football be played standing up, I try to check my moral outrage. Why not call (dispassionately) for rule changes -- such as video review and penalties for diving -- that will reinforce the valued strategies for a well played match?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Eric,are you serious?

"Moral outrage"? I'm giving an opinion.

I've called many times in the comments on this blog, and on our twitter feed for rule changes, and I'm doing it again.

I'm not sure what "scientific materialism" has to do with this - this post is clearly not an analysis but an opinion piece. I really don't understand your reaction.

I think the sport is deplorable. And if you can explain to me why cycling is treated as a tainted and football not, despite a level of cheating that is more pervasive and more influential to the outcome of the match, then I'd love to hear it.

But 'moral outrage'? It's my opinion.

Ross

Steve said...

I totally agree. Either football players are the most fragile beings on the planet (merely falling to the ground causes immense pain apparently) or they are acting most of the time. They put the NBA to shame. It takes the fun out of it for me most of the time.

Anonymous said...

To Eric

I'm a scientist. I must have missed the lecture on how being a scientist disqualifies one from expressing an opinion. You perceive that opinion to be one of moral outrage. I look at it as a very well expressed opinion with a bit of passion, which is refreshing and compelling.

I also missed the one that explains what "scientific materialism" means...and how in the heck must we reconcile that with our 'moral outrage'? That's gibberish...

I find this piece extremely compelling. I think it asks very good questions, that demand an answer. This post is a call for retrospective rule changes. It makes a refreshing change from the dry and completely ineffective rubbish that we'd be reading if your approach was followed: "Dear reader. Soccer would be better off if the authorities punished players for simulation. It would improve the quality of the game if video reviews were used to issue cards retrospectively". That'll go down really well. That is saying nothing. I prefer this approach - Ross, keep it up.

And if you read the site regularly, you'll know these opinions are not new.

Clarke

Eric Grossman said...

I just recently found your site, and I've been studying your '08 series on fatigue. Most provocative because it integrates the mechanisms of mind with the mechanisms of physiology -- and yields a helpful approach to vexing mind/body problems. I'd say that's scientific materialism. I was only suggesting that you tackle moral problems with a similar openness!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Eric

I don't see any difference between this post and that series, though. They're all driven by the same thought process and desire to express opinion. The content is different, sure, but in my mind, there's no difference, no distinction between them.

In fact, this post challenges the merits of an entire sport, I'd say it's very open-minded. It's just very expressive. But the same mind produces it, which is why I wrote that I don't understand the conflict between the two.

Ross

Marc Hansen said...

The fact that cycling still has some "noble" inclinations means there is still hope.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Marc

It does indeed. I think cycling has hope because of the efforts of people who genuinely believe in that concept of fair competition. For its failures (which are primarily the failures of the authorities governing it), it's still a great sport and the Tour a great event.

That doesn't mean it's given a 'pass', but you're absolutely right. If it was beyond hope, there'd be no point even criticizing it, let alone celebrating it!

Ciao
Ross

Thom said...

It seems the sport has degenerated quite a bit over the past 30 years or so. I don't recall the greats of the '70s and '80s going in for play-acting. Maybe I was just too young at the time to recognize it? All the same, I was disgusted by the petulant behavior of the players at the last World Cup and haven't watched since. 'Tis a pity.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

TO the anonymous poster whose swearing-filled comment I've now deleted:

Reference to "ruled by dopers" is to the sport's authorities who have watched and condoned doping since the 1960s, when the problem first started for the sport, and who control it today.

Ross

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

TO the anonymous poster whose swearing-filled comment I've now deleted:

Reference to "ruled by dopers" is to the sport's authorities who have watched and condoned doping since the 1960s, when the problem first started for the sport, and who control it today.

You may disagree with that, fine. But I'd love to hear views on it.

Ross

Ralph said...

And then suarez robs us of an African semi final place - your post was uncanny... He's been a blatant cheat all thru the tournament and his celebrations show he has no moral fibre whatsoever. Ghana go out with their heads held high. Sin bins and citing must be introduced to manage the footballing trash.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ralph

Watching those scenes of a player hoisted on the shoulders as a match-winner for committing a deliberate foul, that leaves a very rotten taste in the mouth.

As for the timing,the way the sport is now, you could do this post any time and it would have uncanny timing - this kind of thing seems to punctuate every match. It's sad.

Ross

Fanch said...

This post couldn't arrive at a better time, after Suarez' act. And athletes are supposed to be role models for our Youth?

Kelly said...

Amen to that guys! I was having the same conversation with friends the other day. We have watched the World Cup unfold with disbelief at how blatant cheating is rewarded. And we too find it hard to regard the game with any credibility.

Interesting to note that here in Australia, the Australian Football League (AFL) has just introduced penalties (usually a fine) for players who stage for free kicks. It's not a major problem in AFL, but they are obviously moving to eliminate it entirely before it goes anywhere near the farcical levels of soccer/football.

sj42 said...

It seems every sport that has major sponsorship faces these issues. With the additonal problem of true athletic effort being unrecognised due to lack of an objective method of scoring, the learned helplessness in football players is the predictable outcome..

It has been said that when the unrealistic demands of entertaining the public becomes the focus of a sport rather than the true biological limits defined by reality, all types of cheating and other violations come into play.

In equine sports such as racing, the athletes can be discarded when used up. Recently a Olympic medal-winning equestrian spoke on this issue, and stated that there needs to be more regulation of the sport by medically oriented rather than PR/sponsor types of supervisors.

JMP said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Soccer (fĂștbol) was the first sport I played for which I exhibited some naturally affinity, before giving myself over to cycling. Thankfully my personally story isn't representative of anything other than an anecdote, b/c as a young soccer player, I would never have considered it acceptable to take a dive - it was something our coaches instilled an abhorrence of in us. Yet as a cyclist I participated fully in the worst of the doping. And yet you're right - during one international stage race, when the leader crashed at the same moment that several of his rivals planned to attack, they forfeited their opportunity and quite sincerely eased the pace and waited for the yellow jersey to regain the bunch.

aluchko said...

I was actually going to write a comment on this a few stories back, but didn't post it as I felt it would be offtopic.

Now that it's decidedly on-topic these are my thoughts.

I think there's a big correlation between the degree of physical contests in a sport and the honour in the sport.

North American football and hockey both have very low levels of diving, exaggerated injuries, whining to officials, and the other problems you mentioned.

NA Football has tackles and blocking, hockey has bodychecks and to a lesser extent partially endorsed fighting. These battles are critical to the outcome of the game and the more you can intimidate and gain confidence over your opponent the better you do.

Now consider a player diving or exaggerating injury, all they're doing is telling the other team "hey! that's too rough! you're hurting me!". Possible gains in penalties are negated by the fact you just motivated the other team.

When I thought of this hypothesis I figured the obvious test would be rugby, a non-North American sport with a lot of contact. As you pointed out in the post rugby does not have these issues.

Even if the above explanation isn't the right one I definitely the correlation between physical play and honour is there.

So my suggestion to clean up soccer (football). Bodychecks and enforcers!

Anonymous said...

Another article today discusses cycline, and observes that doping leads to a Nash Equilibrium, where all the riders have raised their level (on the assumption they all do it), and then you're all even again, where sportsmanship prevails. In soccer, however, it's not that the players all gain equal advantage, it's that some referees are fooled and some aren't, and also some football cultures don't try it -- I've played since 50 yrs ago with people from all over the world, and encountred great differences in attitude toward this.

That other article --

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-0702-shermer-doping-20100702,0,5483079.story

Gene said...

To state what I think should be obvious, expressing an opinion and expressing moral outrage are not mutually exclusive. Ross, I interpret your repeated opinion on this issue as one of moral outrage. While I think it's misdirected, I take no objection to it as such.

I think the distinction you're making between football and say, basketball, doesn't hold. While the constant complaining about referee's calls is not a feature of college BB, as it is in the pros, players and coaches at all levels definitely try to influence the refs on out of bounds and other calls that are anywhere close - and many that aren't. Constantly and often demonstratively. I don't like that either.

Competitive sports require skill and a great deal of cunning. For an extreme view of this, look up George Orwell's opinion column on the occasion of the Soviet Moscow Dynamos football team on a playing tour of England and Scotland in 1945 (they played Arsenal and a team in Glasgow). The game in London was apparently pretty much a free for all, with the fans booing the refs. Here's a quote from Orwell, a grad of Eton:

"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting."

To me, all the diving and such in football (soccer) is annoying, but small potatoes. The real problem in my view is that the sport is boring most of the time, with lots of running around for little gain, plus lots of holding and violence. And it's structurally organized to enhance this: very limited substitution for time required, too few referees, a long pitch, and probably other things that I don't even notice. In the context of political nationalism (or localism), commercialism, sponsors and big bucks for players, you get what you set up. And football has.

I feel pretty much the same way about pro hockey, American football and, to some fair degree, pro basketball. And I played basketball in high school and college, as well as other sports, so I'm not unsympathetic to a certain amount of cunning.

About today's Uruguay-Ghana match, one commenter here called Suarez's last second poke cheating. It struck me as somewhere between instinctive and smart (given the rules). But what surprised me was that a goal was not awarded to Ghana; Suarez was standing several inches back, and his hands came up close enough to his frame that the ball must have crossed over, if not past the line. I don't know the rules well, but thought the line defined a goal (no one seemed to say anything about it).

Gene said...

Since when are opinion and moral outrage mutually exclusive? Ross, I interpret your opinion on this issue as one of moral outrage, and take no objection to it as such.

I think the distinction you're making between football and say, basketball, doesn't hold. While the constant complaining about referee's calls is not a feature of college BB, as it is in the pros, players and coaches at all levels definitely try to influence the refs on out of bounds and other calls that are anywhere close - and many that aren't. And they do so constantly and often demonstratively. I don't like that either.

Elite level competitive sports require great skill *and* cunning. For an extreme view of this, see George Orwell's opinion column on the occasion of the Moscow Dynamos football team on a playing tour of England and Scotland right after the end of the war in 1945. The game against Arsenal was pretty much a free for all, with the fans booing the refs. Here's a quote from Orwell, who was a grad of Eton:

"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting."

To me, what you're complaining about is definitely annoying, but small potatoes. The real problem in my view is that the sport is boring most of the time, with lots of running around for little gain, plus lots of holding and other types of violence. And it's structurally organized to encourage this: very limited substitution for time required, too few referees, a long pitch, and probably other things that I don't even notice. In the context of political nationalism (or localism), commercialism, sponsors and big bucks for players, you get what you set up. And football definitely does.

I feel much the same way about pro hockey, American football and, to some fair degree, pro basketball. And I played basketball in high school and college, so I'm not unsympathetic to a certain amount of 'cunning.'

Re today's Uruguay-Ghana match, one commentor here called Suarez's last second poke cheating. It struck me as somewhere between instinctive and smart (given the rules). But what surprised me was that a goal was not awarded to Ghana; Suarez was standing several inches back, and his hands came up by his frame, such that the ball must have crossed over the line. Maybe there's a different rule about that, because no one seemed to say anything about it.

Gene said...

Since when are opinion and moral outrage mutually exclusive? Ross, I interpret your opinion on this issue as one of moral outrage, and take no objection to it as such.

I think the distinction you're making between football and say, basketball, doesn't hold. While the constant complaining about referee's calls is not a feature of college BB, as it is in the pros, players and coaches at all levels definitely try to influence the refs on out of bounds and other calls that are anywhere close - and many that aren't. Constantly and often demonstratively. I don't like that either.

Elite sports require great skill and cunning. For an extreme view of this, look up George Orwell's opinion column on the occasion of the Soviet Moscow Dynamos football team on a playing tour of England and Scotland in 1945. The game against Arsenal was pretty much a free for all, with the fans booing the refs. Here's a quote from Orwell (a grad of Eton):

"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting."

To me, all the diving and complaining is annoying, but relatively small potatoes. The real problem in my view is that the sport is boring most of the time, with lots of running around for little gain, and lots of holding and other types of violence. And it's structurally organized to encourage and enhance this: very limited substitution for the time required, too few referees, a long pitch, and probably other things that I don't even notice. In the context of political nationalism (or localism), commercialism, sponsors and big bucks for players, you get what you set up. And football does.

I feel pretty much the same way about pro hockey, American football and, to some fair degree, pro basketball. And I played sports in high school and college, so am not unsympathetic to a certain amount of 'cunning.'

Gene said...

About today's Uruguay-Ghana match, one commentor here called Suarez's last second poke cheating. It struck me as somewhere between instinctive and smart (given the rules). But what surprised me was that a goal was not awarded to Ghana; Suarez was standing several inches behind the front of the goal, and his hands came up close to his frame such that the ball must have crossed over the line. Or isn't that the rule? No one seemed to say anything about it.

Gene said...

Sorry about the repeat posts. I got an error message the first two times, so split the text. Please delete as appropriate.

johnog said...

I'm afraid you're vastly behind the times with regards to Rugby. Aren't you aware of the Bloodgate Scandal in English Rugby Union? Just one article, I'll let you google the rest:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/aug/25/harlequins-williams-bloodgate-blood

Couple this with the systematic drug abuse throughout the sport - steroid abuse is common. HGH use obvious (just look at the changing facial features of many leading athletes in the sport).

In fact the first worldwide GHG ban was in Rugby League:

http://www.cbc.ca/sports/story/2010/02/22/sp-terry-newton.html

And diving? Let's take a trip back to the infamous 1978 Wales-New Zealand match:

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/rugby-union-haden-dived-to-cheat-the-welsh-1179032.html

Conrad said...

Hello Ross and all those who have posted.
I feel compelled to weigh in on this but am too tired to do so in great depth at the moment. It’s been a long week….

On balance, however, I agree with Ross as to being morally outraged.” (I will politely disagree on the aspect of soccer being the most immoral.) I fear that “cheating” and chicanery has always been present in sport in general.

Did not Maurice Garin, winner of the 1903 TDF, get disqualified for allegedly taking train(s) in 1904?
Did not fans of local winners sabotage the roads of the early TDF so their favourite could win?

Do athletes not cheat on a regular basis? I could go on; however, it is not too hard to ferret out a rich history of cheats in sport. I am not convinced that football is any worse than others….but it is certainly easy to see it in action…..

As scientists, the question arises as to whether we should express moral dissatisfaction over sport and society. Or, should we just “stick with the facts” of sport? As to the former, two thumbs up! As to the latter, please feel free to be ashamed for suggesting otherwise.

History is rich with outspoken scientists who have expressed moral criticism surrounding the world as they knew/know it. It easy to find a robust history of scientists taking a moral stance on various aspects life. Please dig in and have a look.

A few examples….
Albert Einstein – ‘arguably’ (please insert rhetorism) a reasonably decent scientist - remarked over the atom bomb and the social implications to society, “The war is won, but the peace is not.” On further commentary, he also remarked, “'When men are engaged in war and conquest,' said Einstein, 'the tools of science become as dangerous as a razor in the hands of a child.' The fate of mankind, he said, depends entirely on our sense of morality.”

Though I do not mean to “pick a fight” with anyone, I do have to say that its not only well within the right of scientists to be outspoken, but it lies with our responsibility to do exactly that. To the point, it is exactly within our obligation to challenge social dogma and frailty as it applies to sport and the world at large.

At the end of the day, speak up! To say nothing begets exactly that - nothing. Cheating will never leave us. If one wants to champion the ‘science of sport,’ one also has to defend it’s dignity,morality, and ethics, regardless if it is perceived as naive, altruistic, or out of place.

For those of you who would like to read more, please see:
http://www.phil.unt.edu/resources/syllabi/fall06/2600/TheMoralResponsibilities.pdf

For those of you who are able to embrace a more satirical view of football, please see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQL-NV5qmBU

aluchko said...

I feel football is particularly susceptible to cheating since a lot of the best legitimate play gets better as you get closer to breaking the rules (offsides and slide tackles).

That being said to me drug cheating feels distinctly different from unsportsmanlike cheating. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't much overlap between the two groups.

pesky said...

@johnog

good points all.

Ross I enjoyed the post nothing like a good polemic to get the juices flowing.

I would take issue with the immorality of the sport though. I think many of the problems come down to different interpretations of what soccer / football actually IS. Is it the tippy tappy zero contact sport which comes from playing on hardened mud in certain countries, or is it the rough and tumble slide-tackling shoulder charging of some of the northern European sides?

It all ties back I believe to the consistency of the application of the rules. Your use of Robben is a good example. He has a choice - stay on his feet and get fouled all game with no recourse, or dive exaggeratedly and get the free kicks he is usually entitled to. There is scant reward in the game for staying upright unless recognition as a "man's man" from the boys down the pub counts as reward.

The rules in soccer / football are simply ill-conceived. The notion that a player who deliberately handles on the goal-line and gets sent off, can turn out to be the game-winner hoisted on his teammates shoulders, is ridiculous and representative of soccer's problems.

If there is a way to stop this diving and gamesmanship, it is to introduce video evidence and penalty goals instead of penalty kicks. France arrived at the finals due to a cheat. Uruguay are in the semis due to a cheat. I'm English, and after the hand of god if an English player cheated in the same manner I would have no problem - the rules and consequences allow it. Morality be damned.

ps you named a lot of high profile players but to my mind some of the biggest offenders at this World Cup have been the Brazilians and Spanish. In real life a person would need an M16 to stop Puyol but he can go down as easily as a Drogba. Ditto Dani Alves for Brazil. I was quite happy to see Brazil get a taste of their own medicine today.

Steve said...

Thanks for deleting the foul language. It's nice to see that as opposed to many message boards on the Internet that are rife with it.

James said...

I think Ralph is conveniently overlooking the deplorable behavior that Ghana exhibited during the waning minutes of their match with the USA. They score a second goal, then proceed to fall over and do their best to waste as much time as possible so that time runs out. Sure, the referee can add time back, but what they did was far worse (IMHO) than Suarez's handball.


"Ralph said...
And then suarez robs us of an African semi final place - your post was uncanny... He's been a blatant cheat all thru the tournament and his celebrations show he has no moral fibre whatsoever. Ghana go out with their heads held high. Sin bins and citing must be introduced to manage the footballing trash."

Chris M said...

I agree with the calls for retroactive punishment of blatant dives. I also like the idea of a sin bin for dives during the game, as well as straight reds for dives in the box. However, I don't agree that the handball at the end of the Ghana/Uruguay match was cheating, at least as I understand it. Cheats break the rules and try to avoid the consequences. Suarez broke the rules to give his team a minute chance of winning, knowing full well that a red card, a suspension (hopefully more than a single game), and a Ghana penalty kick awaited him. It was a simple cost/benefit analysis. True, it was not particularly sporting but it was certainly intelligent. I find it hard to blame a player in a situation like Suarez. As long as no one is trying to deliberately injury another player, I think the rules should be evaluated based on expected return. If the expected return leads to a poor culture of sport, obviously the answer is to make the consequences more harsh. The answer is not to focus on individual players working within the rules to their advantage, as irritating as it that can be.

M said...

You miss the fine points when you compare football to rugby. Football (you call it soccer?) is a skill sport, rugby a contact and force sport. You can win a contest in football based on your skill of handling the ball better and quicker than your opponent, in rugby you can win just by sheer force.
There is a lot of complaining about the so-called cheaters, the (usually) attackers who dive on the slightest touch. But they are the skillful players that come up against people that cannot win from them. Except by breaking the rules. So as they cannot take the ball away following the rules, they break the rules and use force. This is what kills the game. Not the diving itself.
Someone like Arjen Robben is a frail person. He is at his best with the ball at his foot, running at his opponents and passing them by one by one as if they were not there. His opponents know that and will do anything to stop him before getting there. They use force. Arjan knows they are coming for him, and his many injuries during his career so far show that he is right to protect himself. If he does not jump, the leg of the defender will actually kick him and injury him. Why should he stand and be injured, just to have a "fair" free kick?
There is a lot of focus on the diving, and there is definitely a case to make that there is a lot of exaggeration. But there are many skilled people in the game, who are a joy to watch, who are being kicked out by less skilled people who use force to win the match. They are the ones cheating and putting a stop to careers.

thepowerrank said...

Firstly, I completely agree with you that diving in soccer and drugs in cycling are one and the same. I explore this on my site.

And, I hate the diving in football, coming from the American "morally superior" attitude (see link above). (And just for the record, the own goal didn't come directly after Robben's flop; there were a few passes in between.) But I stop way short of calling the beautiful game an immoral sport. In fact, your post reminds of the conservatives soccer haters in America (see last chapter of Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World). The real world isn't like a rugby match, whether the corporate world, academia, or government. Football is the world's most popular game and reflect all that's good and bad about the people on this planet. You're cheating yourself if you let these European floppers leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Ed

Ralph said...

To Gene's question of whether the Ghana incident was actually a goal anyway - it wasn't because the whole ball has to completely cross the whitewash, which it didn't.

But it suggests to me a 3rd improvement to my earlier 2 (citing and sin bins) - the "penalty goal" wherein the referee uses his opinion (which the sport's rules and low-tech supporting rulemakers hold in such high esteem to uphold the passion...) to consider whether the shot would have been a goal if it weren't for the indiscretion. If he, in his sole and potentially flawed opinion thinks it would have gone in, then he should award the goal. Passion would flare like never before - hahaha!

But seriously, and again, it works in rugby, albeit a thuggish game played by gentlemen as opposed to a gentlemen's game played by thugs, as soccer is. It happens in rugby rarely and a penalty is far more common, but the Ghana goal would definitely have qualified for one.

Why are football supporters still complaining about Thierry Henry's goal against Ireland but not about this one? Is there a difference between one cheat who scored a goal and one who saved one? Surely they're equally despicable?

The pundits here on SA TV (the Englishman John Barnes to be specific) just said "that's football" without any debate - it was considered totally acceptable behaviour. (Perhaps he has a similar ethical position on the creditors he has just left behind - he has recently been declared bankrupt).

I like the comment above about the problem being the size of the pitch etc - interesting. It's always struck me that there's a fundamental problem with what might otherwise indeed be a very beautiful game - that it's most often so low scoring, and potentially a lottery.

But of course that's far too radical a change (even I'd admit to that!), and any changes (making the goals just an insy winsy bit bigger..?!) would be more than the 8 voting "luddites" (4 from FIFA, 1 each from England Wales, Scotland and Ireland) who, due to an accident of imperial history, still control the rulebook.

Wayne said...

@Johnog

Dean Richards received a 3-year band for Bloodgate. In football, he would have been a hero.

The Suarez incident last night has left a particularly bitter taste. First, the laws of football are completely incapabable of correcting the situation. Here we have a case where the referee saw exactly what happened and gave every sanction allowed by the rules of football: red card and penalty. In this case, where Ghana would have scored with 100% probability, this is far too lenient a punishment.

In rugby, if an illegal act prevents a probable try then a try is awarded!

Seeing Suarez being lifted onto the shoulders of one of the other players must be one of the most sickening images ever seen on a sports field.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross,
I just want to let know know how much I liked (and agreed) with your analysis. In addition, I completely disagree with the concept of fouling others as an acceptable measure to win the game. I never heard from such a concept in athletics or swimming or most other sports. But since these sports are not very popular (at least not in TV) but football is, I must be part of a quite small minority with this opinion.
Achim from Germany

James H said...

While I agree that rugby players do respect the referee they are constantly cheating as well. Watch any forward and the number of times they cheat is amazing. It's all quite technical and sometimes subtle although it's often violent as well.

I guess you'll have hated the end of the Uraguay game as much as me. We need penalty goals not just penalty kicks for such incidents!

postcardged said...

re; earlier comment about moral outrage.

Your piece may well be an opinion but it's a morally outraged one. This blog describes itself as being "Scientific comment and analysis of sport" but I don't find anything "scientific" or "analytical" in this piece.

Take this passage "Ronaldo dived more two in three times that he ran with the ball. Didier Drogba collapses like a matchstick man when he feels the breath of an opponent on him. Arjen Robben exerted himself more rolling on the floor than he did running." Now while it's true that players do dive that comment was neither scientific of analytical.

Equally lauding a sport like rugby union where players gouge eyes and rake faces when they know the ref can't see it shows that the words chip and shoulder might be used in a carefully constructed sentence about your piece. And believe me I too think football needs to clean it's act up and could learn from the way rugby players accept refereeing decisions but I think the words moral outrage fit your piece just fine.

Sorry.

Adam Beston said...

Thank you for saying this. I quit watching during the first round bc it reminded me of why I quit team sports. Kids in these games do the same things and will even try to hit or pinch you in the sensitive groin area (esp in the post in BBall). I believe it is a scurge that needs to be addressed.

Steve said...

One of the reasons I love running is the goodwill and uprightness that usually exists in competition. It's simple. You run the fastest, and you win the race. Sure, middle distance races have a bit of violence at times, and there's surely some doping that occurs. But you usually don't have complaints to referees and fans don't have to try to come up with reasons to justify athletes' unsportsmanlike actions. It's good for simple-minded people like me. On the other hand, it's also partly why running doesn't make its elite as famous or wealthy.

darklajid said...

Let's put the disclaimer first:
1) I'm failing to get the point
2) I'm living in Germany, the madness here is amazing - but I don't take part. I play football, but I only know about Goals happening during that world cup when I hear the roars in the street..

I think it's interesting, that you try to find an inherent morale, a kind of Gentleman agreement, in a competitive sport. I question that this exists, the more "professional" the sport becomes and the more money is involved.

You pick on the (certainly) bad parts: Diving is not popular at all over here (The german word for that is the same as for a swallow (or "martin"? Tried to look it up..). I think your assessment that this is glorified is completely false, to the point that it almost destroys the whole post in one go. Being caught for that you end up beeing ridiculed and our newspapers are really eager to build up a heap of not really nice comparisions..

With that out of the way and ignoring that I'm convinced that you misinterpret the media coverage as far as I can judge it:

Are you seriously saying that those "better" sports, with "value", don't have grey areas? Considering the difference between our interpretations I assume you talk about a different game of football. Let me put on my rugby commentator's hat to maybe give you the same impression (Disclaimer: Apart from having watched random games in local irish pubs I'm clueless): Hey, that game looks awfully evil to me and even basic tackles seem to be unnecessary hard. I _have_ to believe, that you have a lot of grey area there to abuse the rules, fight the system and use more force than needed, just to gain an advantage. Does this happen? I don't know. I'd bet on it, though..

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Postcardged:

Sorry you feel that science can't express an opinion. It also seems you arrived here expecting a scientific journal. If I had a dollar for the number of times people have posted what you have, whipping out their "it's not science" stick, I'd be sipping Pina Coladas in the Caribbean by now. It's old news.

I use this site to provide my INSIGHT into the sports world. Sometimes the posts are theoretical, like the fatigue series. Sometimes they are analysis, like the marathon performances and the football physiological profile posts. Sometimes they are opinionated - ask Caster Semenya, Oscar Pistorius and the SA MInister of Sport.

I gather you don't follow rugby much? Since you don't seem to know that sure, players gouge and cheat, but a) very rarely - find me these incidents in every game. You can't. and b) they get heavily punished - ask Heaslip who got to sit out for months for use of a knee in contact. Ask any player who gets ONE MONTH off for spear tackles for rucking etc. In football, players simply are not punished.

And, if you read the piece, rather than whipping out the 'How dare you deviate from pure science, let me label this moral outrage because I don't agree with it" stick, you'll have seen that the problem is with the authorities, not necessarily the players.

Finally, I will not apologize for "moral outrage". It is my opinion, one that I feel strongly about. You feel strongly about yours, and you're entitled to. Refer to Conrad's post earlier in this thread for my take on opinion on "non-scientific" events as a scientist.

And I don't see the need for saying "sorry" about that.

Ross

Tom said...

"In fact, the notion that players will even challenge a refereeing decision is unheard of in rugby."

Not true, Sean Fitzpatric as well as other capains were well reowned for their "reffereeing ability", i.e. tellin the reff what to do. McCaw used to be known for pushing the limits of the rules, which lead many to call him a cheat, and others to say that "playing to the reff" is ok. I havent heard much discussion on that topic recently though.

Sure I have never seen a rugby player try to fake an injury to get the opposition penalised or given a yellow, but they certainly have lots to say to the reff.
While rugby players are usually penalised for such conduct, foul play such as Eye gauging, high tackles, spear tackles cetrainly does occur in rugby.
If the officials were less lax on such "imoral" behavior as they are in soccer, one could assume that these incidents would occur more frequently in rugby.

I tend to agree with you on soccer and diving. Rugby is not ruined in such a way, but rugby players are harldy paragons of vertue, who bow to the refere, never make a comment to the ref or try to influence him, and never even dream of infringing whether ref is there to see or not.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Tom

Sure, but there is a massive difference between what happens in rugby and in football. I know a lot of the local referees at the Super 14 and our Currie Cup level, and yes, they tell stories of players who don't stop talking the whole match.

But, they don't charge up to the ref from 30 m away to shout at him. They never surround him to demand a decision be overturned. They don't get in his face screaming. And, the only player allowed to speak to the referee is the captain - Fitzpatrick was, George Gregan was. I have seen many occasions where a penalty is given and a player makes a comment and automatically the penalty is advanced 10m (which in rugby is more significant than football, obviously).

And if the player does not stop, he is eventually yellow-carded. And if a player swears at the ref, yellow carded. You don't have to be a great lip reader to recognize that most decisions in football is met with swearing. Nothing is done.

Also, I agree that players eye-gouge, but I think like Postcardged before, you've missed the point that it's not the players alone who must be condemned, it is the officials who do not enforce the rules by punishing that behaviour. A rugby player who eye-gouges gets 4 to 6 weeks. Dangerous rucking gets red carded on the field plus 6 weeks (ask Jaimie Heaslip of Ireland). So you've hit the nail on the head - the officials are not lax, and that is my point.

Yes, the players dive and cheat, but this post was more about the sport and its treatment of that cheating than of the cheating itself, and I think you've missed that distinction.

Ross

Anonymous said...

Wow, what's all the hassle about?
It's (only) a game...
We'd be in real trouble if this behaviour was normal in daily live!

Greetz
HJ

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross

To Postcardged:

I felt I should add my voice to this debate. I think this post is very opinionated. And I think it's great. I may not agree with the label of it being the least moral sport in the world (that's hyperbole, probably), but I think it's great to see someone who is articulate and analytical go out on a limb and express an OPINION on sport.

It's clear from Ross' response to these kinds of comments that he finds them frustrating and annoying. I've read this site for a long time, and this has indeed been a recurring theme - people who shoot down the subject of a post because they disagree with it, but rather than debate the subject, they attack the tone or style of writing. Oldest trick in the book - a lawyer would be proud.

So common is this criticism that the site even has a section for its "Mission and Vision" where it is explained over and over that it's not a journal, it's opinion and insight, which I believe is always thought through. I'm guessing that Postcard hasn't read any more than this one post.

Unfortunately, Ross and Jonathan, you're victims of your own quality, because by putting your opinions out there you are always going to get narrow-minded readers who respond by criticizing you as scientists. This is, I must stress, an unfair evaluation or judgment. If you wish to criticize Ross' science, then go on Pubmed and search for "Ross Tucker exercise" and spend some time critiquing that instead.

The Science of Sport is great because it's opinionated and says things like they are. When people disagree, unfortunately, the site name gives them reason to criticize a person's credibility, rather than a subject. But rise above that, ignore them and keep up the great work!

Stephen

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Stephen

Thank you for the vote of confidence.

You're right, I do find the "that's not science" criticism very frustrating indeed. The other day I was labelled a poor scientist (with a few choice swear words) by someone, presumably a scientist, and posts like that of Postcardged are very common.

The frustrating thing to me is that when people make that accusation, they have overlooked that this site doesn't exist for scientific research. That's part of what we do, and I'd like to think that our analysis of marathon running, cycling, doping, Caster Semenya-like stories, football, tennis etc adds value to those sports. I sure hope it does.

Perhaps people have the wrong expectation of what we're trying to do, because as I said earlier, the number of times that accusation of "weak science", or "where's the science?" has been thrown out is unbelievable. And what annoys me is that we often point out that we're not there exclusively for that kind of work.

The site started mainly because we were frustrated at the lack of insight provided by mainstream media. Jonathan and I work in an environment where people have a different (if narrower) view on sport, and as people who love sport, we loved to talk about it and analyse it too. The site was a logical extension of that, an attempt to convey to readers (sports fans) an opinion that they don't get from an expert in a TV studio who may miss out some of the detail.

So every single thing we've ever done has one common theme - it aims to add value to the discussion and enjoyment of sport. If this post stimulated a debate around a TV set during the Uruguay v Ghana match, then mission accomplished. It aims to avoid being bland, it aims to provide thoughtful insights into the sport. And this requires opinion, and that's just how it is.

Now, my patience ran out long ago for criticism of lack of science, because we've tried really hard to point out what we're aiming to do. And like you say, Stephen, if people want a science debate, we'll have it through the science journals.

False expectations, perhaps, but it is frustrating. And the worst thing of all is that it deviates from the debate. Suddenly, rather than debating the merits of punishment and censure for cheating, we have to spend 15 minutes deflecting accusations.

A post like this does run that risk, as do posts like those coming up during the Tour de France. I fully expect to hear it much more.

But no matter, as long as some people are finding value in hearing an insight that they can't get from the local paper, then it's worth continuing.

So thanks for your support and enthusiasm.

Ross

Anonymous said...

have followed similar back and forth on several issues on this site and I think the issue is one of the sites mission vs the two very different types of comment and insight you give here: some very analytical and fact derived, others purely personal feeling and wider personal interpretation of situations (sometimes with a factual base). Both types of post are of course good in and of themselves, and you do a great job in terms of entertaining with them both. But it causes confusion and mistrust in (seemingly) a large number of readers.

I know Ross that you define it somewhere and are clear in your own mind, but its pretty clear that the title of "The Science of Sport" and the analytical stuff is sitting very badly with the other more opinionated stuff.

You're obviously a pretty proud guy (notice you put yourself up there with Has Rosling a few posts ago!), but you've gotta see its like having A serious review title and then putting in a gossip column!

DOnt get me wrong. scientists can have opinions and gossip pontificate etc just as the rest of us can. But its dangerous to their analytic and professional credibility if they mix it all up together.


ps - pure comment: totally agree footballers have no shame!!

Royi Avital said...

Hello.
I was wondering, is there an email address to contact the writers of this blog?

Thanks.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Anonymous at 12:39AM:

Thank you for the thoughts.

I would say that to say it's like gossip column appearing in a review is a little harsh. It's very obviously an 'editorial piece', and not gossip. Gossip is if I write about Lance Armstrong's latest girlfriend and do a post on his visits to strip clubs, as alleged by Floyd Landis this weekend. So that seems unfair. But I take your point in theory.

Re the Hans Rosling comparison - please note that I didn't compare myself to Hans Rosling. I made the point, like Hans Rosling does, that sometimes the error in the data is actually smaller than the differences between samples. The comparison is thus between the approach to data, and not to Rosling himself - you'll see this if you read it again.

Otherwise, thanks for the thoughts. I disagree re it being a problem - the people who are offended by the opinion are welcome to stick to scientific journals. The funniest thing about all that is that these same people will read the site for months and feel that it's always factual. Until, one day, I write something they disagree with. Then, instead of providing an argument against my opinion, they'll provide criticism of the tone and lack of science. This despite the fact that for perhaps months they've read and approved of the posts without ever realising that what they were reading then was the same as this.

Anyway, if this affects my professional and scientific credibility, well, that's just a pity. Those people who feel that way are not worth spending energy trying to win over anyway.

I suspect those most affected by the opinionated nature of the writing are those most high up in the ivory tower.

Ross

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts Ross, I mostly agree. Liberal use of the sin bin, video replays of really important calls and the "penalty goal" would definitely be improvements in football (all originally rugby league I believe? the true innovators?).

However those who compare rugby and football refereeing often miss the point that the rugby referee plays an important role in controlling the game. He dictates the pace and style of the game by his choice of which offences to clamp down on and which to allow. Getting on the wrong side of him would be a terrible idea. In football the ref is only there to spot indiscretions and make big, confident calls based on his view. Nearly every foul is a grey area - those who say "ban diving" miss the point that diving with zero contact is pretty rare actually - most of the frustrating action in football is when there is some contact, and the player has to make the decision whether to stay on his feet or go down. All too often the rules favour the latter option - and writhing in mock agony is considered essential to "prove" that a foul occurred (actually I think most of the refs are now fairly immune to this aspect of the play-acting). Maybe football would also benefit from a longer "advantage" period - give players who want to play more of an advantage. A very tough one.

edb

leagz said...

When discussing "cheating" in football or any other sport, whether as analysis or opinion, I think it is worth differentiating between trying to gain advantage by breaking the rules surreptitiously and expecting not get caught, like drug abuse and diving, vs breaking the rules (deliberately or not) by pushing the boundary - the too heavy tackle, the arm ball, etc.
The former, like the Kaka sending-off, I'd agree is unsportsmanlike, is certainly cheating, and should be punished retrospectively if proven by video or other evidence. The latter, as the Argentina hand-ball "save", was undisguised and (charitably) may have been instinctive. The rules of the game are devised to make sure such actions go unrewarded, on balance. Interpretation of the rules should continually reinforce sportsmanlike conduct. But in that case the rules were shown to be inadequate and should be changed: the goal should have been awarded, not a penalty. But as the rules stand in that game, I think any team in any sport, no matter how noble, would do the same, if given a choice between certain defeat or a lifeline to pull a win out of the fire. They are professional players. The overall objective of the game is to win by getting more points. The rules are there to help it along fairly and entertainingly. If they don't, they or their implementation should be changed. Playing to the rules openly is not necessarily cheating, but if transgressing the rules gains advantage through inadequate punishment then the rules surely need reviewing.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy this blog very much, congratulations for your overall work.

I can see why your opinions in this post could be rejected by many people, specially across some cultural barriers. You have a very different view of a sport, passion, player responsibility, etc than many other people.

Of course you are taking the moral high-ground, but this is a game, and morals are truly expressed in other areas like racism, poor / rich distribution, social policies, gender discrimination, etc.

I think it's a very classist view to give so much importance to the morals in such simple things as games, I'm sure that if you were raised were Drogba, Maradona or other players were raised you would have a greater chance of having your morals reserved to other issues and would just enjoy the game and give everything you can, even cheating, to bring happiness to the people in your country though a football victory...

It's the duty of sports organizations like FIFA to establish limits to players actions in order to provide an enjoyable sport. Don't blame the players...

Anonymous said...

Concerning why soccer is so violent, probably the root of the problem largely lies with the audience, who wants entertainment no matter of what kind, violent or not, lame or not. We see so much apathy from the crowds of fans to change the entire system, in fact they seem to largely support it.

The other very interesting thing that I had never really considered until recently is how much social conditioning there is to make people accept and endorse violence in certain sports and completely forbid and reject it in others. And this not only in reference to the formal rules, but in the very cultural attitudes of the fans. Compare soccer with tennis.

What would happen if a tennis player whacked another one on the head like some soccer players purposefully bash another player's head with their elbow? Or if a golf player struck some other player with their golf club with the same level of harm that happens in soccer? It’s interesting to note that the very same soccer and hockey fans who love to see violence in these sports would be outraged if the same violence erupted elsewhere, like in tennis.

As to the connection of acting out violence as a reaffirmation of masculinity characteristics and the desire of men to see this in certain sports, it’s been elaborated on by authors elsewhere, so I won’t even go into that side of things.

Lastly, a comment on the problem of soccer players faking injuries in the most melodramatic performances and playing circus with the referee. Their objective is clearly to dupe the ref 10 out of 10 times and they often reach it.

I don’t understand why adult soccer fans find this ritual so amusing. I've wondered if it is because it provides a theatrical entertainment component to the spectacle. Like little kids who are delighted when they see one clown fool another in a circus act? Like medieval farcical theater?

Given how soccer is so popular with masses of lowly educated, underprivileged people, there might be an education/class aspect there that explains the social conditioning for such a practice to have been incorporated as a fundamental part of the sport: the sheer entertainment factor outweighs attitudes about fair play. Or is it simply cultural inertia, one generation just passes the attitude on to the next one? (to note: it's not only uneducated people that accept this cheating practice as a given in the sport)

During this World Cup, I found it interesting to see that many people criticizing this fake-injury cheating problem and the lack of video replay were people from countries where soccer is not popular, who were basically tuning in to see the games because of all the media hype, but had not received the same cultural conditioning as the popular masses of soccer fans in other countries.

The regular fans usually have an accepting attitude, and often defend every immoral practice in the sport with some kind of rationalization, a particularly dismaying fact.

I think the introduction of video replay would greatly improve the sport, as well as anything that increases the number of average goals per match.

Alessandra

Anonymous said...

Concerning why soccer is so violent, probably the root of the problem largely lies with the audience, who wants entertainment no matter of what kind, violent or not, lame or not. We see so much apathy from the crowds of fans to change the entire system, in fact they seem to largely support it.

The other very interesting thing that I had never really considered until recently is how much social conditioning there is to make people accept and endorse violence in certain sports and completely forbid and reject it in others. And this not only in reference to the formal rules, but in the very cultural attitudes of the fans. Compare soccer with tennis.

What would happen if a tennis player whacked another one on the head like some soccer players purposefully bash another player's head with their elbow? Or if a golf player struck some other player with their golf club with the same level of harm that happens in soccer? It’s interesting to note that the very same soccer and hockey fans who love to see violence in these sports would be outraged if the same violence erupted elsewhere, like in tennis.

As to the connection of acting out violence as a reaffirmation of masculinity characteristics and the desire of men to see this in certain sports, it’s been elaborated on by authors elsewhere, so I won’t even go into that side of things.

Alessandra

Anonymous said...

sorry, got an error message the first time I tried posting...

JM Oliver said...

I think there is a clear difference in different cultures about diving in soccer. In the English speaking world, diving is seen as cheating first, but even worse unmanly. For example, I've never heard someone condemn a flanker for killing the ball in Rugby in the same terms or 'hack a shaq' in the nba.

In South America and by extension Spain and Portugal, diving has been an accepted part of the game for decades. (watch the full '70 world cup final again..pele falls very easily). There is little to no moral judgment in these cultures. In Italy diving is an accepted part of the 'dark arts' of the game and like elsewhere originally developed as a counter to 'tactical fouling'.

I personally have no problem with diving or cheating in soccer. I am however a pretentious twat as I tend to see soccer as a metaphor for life. It is the beautiful game as life is beautiful but life is also unfair. The best do not always win, fate is cruel and sometimes the dastardly succeed.

Anonymous said...

Ross,

Interesting article, but how do you define "immoral"? How do you define "cheating"? What you call immoral I may say is clever play! If you do not like certain actions, but if they are within the rules is that immoral? Maybe (in my opinion). Is it cheating? Definitely not. The only objective benchmark for any sport is the rules.

Doping is against the rules in cycling. Period. No subjectivity. Also, fake dives and arguing with referees are against the rules in football. Dissent by word or action and unsporting behavior are cautionable offences under the Laws of the Game. Although not black and white it is generally accepted that this encompasses arguing with a referee or faking a dive. Unfortunately, I have rarely ever seen a card given for wither of these. Perhaps it is just time to enforce the rules! I find it hard to label one sport immoral and the other not hen it is the same human trait at work. Both are competitive and players will do what they can to get ahead. If doping rules are not enforced the cyclists will dope. If fake dives are not carded by refs then players will continue to take spectacular self inflicted dives.

By the way, what does this have to do with Sports Science? I think you are unfairly using an opinion piece close to the heart of football fans to gain a wider audience. Then again, maybe you are just writing an interesting article about the game. Too bad there are no rules to enforce on that one.

Anonymous said...

On a separate note to my post just previous to this, are there any good sources of sports science studies on football or useful data sources available? I have had trouble finding anything like the following.

For example, let's look at the Suarez-Ghana incident hopefully without emotion. A player can use his hands in the penalty area under the rules, but his team will be penalized by a PK to the opposition, will have to play the rest of the match down that player, and that player will be ineligible for the line-up in the next match. This cost is in part quantifiable from known data. PKs are ~70% successful so any PK is worth 0.7 goals lost. What is the expected loss in goals of playing a man down for a certain period of time? I have no idea, but it should be a reasonably straight forward study that team managers may find useful. Also, what is the cost of losing a star from the line-up for the next match (not as straightforward, but I imagine there is some loosely measurable cost)? This seems to me like it should be a pretty hefty cost in general for using your hands as a non-goalie player. A player would probably only use it to stop a near definite goal and maybe even then only at the end of a match. This does raise an interesting strategy question doesn't it? Morality aside, perhaps the optimum strategy may be for every defender to act as a quasi-goalie toward the end of matches? I am guessing this issue only scratches the surface for useful football data. What about corner kicks as a another example? I know set pieces (free kicks and corners) account for over 40% of scoring so it is important, but couldn't useful strategies result from more detail like knowing what percentage of corners or free kicks are successful? How often do they occur per possession? How often does a possession result in a missed attempt or no attempt on goal? Knowing this data could change attack strategies a lot, no? It seems to me that there are countless other data to study with potentially significant consequences, but there seem to be so few sources of data compared to baseball or running or various other sports. Why is that? Are there sources out there? I don't know how a sport as big as international football could fly under the radar screen, but I have been able to find very little. The match histories are there. Has anyone done excellent studies of the data?

Anonymous said...

On a separate note to my post just previous to this, are there any good sources of sports science studies on football or useful data sources available? I have had trouble finding anything like the following.

For example, let's look at the Suarez-Ghana incident hopefully without emotion. A player can use his hands in the penalty area under the rules, but his team will be penalized by a PK to the opposition, will have to play the rest of the match down that player, and that player will be ineligible for the line-up in the next match. This cost is in part quantifiable from known data. PKs are ~70% successful so any PK is worth 0.7 goals lost. What is the expected loss in goals of playing a man down for a certain period of time? I have no idea, but it should be a reasonably straight forward study that team managers may find useful. Also, what is the cost of losing a star from the line-up for the next match (not as straightforward, but I imagine there is some loosely measurable cost)? This seems to me like it should be a pretty hefty cost in general for using your hands as a non-goalie player. A player would probably only use it to stop a near definite goal and maybe even then only at the end of a match. This does raise an interesting strategy question doesn't it? Morality aside, perhaps the optimum strategy may be for every defender to act as a quasi-goalie toward the end of matches? I am guessing this issue only scratches the surface for useful football data. What about corner kicks as a another example? I know set pieces (free kicks and corners) account for over 40% of scoring so it is important, but couldn't useful strategies result from more detail like knowing what percentage of corners or free kicks are successful? How often do they occur per possession? How often does a possession result in a missed attempt or no attempt on goal? Knowing this data could change attack strategies a lot, no? It seems to me that there are countless other data to study with potentially significant consequences, but there seem to be so few sources of data compared to baseball or running or various other sports. Why is that? Are there sources out there? I don't know how a sport as big as international football could fly under the radar screen, but I have been able to find very little. The match histories are there. Has anyone done excellent studies of the data?

Anonymous said...

On a separate note to my post just previous to this, are there any good sources of sports science studies on football or useful data sources available? I have had trouble finding anything like the following.

For example, let's look at the Suarez-Ghana incident hopefully without emotion. A player can use his hands in the penalty area under the rules, but his team will be penalized by a PK to the opposition, will have to play the rest of the match down that player, and that player will be ineligible for the line-up in the next match. This cost is in part quantifiable from known data. PKs are ~70% successful so any PK is worth 0.7 goals lost. What is the expected loss in goals of playing a man down for a certain period of time? I have no idea, but it should be a reasonably straight forward study that team managers may find useful. Also, what is the cost of losing a star from the line-up for the next match (not as straightforward, but I imagine there is some loosely measurable cost)? This seems to me like it should be a pretty hefty cost in general for using your hands as a non-goalie player. A player would probably only use it to stop a near definite goal and maybe even then only at the end of a match. This does raise an interesting strategy question doesn't it? Morality aside, perhaps the optimum strategy may be for every defender to act as a quasi-goalie toward the end of matches? I am guessing this issue only scratches the surface for useful football data. What about corner kicks as a another example? I know set pieces (free kicks and corners) account for over 40% of scoring so it is important, but couldn't useful strategies result from more detail like knowing what percentage of corners or free kicks are successful? How often do they occur per possession? How often does a possession result in a missed attempt or no attempt on goal? Knowing this data could change attack strategies a lot, no? It seems to me that there are countless other data to study with potentially significant consequences, but there seem to be so few sources of data compared to baseball or running or various other sports. Why is that? Are there sources out there? I don't know how a sport as big as international football could fly under the radar screen, but I have been able to find very little. The match histories are there. Has anyone done excellent studies of the data?

Anonymous said...

On a separate note to my post just previous to this, are there any good sources of sports science studies on football or useful data sources available? I have had trouble finding anything like the following.

For example, let's look at the Suarez-Ghana incident hopefully without emotion. A player can use his hands in the penalty area under the rules, but his team will be penalized by a PK to the opposition, will have to play the rest of the match down that player, and that player will be ineligible for the line-up in the next match. This cost is in part quantifiable from known data. PKs are ~70% successful so any PK is worth 0.7 goals lost. What is the expected loss in goals of playing a man down for a certain period of time? I have no idea, but it should be a reasonably straight forward study that team managers may find useful. Also, what is the cost of losing a star from the line-up for the next match (not as straightforward, but I imagine there is some loosely measurable cost)? This seems to me like it should be a pretty hefty cost in general for using your hands as a non-goalie player. A player would probably only use it to stop a near definite goal and maybe even then only at the end of a match. This does raise an interesting strategy question doesn't it? Morality aside, perhaps the optimum strategy may be for every defender to act as a quasi-goalie toward the end of matches? I am guessing this issue only scratches the surface for useful football data. What about corner kicks as a another example? I know set pieces (free kicks and corners) account for over 40% of scoring so it is important, but couldn't useful strategies result from more detail like knowing what percentage of corners or free kicks are successful? How often do they occur per possession? How often does a possession result in a missed attempt or no attempt on goal? Knowing this data could change attack strategies a lot, no? It seems to me that there are countless other data to study with potentially significant consequences, but there seem to be so few sources of data compared to baseball or running or various other sports. Why is that? Are there sources out there? I don't know how a sport as big as international football could fly under the radar screen, but I have been able to find very little. The match histories are there. Has anyone done excellent studies of the data?

Anonymous said...

On a separate note to my post just previous to this, are there any good sources of sports science studies on football or useful data sources available? I have had trouble finding anything like the following.

For example, let's look at the Suarez-Ghana incident hopefully without emotion. A player can use his hands in the penalty ary with potentially significant conseea under the rules, but his team will be penalized by a PK to the opposition, will have to play the rest of the match down that player, and that player will be ineligible for the line-up in the next match. This cost is in part quantifiable from known data. PKs are ~70% successful so any PK is worth 0.7 goals lost. What is the expected loss in goals of playing a man down for a certain period of time? I have no idea, but it should be a reasonably straight forward study that team managers may find useful. Also, what is the cost of losing a star from the line-up for the next match (not as straightforward, but I imagine there is some loosely measurable cost)? This seems to me like it should be a pretty hefty cost in general for using your hands as a non-goalie player. A player would probably only use it to stop a near definite goal and maybe even then only at the end of a match. This does raise an interesting strategy question doesn't it? Morality aside, perhaps the optimum strategy may be for every defender to act as a quasi-goalie toward the end of matches? I am guessing this issue only scratches the surface for useful football data. Has anyone done excellent studies of football data?

Anonymous said...

I apologize. I had some trouble on the site and seemed to have posted my last comment several times over.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Anonymous at 3:29AM

Fair points.

Re your final question - I have no incentive to "gain a wider audience". It's not as though money flows in in proportion to the site readership, we're not a business or an advertiser that way. So no, the article was not written simply as a means to be read.

The article is an extension of the World Cup coverage that I've been doing - it began before the tournament, moved on to coverage in tournament, around the preparation and physiological demands and the effect of the altitude, then it switched over to Twitter where live-match commentary was done, and then this piece, when I eventually felt that I should write something on what I felt about the state of the game. No reason other than to share an opinion with many people who read the site, much as anyone writes anything (why was "Lord of the Rings" written?).

Read the Vision and Mission of the site (tab on top of the page) for more on why we exist. This was just an "editorial", nothing more.

Re your second post, that is an interesting question. I don't know the reason. I know plenty of those stats for rugby, which is one of the sports I'm involved with as a performance analyst/scientist, but it's also never published. I guess the coaches and analysts who collect that data never have the incentive to publish. In fact, they probably want to keep that information to themselves, precisely because it does change strategy. Also, I think it's highly 'fluid', in that different teams require different strategies, and what works for one will not work for another.

And because turnover of players and coaches changes so much, it's rarely stable, and always needs to be redone, meaning that there's never a moment to publish it. I'm speculating here. I can assure you that the coaches and technical staff probably know it.

It would be great to get hold of that information.

Oh, and lastly, sorry about the error messages you were getting, I get them as well and I'm not sure why. Will look into it.

Regards
Ross

Mark Milan said...

When a bad decision gets made, football gets lots of free publicity, and it seems FIFA are of the opinion that all publicity is good publicity.

While I'm sure that football fans would rather there be less cheating, if you asked them directly, I do wonder whether the game would lose some popularity if retroactive punishments were introduced.

While people don't admit it, I think sometimes some people like to be wound up about a bad decision.

I didn't read all the comments, so sorry if this point has already been made.

44 said...

Ross,

Perhaps one reason "dopers" are looked at differently than "divers" is that the potential consequences of doping include severe health problems and/or death. Divers just get a bad reputation and a lack of respect.

David B said...

A discussion of doping in soccer might also be relevant. Given that the rewards are so much higher than cycling (a pro cyclist earns a few hundred $k per year - a soccer player can earn that in a game) the incentive to "do what is necessary" is ever so much greater.

Not only that, but the incidence of footballers using 'recreational' drugs is suggestive - if you're prepared to take drugs for 'fun' then you're definitely prepared to take them for financial gain.

And Operacion Puerto went away once the Spanish Government realised that Nadal and Real Madrid were implicated. I would find a Spanish sweep in July (Nadal-wimbledon, the world cup and Contador-TdF) highly ironic for this reason.

So I'd suggest that soccer is likely analogous to cycling on the doping front and the lack of ethical fortitude in the way they play is a seperate issue. To the point that soccer is completely amoral.

And is rugby union less prone to gaming the system because of a higher moral standard or just that machismo and lack of creativity prevent limit the scope for gaming the system.

Ray said...

Hi Ross and Jon,

It's disturbing to see people whip out the science stick so many times.

Maybe you should change the subtitle at the top of your page, to say something like:
"Insights and opinions of two scientific sports fans", or something that includes opinions with scientific comment and analysis.

That's probably better than changing the title to "The Sport of Scientists"

Anonymous said...

I think you can find these issues within any sport. You have concentrated on the worst parts of football and have unfairly labeled it.

I take offense to the fact that you insinuate Doping in cycling (and evading detection) is nowhere near as bad as a swan dive. I think a majority of the educated public perceives the sport of cycling as one that is wrapped in a shroud of drug use and using drugs to avoid detection. Its all about who can afford the best pharma, blood doping and personal doctors. Most top tier professional riders have their own personal doctors (you don't know about), so lets talk about morality and "cheating".

The problem with modern football is the lack of fair governance from an archaic organization: FIFA - they need to bring technology to the table and lay down new guidelines. The game has changed and they need to change as well.

If we had current technology to successfully test doping and drug use in cycling I am confident most of your hero riders and teams would fail. Not to say there are no footballers who are under the influence of pharma - we should be careful who we throw stones at.

In my experience people who throw around words like "moral outrage" and finger point are usually the same people that cheat on their wives.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To anonymous at 9:49pm

Wow, that's quite a comment - you start off commenting on football and finish up by speculating about my likelihood of being faithful to my wife. When I get married one day, I will refer back to it.

To respond, if you take the time to actually read more on this site, you'll see that nobody, and I mean nobody, has come down harder on cycling's cheating problem than I have. Cycling has a cheating problem, there is no doubt. And for many years, it denied that problem. It differed from football in that it didn't celebrate its cheats, it just didn't try hard enough to catch them. THat is now changing and cheating is generally frowned upon in that sport. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, it's just that it isn't celebrated like it is for football.

Try this if you feel like actually reading something properly:
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2010/05/denials-acceptance-and-anti-doping.html

But you haven't read this post properly either. Because I've said everything you have, with the exception that I'm using cycling to highlight the even bigger problem in football, which is that it condones AND celebrates its cheats. Cycling has a cheating problem, yes. But football has a cheating celebration problem. Suarez demonstrated this in all its glory only 30 minutes AFTER this post was written.

Now, I'm sorry your precious sport comes off badly in this post. But before you throw out irrelevant speculation about my wife-to-be (I found this incredibly amusing, by the way), and condemnation of cycling, please note that:

a) I've done plenty of condemnation of cycling, and
b) Your pre-occupation with pointing the finger elsewhere is precisely why football is in the situation it is. Biggest sport? Yes. Most money? Yes. Honest? Not by a long shot.

And yes, it's your culture of football. Yes, "That's football" as they all say.

Ross

Anonymous said...

re the doping in football comment above...

I've alwso always wondered about the Operacion Puerto non-cyclists and why they and their sports never got any scrutiny over the matter.

Thats what pees cyclist off - not the idea that has cheats - obviously it does, and fanas want them caught and punished. But the sport gets bashed big time in the media when much richer more cheating-cultured sports like football, where the organisation and potenital gain is higher, get no scrutiny.

Its like a road where all the cylists are getting speedchecked by the cops and ticketed but the cars and trucks going faster get let through without a check... then everyone reporting that cycling has a speeding problem!

Anonymous said...

I think you have a very gay and naive opinion of the sports and the world. And i think you are too, as many people with other sports background, contamined with antifootballism, you are just jealous that as nasty as it is, and unsportive as you think it is... it has that popularity, to me is a little jelousy matter.

If you don't understand it or don't feel it, don't mess with it... you offend us all

borg

Anonymous said...

I saw this blog mentioned in Peter Fitzsimons' herald column today, and noticed something odd...I've read the blog now, and can say that I believe parts of it were plagiarised from a post of mine in the smh website comments section! That comment was posted three days before this blog. I'm not so precious as to care, but bizarrely, I seem to be the writer's (imaginary?) rugby-loving friend, 'Colin.'

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Afraid not. I've never heard of the smh website, and never read it. "Colin" is Colin Noel, a 6th year medical student at the University of Cape Town, who studied honours in exercise science (also at UCT) in 2004. He played rugby provincially, still a bigger fan of that sport than football. We had a discussion about the state of the sport after going to the Spain v Portugal match here in Cape Town, which provided the inspiration for this post. Feel free to look him up on Facebook and ask if you'd like.

I'm not sure which section of this post you feel is plagiarized. I'd love to see a link of what you posted on that smh comments section. Which part was plagiarized? Instead of just suggesting it, I'd like to see it.

The problem here is that you cannot plagiarize an opinion. If there are sentences that are taken directly, it would be a curious co-incidence, which is why I'd really like to see the link for that comment. Also, why plagiarize an opinion post? It's not as though this post is a great intellectual conquest or thesis. It's a collection of ideas and opinions.

Ross

Anonymous said...

sorry, got an error message the first time I tried posting...

aluchko said...

I feel football is particularly susceptible to cheating since a lot of the best legitimate play gets better as you get closer to breaking the rules (offsides and slide tackles).

That being said to me drug cheating feels distinctly different from unsportsmanlike cheating. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't much overlap between the two groups.