The sport itself is truly skilled. While most people in the world have trouble running in a straight line, these guys do it (not necessarily in a straight line, which makes it even more impressive) while propelling and controlling a ball - avoiding the overwhelming evolutionary temptation to simply pick the damn thing up. Also footballers are uber-fit, arguably some of the fittest athletes in the world. And yet, most top level footballers take pride in portraying themselves as eleven-year-old nancy-girls, desperate for sympathy from their overbearing mothers.*
I hate the fact that players are molly-coddled with a pet prodigy kind of affection when they make a habit of diving and performing after they've taken a glancing blow. I don't have a problem with actively looking for a penalty. Yes, it's frustrating - for both the fans and the player who has been forced into a wrongful position. But I think that is all part of the mental strategy of sport. Rugby teams do it. And I'll be the first to admit that I've put a few balls on to unsuspecting feet in the hockey-D (and received a fair few too). It happens.
But I hate that football (not soccer - I think that countries who still call it soccer are not [as] guilty of this) has made a culture of theatrical dives. Prima donna rolling and writhing is acceptable behaviour for a professional, grown man. This, in my eyes, puts international footballers on the same level as "professional" wrestling. When they do actually get hurt, I feel something similar to gloating... I feel like they deserve a little pain. Does that make me a bad person?
Don't get me wrong. I don't for one second think that these footballers can't handle pain. There's no doubt in my mind that they can. They are professional athletes, you don't get to that level without a little eina. Drogba is currently playing with a "FIFA-approved cast on his elbow". That's pretty hardcore. But the fact that they put such effort into acting hurt... that's what makes my blood boil. Just play the bloody sport. You've got the skill, we all know that. Now use it.
I've watched most of the World Cup games. I love the vibe. I've even downloaded a Vuvuzela app on my Koekie Kumquat... so that when Cloggies or Poms complain to me about the darn "South African trumpets" I can respond noisily without saying a word. But when I watch a South American team playing, I am reminded of why I cannot watch this sport on a regular basis. Because I cannot handle the theatrics every time someone so much as nudges past their elbow.
This is what I see on the screen:
It starts with a gentle tap from an opposition player in a stationary position... and the Brazilian is off! First, he opens the routine by pirouetting three times on the spot. Then he seamlessly bends his knees, crouches forward, and springs into elegant dive, twisting one-and-a-half times before planting his hands firmly on ground and completing seven elegant head-over-heels tucks... before eventually coming to a rocking stop, writhing back and forth while wailing and clutching at his left knee. No, it's his right knee.... No, it's his ankle - his left ankle must surely be broken! Bring on the stretcher! Oh... wait... it appears that no foul was awarded. He's shaking his head in disorientation and disgust, but after several months of therapy he may just be able to walk. He's up... he's limping... for all of one-and-a-half steps. Oh, he's fine.(Hey, I warned this wasn't going to be objective. )
Once they've finished flailing on the ground and nobody has sufficiently bought their Raspberry Award winning act to give them a free kick, they decide that this is clearly because the ref simply can't see more than 30cm in front of his face. Which is something that we have all thought at some point in just about every sport. The footballers remedy this situation by aggressively demonstrating their case by shouting and flailing their arms directly in to the face of the ref. Again, this frustration is something that translates to every sport - but the difference is that even if you don't agree with the decision, in other sports (rugby, hockey, tennis) he who holds the whistle (or the mic, in tennis) has the final say. Massive, single-celled tighthead props might offer a monosyllabic objection to a rugby ref, but that's it. It's not a discussion, it's a decision. Footballers don't respect the ref, and I just can't bring myself to accept that.
I hate that Kaka got a red card in the recent Brazil-Ivory Coast game. The Brazilians had been diving as their livelihoods depended on it (as they do), and the Africans were getting visibly more and more agitated by this football style. Eventually one of the Ivory Coast players played them at their own game. He took a (horrible, over-dramatised) dive. Kaka got carded for it. Subsequently the Brazilians were the victims of an unjust decision and the Ivory Coast team were villified for their "cynical" behaviour. Say what now?? When the Brazilians were theatrically tripping over their own toes, the commentators were playfully offering constructive criticism on their diving technique. I wish the Africans hadn't played The Samba Kings at their own game, but they did. And they did it better.
But that match, and the way it made my blood boil, epitomises why I do not watch more football in a football-mad world. I would love to see a siting regulation set up for footballers. Where, upon subsequent TV-footage review, they could be penalised, post-match, for "cynical" and unsportsmanlike behaviour. In my happy (wishful) world - diving / tripping over your own feet / sending a swift elbow to your marking opponent's solar plexus would get you banned for the next three or four games, depending on perceived intention and severity. Then maybe I'd start watching.
But as it currently stands, I have full respect for the sport... I just have no respect for the players.
* Here's a video montage of some great nancy-girl Raspberry winning examples: