What those who complain about diving just don't get

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You’re going to hear it several times over the next few weeks. From family members, friends and those acquaintances forever in your conscious thanks to the wonders of poison Facebook.

“Soccer isn’t a real sport. Real athletes don’t fall to the ground like they’re shot. I don’t respect a game that rewards cowardice.”

Diving (and the controversy that surrounds it) is sure to be a hot topic during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A favorite will go out early because of diving. A star player renowned for his talent will be labelled a cheat because of diving. A television pundit will ruminate about the sanctity of the game because of diving. 

The problem with all of this is that diving isn’t the plague on the game it’s made out to be. How we define what constitutes a ‘dive’ is worth a lengthy conversation, but contact is contact. Embellishment and the extra curricular garbage that accompanies a foul often steers discourse from the sensible to the irrational. The histrionics that accompany a dive obfuscate the original foul almost entirely.

The game spawned this demon child, but it’s our beastly offspring, and you don’t turn your back on family.

Diving will always be a part of this sport, and that isn't a bad thing.

You play to win the game

Being rewarded for diving is an injustice. When it’s a player on a team I support I’m left defending the indefensible.

Am I, though? Am I mad that a player on a team I support will do anything it takes to win, even if that means urinating on the beautiful game’s mummified corpse?

Last year, former Manchester United defender Gary Neville commented on Gareth Bale’s penchant for diving and whether it was sullying his reputation in the minds of referees. Bale, unanimously considered one of the top players in the game, didn’t handle himself the way many wanted. Namely, he went down too easily and referees grew tired of looking like idiots when replays of his trickery were broadcast on loop.

Neville’s comments are eye-opening. Players play to win football matches and they’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal, according to the Sky Sports pundit.

It isn’t the biggest thing in the world, to dive, is what Neville is saying and he’s not wrong. He’s also right to separate diving when the player isn’t touched, which is embarrassing, and diving when there’s contact. Make it easy on the referee when the latter occurs, because contact is contact. A foul is a foul.

With the stakes this high, whether it’s the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Final, the Olympics or the World Cup, you do what you have to do to win.

Soccer’s shame

The diving phenomenon isn't limited to soccer. Flopping in the NBA is rampant. NHL players feign getting high-sticked in the face by whipping their head back violently to get their opponent punished. In baseball, catchers defiantly show the umpire the ball, claiming the player they failed to tag should be out at home plate.

Yet the champions of these other sports choose soccer as their target for mockery. NHL players are far too rugged and tough to feign injury, even when they’re spraying water bottles at each other. NBA players are far too manly to dive, even when they’re flopping harder than the last five Johnny Depp movies. MLB players are far too civilized to cheat the game, except when they’re throwing baseballs at each other’s heads when they feel slighted.

Elite sport creates these moments, but this is soccer’s cross to bear because namely, they’re the best at it. The best divers in the world have become so good at their craft that in a split second, the referee in charge is unable to determine the veracity of the laid out, seemingly broken player’s claim.

Didier Drogba gets fouled a lot during every game. He’s a hulking beast of a forward that defenders hang onto while he carries them around the 18-yard box. If he doesn't dive he’s not getting the call, it’s as simple as that. There is contact, but the dive — the sell job — is necessary to draw attention to the foul that was committed. Diving, the menace that it is, is an indispensable evil.

Get over it: Diving will never stop

Diving will always be part of the game. We will always remember Diego Simeone dramatically falling to ground after David Beckham nicked the Argentine with his back heel at the World Cup in 1998. “I took advantage,” Simeone would later say. “I think anyone would have done so in just the same way.”

Even the most enraged English supporter at the time would have to admit that Simeone wasn't wrong here. Beckham acted foolishly and paid the price.

Diving is a skill. The best divers are usually pretty damn good players. They sense their moment and take it. Referees continue to get better, giving yellow cards for the most egregious dinner theater inspired acting. Basically, not all dives are created equal.

This is about winning. The World Cup is the pinnacle this sport has to offer. It would seem wrong if those competing in the biggest tournament of their lives didn't feel the need to push every boundary, sometimes teetering into the lawless abyss, in order to win.

At this level, you play to win the game. It’s as simple as that. Let’s not pretend we, the sports mad public, are above that sentiment.

What those who complain about diving just don't get
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