Football's dark arts

The hugely respected Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville, said this on diving when he was asked about Gareth Bale's theatrics during the Welshman's time at Tottenham: 'If you are disgusted by Bale diving, go sing in the choir or go play the accordion.'

The debate on diving reared its head again on Sunday night after the Netherlands' Arjen Robben was fouled by Mexico's Rafael Marquez in the box. Robben, a well-known theatre artist, didn't need a second invitation and exaggerated his fall. The referee pointed to the spot and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar calmly dispatched it into the bottom corner to send the Dutch into the last eight of the World Cup. 

Now, let's rewind back to what caused the mass hysteria on social networks and in the morning papers. Was Robben right to go down in that manner? Should he even have been on the pitch because he escaped a couple of yellows for diving previously? Most of the questions seemed to come back to something more significant. Something not to do with football but one from a moralistic viewpoint - Should a player even dive? 

The question should actually be, why shouldn't a player dive? Sport, as they say, is a result-oriented business. Nobody gets into it wanting to be role models for your kids. Nobody becomes a professional sportsman aiming to be a patron saint. They are all in it for one thing: to help their team win medals. 

While divers are branded as cheats, from a broader perspective, they are no different to people trying to steal a few yards on a freekick or claiming a false-throw in or a corner. Yet, you don't see the puritans baying for the blood when footballers try to do the other stuff - like nick a set piece of the other team. 

Of course, there is a huge difference between trying to win a penalty and trying to win a throw-in. There is a 70% chance that a penalty will result in a goal. But you cannot turn a blind eye towards football’s other dark arts just because the percentages of a goal being scored comes down. 

France’s Thierry Henry against Republic of Ireland in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, Luis Suarez with Uruguay against Ghana in the quarterfinal of the same World Cup and Diego Maradona with Argentina against England in the 1986 edition... are some of the often repeated examples to show that footballers are deceitful. But you could make a strong case for all of them saying they were only trying to honour their contracts with the national team - to help their country win a game of football. 

What about their honour, you ask? 

One can slightly tweak Benjamin Disraeli here. “There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a team is not capable; for in sport there is no honour.”

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