Play-acting that blights World Cup must stop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 June, 2010, 12:00am

Few, if any, sporting events attract attention like the World Cup soccer tournament, whatever time zone it is being played in. Evidence of that is to be found in the prevalence of red, sleep-deprived eyes, and the fact that another global television drawcard, the Wimbledon tennis tournament, is no match for it. And we are only at the halfway mark. With the group rounds completed, 16 countries went through to fight out the knockout stages. The other 16 are already back home, or soon will be, pondering what went wrong and what might have been.

The tournament has already seen its fair share of shock results. The 2006 finalists, Italy and France, have been eliminated to return home in disgrace.

While most matches have been played in the right spirit, the familiar feigning of injury by some players seeking to win a free kick, or even get an opposing player sent off, has been evident again. It is a blight on the international game.

The performance of some players has been worthy more of an Oscar than a World Cup winner's medal. The slightest touch (or in some cases no touch at all) has been enough to see the worst offenders hurling themselves to the ground and writhing almost comically in mock agony. While it may be amusing to watch, this is a blatant form of cheating, and one which often goes unpunished.

Not only do these theatrics sometimes lead to referees being deceived, they waste time, cause unnecessary delays and break up the natural rhythm of the game. Occasionally a yellow card is brandished towards a player guilty of 'simulation'. But there is a need for the game to think of a better way of stamping out this nonsense. It is tempting at times to suggest that offending players should be given a kick which causes them pain of a similar magnitude to that suggested by their fake contortions of agony. A more measured response would be for referees to crack down on such behaviour by waving a card, or even for a free kick to be awarded against the team of the offending player.

Hopefully we will see less play-acting - and more great play - as the knock-out stages progress.