The Rational Ref
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 11:23pm

Drama queens' ham acting on the pitch worthy of TV soap operas

Antics of players trying to draw a penalty borders on the absurd as brazen overacting sometimes fools match officials

BIO

William Lai is a qualified soccer referee, instructor and assessor, and has also officiated in England and Australia. As an educator, scientist and social scientist, he is also interested in human behaviour which is why his column offers an alternative and rational commentary of what happens on and off the pitch.
 

Whenever a cunning player goes to ground with the slightest contact from an opponent, if at all, he will roll over several times, scream in agony and behave as if auditioning for a role in a television soap. Have such players no shame in displaying their poor acting abilities instead of showcasing attractive skills?

Judging by the increasing number of drama queens on the pitch, the suspicion is that many players love watching daytime soaps. These corny shows are peppered with dreadful overacting where a fatal gunshot does not usually trigger instant death, but a panoply of bizarre body movements that are fabricated to show the "talents" of wannabe actors.

So when prima donna players who are well versed in this exaggerated form of acting finally hang up their boots, they should perhaps consider becoming soap stars.

Perhaps this is overstretching it, but the truth is there are plenty of ham actors out there. Match officials roll their eyes because they know players are trying to deceive them, gain an advantage and get an opponent or two sent off.

During international week, there was plenty of player theatrics, including the Sweden and Austria World Cup qualifier where both teams were vying for the crucial runner-up position behind group leaders Germany.

Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakır was apparently deceived following a confrontation between Sweden's Johan Elmander and Austria's Marko Arnautovic.

Initially, Elmander was incensed when Arnautovic went to ground easily from an earlier challenge that won him a free kick. Elmander took it upon himself to confront Arnautovic by getting into his personal space.

In the face off, both players' foreheads made light contact but Elmander acted as if he was violently headbutted. At the time, the referee believed there was a dangerous headbutt and therefore sent off Arnautovic. Video replays showed it was simulated. Let's hope Fifa will take retrospective action on Elmander, although that is no consolation for Austria who miss out on the play-offs.

The most famous and shameless example of dreadful acting that deceived match officials was an incident from the Brazil versus Turkey match at the 2002 World Cup. Brazil's Rivaldo was time-wasting at a corner kick and a frustrated Turkey player kicked the ball at the midfielder, hitting him on the knee. The Brazilian crumpled as if suffering the effects of a gunshot and then held his hands to his face to con South Korean referee Kim Young-joo. Chaos ensued and subsequently the referee played into the hands of a Brazilian drama queen and banished a young Turk from the match.

Today, the Rivaldo Award is a tongue-in-cheek prize that recognises players for their suspect acting. Elmander is a contender from last week's international matches.

Last weekend, Rational Ref came across another contender for the Rivaldo Award in a Hong Kong amateur league match. The player, coincidentally of Turkish origin, was whistled for being offside during an attacking move. Frustrated, the striker held on to the ball to prevent his opponent from taking the indirect free kick. When the opposing goalkeeper attempted to take the ball there was a tussle and then the Turkish player collapsed to the ground clutching his face.

Throughout the incident, Rational Ref was carefully watching the drama unfold. The goalkeeper approached his opponent from behind and at no time did the goalkeeper raise his hands above chest height. There was no contact between the players above shoulder height and the two players never had a face-to-face stand-off. But the striker fell to the ground holding his face.

It does not take a criminal psychologist to realise that when someone consciously chooses to go down the slippery slope of deception they have little choice but to play out the scene in its entirety.

Parents and schoolteachers, who deal with unruly children, know this only too well. It is rare for someone to publicly admit they have attempted to cheat, lie and deceive. So naturally the player had to act out his role and finally when he got up with no injury to his face, Rational Ref cautioned him for unsporting behaviour.

Culture plays a huge role, too, in this type of gamesmanship. Some countries or regions believe there is nothing wrong with "using dubious means to win or gain an advantage", whereas others take issue with this and consider it a form of cheating.

Is gamesmanship a necessary part of the game? What is the line, if any, between gamesmanship and cheating? The answers depend very much on who is the aggrieved party because the team that benefits from using dubious means will usually not complain. It is sad that sportsmanship is a rare trait in soccer today.

Surely true aficionados would prefer to see one-upmanship and sportsmanship rather than gamesmanship and cheap amateur dramatics on the pitch any day of the week?

A final note: Hong Kong's hardworking and gallant efforts did not pay off against a well-organised and technically superior United Arab Emirates side, who won Tuesday's Asian Cup qualifying group match 4-0.

What was surprising is that Hong Kong won the majority of the aerial challenges. Could this strength be exploited by Hong Kong when they visit UAE in next month's return fixture?

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com

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