Beautiful game gets ugly

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:01 AM ET

It's been many years since soccer has had so much publicity in this country.

The game has been blessed with brief periods of high-profile activity, but rarely has that profile been raised for long periods of time.

Until this year. The game has been thrust on the main stage and will remain there for a while. The under-20 FIFA World Cup, the off-the-field success of Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, the construction of a soccer stadium in Toronto, the signing of David Beckham by Los Angeles, the proliferation of soccer on television and still to come the women's World Cup in China.

The game may never be as marketable as it is today in North America. But the exposure comes with a price, all the game's warts are evident.

And one thing would-be North American fans won't tolerate is the cheating and faking of injuries that has become a blight on the game. It has also lead to a cascade of yellow and red cards which is almost strobe-like in intensity every time two teams take to the pitch.

It has gotten to the ridiculous stage where a player has to think twice about making a challenge for the ball against another player for fear an academy award performance will earn him a yellow or red card.

Over-matched referees are stuck in a situation where they can't win. If they don't punish a severe foul that turns out to be a true foul, they'll be criticized. If they get fooled and book a player for committing a foul he didn't commit, they'll be criticized.

This isn't a referee's issue. It's the players who have made a mockery of the game.

Even some of the game's most ardent fans are frustrated watching players writhing on the pitch at the slightest challenge.

Players have stripped the game of any honour it had left.

It's difficult to feel sympathy for any player, be it the one punished unjustly or the one who suffers an injustice and it goes unpunished .

You reap what you sow and the players have sown an atmosphere where there is no trust and little sportsmanship left in the game.

What's alarming is this attitude has permeated all ages.

The under-20 World Cup demonstrated how well young players have learned from their mentors. They've become experts at cheating.

FIFA, the game's governing body, doesn't move very quickly when it comes to making changes. They are big on talking, not very big on actually making changes.

Yet changes have to be made for the sake of making the game watchable again.

Too many players are willing to cheat for only one referee to handle the game. Two referees are needed, one in each half of the field. That reduces the risk of having to make a judgement call from 50 yards away from the play.

Players must be allowed to challenge for the ball. One-on-one confrontations are stopped too often because of light jostling. Let the players play.

Very few fouls or challenges result in injury. Referees stop play when a player goes to ground and simulates being hurt, even after a legal challenge. Let the play run. Players usually get up when they realize that the play isn't stopping. If a player is legitimately hurt, it will become evident in very short order.

When players begin to realize they can't stop play or waste time because no one believes them, not only will they get up quickly but they'll think twice about going down.

Like shirt-tugging, which earns an automatic yellow card, show zero tolerance for players who violate the 10-metre rule. A player isn't supposed to be closer than 10-metres to the ball before a free kick is taken. Players are rarely 10-metres away and often running toward the ball before it's kicked. That's an automatic yellow card. If referees administered the rule, it would stop players from doing it in a hurry.

What's most important is the need to define the players from the referees. It's become a disgrace how players argue with referees, how a referee attracts a swarm of players after a call, how players who are fouled urge the referee to card the opposing player.

Even goaltenders rush from their net to confront the official. It must end.

Yellow card for arguing. Yellow card for asking an opposing player to be carded. Yellow card for disrespectful actions.

If the players aren't interested in the game, maybe they shouldn't be allowed to play.


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