Soccer's blemish needs fixing
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press
It's the world's most popular game.
It captures millions emotionally on a regular basis and billions for an event like the World Cup.
Yet soccer could stand to make at least one change, one that would guarantee it would become instantly more popular in North America while eliminating a flaw that ridicules the game.
Let's back up for a moment.
Soccer has made major inroads in North America in the past 10 years. The success of the United States in the World Cup has heightened its visibility when major soccer events are being staged. The success of the Americans and Canadians on the women's soccer scene also has helped.
When it comes to numbers at the minor sports level, soccer participation continues to increase at a startling pace, making it the most popular game for kids and youth. Yet, all that success fails to translate into anywhere near the same success as other major sports in North America.
The so-called reasons are multifold and well documented. There isn't enough scoring. It isn't exciting enough. There are too many other major sports. The major media still consider soccer a minor league sport. It's an immigrant's game.
Perception is a difficult thing to change. You may want to believe there isn't enough scoring in soccer, but anyone who has watched the direction the NHL has gone is aware that during the regular season, its hockey is hardly a thrill-a-minute.
As for being exciting with continual action, we need only say one word -- baseball.
That said, there's one aspect of soccer that will never sell unless it's dealt with. It's the acting, the rolling around on the pitch after every tackle, every nudge, every incident when two players come together. There's nothing more infuriating than watching millionaire players writhing in supposed pain on the field, holding their heads, legs and various other parts of the body, crying out in pain -- all this in an effort to get their opponent penalized in some way or to waste time.
The near-death player is carried to the sidelines on a stretcher. Suddenly, with a miraculous recovery of Lourdes proportions, the player trots onto the field a minute later, a picture of health.
It has become a joke, an affront to professionalism and an embarrassment to the sport. It's one of the things most often mentioned as a turnoff by fans and has become a focal point for ridicule.
These phoneys cause their sport endless hours of shame.
A solution is to allow referees to penalize thespians with a yellow card. But the referee is then forced to judge whether a player is really hurt. He is already under enough pressure in a game where players would do anything if it means winning.
So let's put pressure on teams to clean up their own game. If a player appears hurt enough during a game to leave the pitch, that player must remain on the sideline a minimum of five minutes before he can return. Someone who is truly hurt will need the time to recover or will be replaced immediately. Someone who is faking will have his team penalized by missing a player on the field for those five minutes.
The off-field fourth official on the sidelines should be able to keep time on the player.
It shouldn't take more than a goal or two in key situations before the teams themselves act to restore some dignity to the game.