Thursday, August 09, 2012

Olympic soccer: rules and dives

Two quick responses to Olympic women's soccer:

1) Without getting into too much detail - because if you care, you already know; and if you don't, you can just read about it here - a semi-final game in Olympic soccer might have been decided by a referee's decision to invoke an arcane and rarely used rule that says a goalkeeper can't hold on to the ball for more than 6 seconds. (How rare and arcane? Apparently, no sports writer can find mention of it in an international or major domestic league game - men's or women's - since 2002. That's ten years, and probably tens of thousands of games.) What makes this rule especially damaging is that the opposing team is awarded a free-kick directly in front of the goal.

For baseball fans, this would be like enforcing the "12-second" rule for pitchers. What "12-second" rule, you ask? The one that's never actually used, yet remains in the rulebook:

8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.

Hilariously, the average pitcher in Major League Baseball is nowhere near the ostensible "limit" of 12 seconds per possession - it's actually more like 20. And yet, an umpire could suddenly decide to call this rule, and the pitcher would have no substantive reason to object, except on the grounds that no one calls it. Which is simply a disaster waiting to happen. If officials don't use it, the rulebook should lose it.

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2) I often find men's soccer painful to watch. It's the diving. I just can't stand to watch people pretend to be fouled and then pretend to be hurt. And I like watching women's soccer because it there's almost none of that. And not only is there virtually no diving, but it seems like these women will collide and run over each other and get right back up - to put it simply, they 'suck it up'.

At first, this seems really unintuitive. We expect women's sports to have (patronizing) rules in place to protect them - women's hockey, for instance, doesn't allow body checking at any level - and we expect, in North America, at least, that men will behave in typically masculine ways and eschew diving or any other behavior that might make them seem weak.

That last bit might be the important part, though. When I was watching Canada play Great Britain, the commentators suggested that the stylistic difference between the women's and men's games was cultural - the women's game, and it's first powerhouse-teams - emerged in the USA and East Asia, where diving in any sport has never been valued, and those values were emulated by other countries. Now, I don't know that this is an adequate explanation. Most of the women's teams are coached and trained by European men, after all. But it's certainly interesting. (And certainly problematic, since it's that masculine ethic of playing through the pain and self-destructive behavior that I've criticized again and again. And which, clearly, I value in spite of that.)

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