0.1 From The Chilean Judge

Enrique Osses was the very last man to try it on.

The world first saw Osses as part of the referee contingent for the 2014 World Cup, representing Chile. He called Cote d’Ivoire/Japan and Italy/Costa Rica in the group stage, but after several disputable calls made in the latter, he was not called upon for any further work. But Osses was criticized in Recife for his non-calls. When it’s only South America watching and not the entire planet, Osses is known for making far too many, being notoriously quick to hand out cards and penalty kicks. You wouldn’t know it if you only speak English, but Osses has been card-happy enough to where he’s the subject of a meme. He is not a man to be trifled with on the pitch.

Goalkeeper Maximo Banguera of Ecuador’s Barcelona SC– not to be confused with the more famous FC Barcelona, but founded in 1925 by Eutimio Perez, an immigrant from Barcelona, and using a logo very similar to same- decided to trifle with the man. In a Copa Libertadores match on March 11 against Atletico Nacional of Colombia, Banguera left his box to try and stop charging Atletico striker Jonathan Copete, and by ‘stop’ we are talking ‘run over’. Both went down after Banguera got a hand on Copete. Copete clutched his stomach for a short while but got back up; at most he had the wind knocked out of him for a few seconds. Banguera just laid on the ground motionless, playing dead. Osses, not buying it for a second, had his red card out before even reaching Banguera, and then just waited for him to get up- or more to the point, wake up from his nap- so he could actually send him off. This took 1 minute, 17 seconds, as well as the presence of a stretcher.

On the face, just one more bizarre soccer clip. But let’s look a bit more closely at the context. The card to Banguera came in the 88th minute, with the score tied 1-1. Barcelona, in last place in their Copa Libertadores group, was desperate to at least get that first point, and a charging Copete was looking to take it away and put Barcelona in a horrific situation with the group half complete, with barely any time to do something about it should he score. So Banguera made a desperate play to meet a desperate situation, hoping that Osses would botch the call, or even if he didn’t, the foul would at least take place outside of the penalty area, thus preventing a penalty and probable game-winner even if Osses got the call right.

Osses got the call right. And the ploy failed anyway, as substitute goalkeeper Damien Lanza failed to prevent Atletico from scoring the game-winner anyway in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

If you were to ask around, you’d probably find that the least-surprising part of this story is that it occurred in South America. That would be intended as a knock on the place, except for the fact that some South Americans wouldn’t actually see it as one. Conventional wisdom- and the stats, before you say anything- show that South America, as well as Mediterranean players, do in fact dive more than their Northern European and especially British counterparts. This is a reflection of what happens when all the world’s cultures are put in one place. A thing as simple as soccer can be interpreted many different ways, reflecting those cultures’ attitudes on life. The British, and the Americans as well, both see themselves as tough, hardworking folk, and that’s reflected on the field. Feign injury? The notion is absurd. In fact, if you ARE injured, shake it off and get back in there. Take it like a man. (Not that there isn’t diving going on with them too. Every nationality dives. There’s just less of it.) And of course, we mentioned earlier this month that North Korea, for one, doesn’t really dive either. Australia sees itself having the same arguments against large segments of Asia, particularly the Middle East.

In the Latin and Mediterranean world, the viewpoint is rather different. Diving may not be the most attractive thing in the world, no, but cheating is a factor, and if it happens to work, good for you. You may remember that Luis Suarez, who gained notoriety for biting an opponent in the 2014 World Cup, was regarded as a hero one World Cup prior… for swatting away a ball with his hand at the last second before it would have gone in the goal, which was the deciding factor in the elimination of Ghana in the round of 16. At least, he was a hero in Uruguay. He went on to call his actions “the real Hand of God”, referencing what Diego Maradona had done for Argentina in the 1986 edition.

The mentality goes something like this: out in the world, there are folks out to get you. They’ll try to keep you down by any means they can. (A not-unfounded train of thought in nations with high levels of corruption. I don’t know of any studies looking at it, but there is probably a correlation between a country’s corruption level and their proficiency at diving.) Playing fair is going to get you nowhere; it just paints you as a sucker and a mark. Instead, you get ahead by finding creative ways to stick it to the man. The shame is not in cheating, nor in getting caught, but merely in failing.  Stories of characters such as Don Juan,  the Maya Hero Twins, Pedro Urdemales, Saci, or Giufa take hold.

But they’re merely the most famous for it, surely due to their prominence. We haven’t mentioned Africa yet, which can find itself the origin of some of the most sheerly brazen incidents. Narcisse Ekanga of Equatorial Guinea at the 2012 African Cup of Nations. In the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Equatorial Guinea’s women’s team saw defensewoman Bruna not only grab but hold and then drop the ball in the penalty area. Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar scrambling to try and go down inside the penalty area in a 2014 World Cup game against Croatia. They just don’t get seen as much, because first, fewer people are even looking at games in Africa, and second, fewer even can, because fewer of the games are televised in the first place. Poke around this site, rattling off games slated to be televised somewhere in some way in the near future. There is virtually blanket coverage of top-level European and South American ball. You have to work a heck of a lot harder to pick out other continents once you get past the most prominent of their offerings. Africa, over 50 countries strong, may only show up a handful of times in any given day’s listing.

And it seems to me that this is part of the reason for it. Some of it is structural, to be sure. The corruption index is high- higher, actually, than in the other relevant areas- and African storytelling, like in the other regions, is based in folklore, and heavily so at that. This class syllabus from Yale fleshes that out some, particularly in West Africa- where, coincidentally, the best soccer on the continent is generally played. There’s an emphasis on wild gestures and embellishments by the storyteller, as well as trickster heroes, particularly animal tricksters. So the same basic forces hold in Africa as do elsewhere. But there’s the added factor of opportunity. With fewer cameras, and fewer eyes on them, there’s less people to fool. Really, pragmatically, the only person that needs to be fooled is the referee, and with the referee probably less experienced than his European or South American counterpart, he’s easier to fool. Thus, you can get away with more.

Not that there isn’t a limit, as four third-tier Nigerian clubs found out when trying to game goal differential on the last day of the season. Twin results of 79-0 and 67-0 stick out like a sore thumb no matter where on the globe you play. All four clubs were suspended; the owner of the team on the losing end of the 67-0 result immediately disbanded the club entirely out of shame.

Which gets to the crux of the entire matter: some people, some regions, may make more peace than others with the idea of not playing a game straight. But everybody knows you’re not supposed to be doing it. Corruption, in and of itself, is much the same: the rules are there, and you know that you are consciously breaking them, and explanations for doing so, whether to others or to themselves, involves acknowledging that in some way. Yes, it was outside the rules, but it worked. Yes, it was outside the rules, but everybody else breaks them too so i might as well join in. Yes, it was outside the rules, but it was the only way to get the job done. Yes, it was outside the rules, but the opportunity presented itself to do it anyway. Yes, it was outside the rules, but I don’t consider myself bound to them. (Civil disobedience adds another: yes, it was outside the rules, but the rules should be changed.)

Not far away from these, there’s following the letter of the rules but not the spirit. Yes, this isn’t supposed to be what happens, but the rules, or at least my interpretation of them, say I get to do it, so there. Disregarding any fault at all- ‘this is not outside the rules or their spirit, I don’t know what your problem is with my actions’- typically (but not always) implies other forces at work.

The trickster character is found and beloved worldwide, with Bugs Bunny pulling weight on behalf of modern-day America and Robin Hood doing so for England. Some places just listen a little more closely than others. The matter, the heart of all of soccer’s cheating and diving, isn’t whether it’s considered to be permitted, but whether it’s considered to be acceptable, and what is considered to be acceptable and what is not. Everyone has their own line.

Just hope the line trends as far towards order as possible. If it goes too far the other way, eventually we’re not playing soccer anymore. We’re playing Calvinball.

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