Social media has been relentless this week in its criticism of Brazilian footballer Neymar over his antics in the World Cup, mostly in the Round of 16 game with Mexico, in which he is seen several times embellishing a foul in an attempt to not only get his team awarded a free kick, but also to potentially have his opponent “carded” for its physical play.
To be fair, outside of my allegiance to anything USA, the Brazilian soccer team holds a special place in my heart, responsible for changing the direction of my life. Like Notre Dame football, University of Kentucky basketball, and Baltimore Ravens football, the Selecao draws my attention every time I can watch it perform on the world stage.
As someone raised on the Brazilian samba style of soccer, I am fully aware of the part of the game where mostly Latin American players (although it seems to be growing globally) embellish the slightest contact (especially near or in the penalty area) to advance their team’s cause and create opportunities through their theatrics.
It’s been a part of the game that I’ve known for 50 years, and although I’m personally not a fan I believe it has had its part in the beautiful game.
But that part may be coming to an end.
Due to the introduction of Video Assistance Referee system, known as VAR — FIFA’s version of instant replay — the players’ ability to take a dive and reap the rewards may be a thing of the past.
VAR has not been short on controversy during the Cup so far, but for a skeptic like me, I think the technology has been used well throughout Russia 2018 and has generally confirmed the correct call or been used to overturn an official’s mistake.
If you want to eliminate the theatrics that is becoming so prevalent in the game of soccer, use the same VAR technology used to confirm the official’s call to penalize the player/actor for his or her attempt to embellish the official’s call. The referee has the ability to do that right now just by issuing yellow cards for embellishment; but using the VAR technology will legitimize the official’s call and eliminate and personal bias against certain players.
This could also open up a can of worms that I’m not sure VAR is fully capable of handling just yet. If you watch any corner kick or set play near the goal, an official could practically call holding, pushing, or striking on every play, kind of like holding on a lineman in a game of football.
If you’re going to make calls on embellishment, then you darn sight better be ready to call actual fouls in the box on a more regular basis.
The behavior that bothers me way more than the flamboyant player flailing around on the ground grabbing his ankle when he’s bumped on the field is the attacks on the center official to plead their case once the call is made that not only slow down the restart; but put the officials in a very threatening position.
Once the World Cup is over, I will be submitting to FIFA a formal suggestion for a rule change that could be implemented at the international level but whose benefits could reach all the way down to the youth recreation level, a rule that I affectionately call the “Two-Meter Rule.”
Basically, the rule would state that immediately following a call being made by an official, an imaginary two-meter (thus the name) plane goes up around the official preventing any emotional confrontation between the aggrieved player and the referee. Any player that enters the two-meter zone immediately following the call will receive an immediate yellow card. A player that makes any contact with an official whatsoever would receive an immediate red card, and an ejection from the game.
The officials have the ability to issue those cards right now, and I’m surprised that so many of them in the Cup have taken so much abuse from several players at a time without issuing any cards for dissent.
It’s easy to put the burden on the official’s shoulders to make that call, but can you imagine the uproar if an official took it on his own to start throwing cards around for this type of behavior that caused some of the game’s marquee players from playing in future games as they accumulate cards for misbehavior?
That’s why the rule needs to be implemented by FIFA, supported with the new VAR technology, and enforced by strict penalties for violating the official’s “safe space.”
American engineer and inventor Dean Kamen once wrote, “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.”
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It’s time to expand the use of VAR technology for soccer games; for the safety of the officials and the love of the game.