While watching the World Cup, and pondering the phenomenon of ‘diving’, I came to the realisation that soccer, among other sports*, has contradictory imperatives embedded in its rules.
Theoretically, soccer is a non-contact sport. However it involves a contest for possession of one object of small size. This invites contact, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that the rules punish contact unless it can be construed as a legal fiction of non-contact. You can go for the ball, not the player. If you happen to contact the player in the process of going for the ball, that’s OK. But the nature of the contest means such contact is the norm rather than the exception. So the natural actions involved in playing the game – competing for possession of the ball – are contraventions of the rules for playing the game. What it creates is an incentive for the opposing player to demonstrate that you went for him/her rather than the ball, otherwise known as diving. It’s widely acknowledged as the bane of the sport, but given the fundamental set-up, it appears unavoidable.
Contrast this with AFL, a highly artificial game (unlike soccer that has been more ‘organic’ in its development), the rules for which have been constructed with great care, and therefore do not suffer this particular contradiction. In AFL, there is no pretence that you can gain control of the ball without making contact with the opposition. Certain kinds of contact are forbidden, but they do not constitute the typical contact necessary for the playing of the game. Thus opportunities for diving are very few.
* Netball springs to mind, with its constant litany of penalties for “Contact!”