On Diving

jeremy fernando ft. lali puna (sb rmx)


On 1 September 2009, the Control and Disciplinary Body of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) slapped a 2-match ban on Eduardo Alves da Silva of Arsenal FC, for "deceiving the referee" during the UEFA Champions League play-off second leg match on August 26 against Celtic FC. Eduardo was accused of going down in the penalty box, despite there having been no apparent contact with Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc: referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez awarded the penalty, which was subsequently converted by Eduardo himself.

Those who condemn Eduardo usually base it around the notion that diving goes against the 'spirit of the game', and that UEFA is taking a step in the right direction by attempting to stamp it out. His defenders claim that he is being scape-goated; he is hardly the first to have taken a dive, and surely will not be the last.

All of them have of course missed the point completely.

Games are rules-based situations, and are teleological by definition. In football, the aim is to score more goals than your opponent, within the boundaries set by the rules of the game. A situation can only have 'spirit' if it does not have a pre-determined goal; that would be the domain of an art-form. The moment it enters the domain of a game, with its specific end-point, it is no longer an expression of the potential movement of the spirit: we have seen this happen to many art-forms when they attempt to translate themselves into sports (a few instances of this include martial arts such as Judo, Tae-Kwon-Do, and Brazilian Jujitsu). Whether Eduardo is the very first to take a dive or not is irrelevant; if he was deemed to have broken the rules by the referee, he has. What is equally irrelevant is whether he has actually done so or not.

big mistakes
biggest hurt

Perhaps the fact that the interpretation of rules — which are the hinge that all games revolve around — lies solely in the hands of the referee might give us a clue to why 'diving' has become such a major point of discussion in football. If the referee is interpreting the rules in a situation, this suggests that (s)he is always already caught in the tension between the universal (the rules as such) and the particular (the singular interpretation of those said rules). The problem lies in the translation of the rules — which must apply to everyone, and in all situations — into a singular situation, with its specific contexts, environment, and such. In other words, the referee is not interpreting the rules in a hermeneutical sense (interpreting what the letter of the rules mean), nor even a phenomenological sense (which still requires a correspondence between the situation and a pre-conceived code), but more radically, each time the referee blows the whistle, (s)he is writing those very rules themselves. Each time (s)he lays down the rules of the game becomes the undoing of those very same rules.

my whole past behind glass

And each time a player dives, we have the unique situation where (s)he is strictly speaking not breaking any of the rules (after all, there is nothing in football that says you can't decide to fall down in the middle of the game), but at the same time, what has happened is that the player has foregrounded the fact that the referee is precisely the rule(s) of the game. This is precisely why 'diving' is frowned upon: it highlights the fact that there really is no basis to these very rules; they are completely arbitrary. This is the lesson of The Emperor's New Clothes: the shock and horror of the crowd was not in the fact that the little child pointed out that the Emperor was naked (who didn't already know that), but in foregrounding of the absurdity of the situation itself (where he is only the Emperor because everyone deems him to be so; and in this case the absurdity is doubled as he was not even carrying the signs of an Emperor, that is the crown and the sceptre). This child was told to be quiet precisely because what was highlighted was the fact that the people were making themselves subservient in the face of absolute lack of evidence that the man standing in front of them was the Emperor. Each time a player dives, what is highlighted to the crowd is that they are watching a game that really has nothing to do with them: for without a common set of rules, there really are no boundaries to the game, and by extension no possible understanding of the game. Perhaps this is why those that are most vitriolic against diving are football commentators: each dive only reminds us that they really have no idea what they are talking about, and in fact have jobs based on absolutely nothing.

great divide
great deceit

We see this desperate attempt to re-inscribe simulation back into the auspices of 'reality' not only in sport, but in the advertising industry as well. Kevin Swanepoel, President of the One Club, which runs the One Show advertising awards, recently announced that from 2010, any award submission that is deemed to be a 'scam ad' (that is, done solely to win awards, and are not linked to any 'real' client, or 'real' advertisement) will result in a 5-year ban from competition.

the whole past on my mind

Clearly it is not the honesty, or integrity, of advertisements or adverting agencies, that is being chastised here: that would just be too ironic. A more important thing is at stake: that of the reality principle itself. For what 'scam ads' do is foreground the fact that the best work at agencies happen for these 'scams', rather than for the client, the very same client that is paying for their work and by extension their wages. Hence what the 'scam ads' highlight is the fact that creatives write ads for the clients, but only in order to sustain what really interests them, the awards themselves. And more importantly than that, the supposed target audience for the work they are paid to do — the end consumer — isn't even a part of the consideration. And this is the very secret that must be protected: for if the end consumer stops looking at ads, not only do the clients close down, but advertising and the entire advertising industry is made redundant.

Courtesy of SpY

urban furniture installation

Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal FC, is absolutely correct when he called it a "witch hunt," for what is at stake is the secret the very game of football requires — that the rules apply to everyone fairly. UEFA have clearly learnt from Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street: in order to kill Freddy Krueger, you have to ignore the fact that he is a figment of your imagination, but instead take him on his own terms (the dreamscape) and kill him there. Therefore, it does not matter if Eduardo dived or not, nor does it matter that the referee (who is the arbiter of the rules) deemed that it was a penalty; the imposition of the ban allows UEFA to maintain the illusion that the rules are certain — that they are above and beyond any situation and interpretation. Hence the only response is to be as arbitrary as the rules are with the punishment — a 2-match ban in retrospect, after initially toying with a potential 6-match ban (it could have been 20 or 5; it would make absolutely no difference).

remember the small things
you say: remember the small things

(lali puna, "small things")

On 1 September, 2009, UEFA sacrificed Eduardo at the stake, to save football itself.

* * *

Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at the European Graduate School. He works at the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media, and is the author of Reflections on (T)error, and two forthcoming books entitled Reading Blindly, and The Suicide Bomber; and her gift of death. He is also a Research Fellow at the Centre of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


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