Joga Bonito

In an earlier post I noted that baseball and golf were probably my two favorite sports.  But for pure excitement and intrigue I must admit that there exists no greater month of sports for me than Fifa’s World Cup.  Maybe because it comes around only once every four years.  Maybe because nations, rather than individuals or teams, are represented.  For whatever reason, most things are put on hold during the next four weeks.

I do have one big gripe (actually, as my wife tells me, I have quite a few but that takes us off the subject). The constant diving or flopping, which seems to have become entrenched in the game, really takes away from the enjoyment.  Yes, I may be getting old, but what ever happened to sportsmanship or winning the right way? 

The only sport that seems to still run on the mantra of sportsmanship is golf.  Only a few weeks ago Darren Clarke chose to follow the code and may have cost himself a chance to win the Nissan Irish Open:

“When he returned to his ball in the rough on the ninth he reported to a referee that his lie had been improved by grass being flattened down.He was told to play the ball as it lay but, feeling he was gaining an unfair advantage if he went for the green from his improved lie, chipped sideways from the rough, as he would have had to do, he felt, with his original lie, and took bogey – CNN.”

This type of behavior does not seem to live in most other sports, where the mantra seems to be “if your not caught its not cheating.”  Now it’s easy to understand why.   Once the first person that ‘dives’ is rewarded with a free kick or penalty kick, someone else will try.  The more rewards, the more of this behavior we will see.  This is what economics predicts:  if someone comes up with an innovation that is successful, others will follow.  For example – and it is an example off the topic but near and dear to my heart — the first successful brewpub has lead to, thankfully, many more!

Now, Nike is trying to combat flopping by introducing its Joga Bonito ad campaign.  Nike hopes to introduce (re-introduce?) an honor code into the game.  While I think this is a noble attempt, its unlikely to work – the gains to this new “innovation” are simply too high.

Here is my idea.  Have the referees continue to call games the best that they can.  After the game, have a panel of three judges look at the game film.  If two of the three agree that the player dove or was faking injury, then charge the yellow or red card to that player instead of the opposing player.  This would introduce a cost for choosing to adopt the flopping “innovation” and with modern technology will not unnecessarily slow down the game.  In other words, let’s not hope people will learn to behave with honor.  Let’s give players an incentive to behave and maybe then everyone will "play beautiful."

– MBS