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Luis Suarez may have been guilty of simulation on the weekend, but his wasn't the most blatant case of diving or the most serious unpunished incident. Yet somehow it's all pundits and the football establishment want to talk about, in the process burying more serious issues.
"I watched the latest Suarez incident two or three times, and to me it is nothing less than a form of cheating. It is becoming a little bit of a cancer within the game and I believe if it is clear to everyone that it is simulation then that person is trying to cheat and they should be severely punished for that."
Such was Jim Boyce's—vice-president of FIFA and England's representative at the international football body—take on the many events that marred this past weekend's round of games in the English Premier League. Or at least it was his take on one of those events, as in the scramble to vilify Suarez, once again a much larger and more important truth has been largely swept aside.
All of the talk about Suarez over the past 48 hours has conveniently overlooked two things. First was Robert Huth's unpunished violent conduct on Sunday, when replays showed the player intentionally stomping down on Luis Suarez' chest. Second was a Gareth Bale dive against Aston Villa that was even more blatant than Suarez'.
In the case of the Liverpool player's likely dive, there is an argument to be made for earlier contact knocking him slightly off balance. That isn't to say that Suarez didn't dive—or that he didn't deserve a yellow card for it, either at the time or retroactively—but that there was verifiable if slight contact that appeared to unbalance Suarez who, thinking he could still get a scoring chance out of the situation and likely well aware he was unlikely to get the penalty call, at first tried to stay on his feet. After a brief pause, though, it became clear that any chance had passed and so Suarez belatedly went to ground.
It was cynical and a dive certainly, and the initial contact wouldn't have deserved a call, but at least there had been a brush with the attacking player in the box immediately preceding his tumble. In Gareth Bale's case there was nothing of the sort when he sprawled theatrically in an attempt to get Aston Villa's goalkeeper shown red. It wasn't Bale's fist blatant dive and it surely won't be his last, yet as with Manchester United's Nani it appears that Bale's penchant for simulation is largely overlooked by the English media.
In Bale's case, and especially following a weekend that saw the Welshman commit the round's worst dive but with papers and pundits around the UK scrambling to once again vilify Suarez instead, it's hard not to wonder if such lopsided coverage of events represents the same kind of implicit discrimination that causes Premier League referees to punish foreign players at a 15% greater rate than English players from the same ethnic or minority groups.
If it's easy to draw conclusions as to why Bale is seen in kinder terms than a player like Luis Suarez, Nani's situation is more difficult to explain without resorting to conspiracy theories and claims of a pro-United bias amongst the press and Football Association. Still, whatever the reasons for the Portuguese international's largely unblemished reputation amongst the punditry despite his regular bouts of acting, it's impossible to overlook that the United attacker is far more likely to see calls in and around the box go his way than his Uruguayan counterpart.
And perhaps even harder to understand than the blatant inconsistency on the diving front is the apparent willingness by both the press and representatives of England's footballing establishment to completely overlook uncalled instances of violent conduct. Diving, loathsome as it may be, can only ruin a moment or a match. Attempts to injure opponents, on the other hand, can do far more to ruin a season or career.
While blatant violent incidents that took place over the weekend have seen mention in the press—though most little more than to pass along that the FA has decided in their wisdom that there was nothing wrong with cases involving Robin van Persie, Cheik Tiote, and Robert Huth—none of those incidents have seen anywhere near as much spilled ink from those who lead the conversation when it comes to football in England.
It feels as though to even discuss such matters one must tack on an endless stream of disclaimers concerning the sinister nature of diving and Luis Suarez' spotty discipline history, yet the very fact that this must be done to even attempt to touch on problems that should at the very least be considered just as serious as his misdeeds shows just how fundamentally rotten the current situation in and conversation surrounding the Premier League is.
There are some things that are very, very wrong about the game of football in England and the way in which it is covered. That doesn't mean that when Suarez misbehaves his actions should be ignored, but the continuing focus on treating one player as a kind of cartoon villain for all the league's problems in the end seems little more than an attempt by those tasked with leading the conversation to feel as though they are right and just and fighting for a better brand of football without having to actually do the hard work of fighting for a better brand of football.
The conversation, both amongst the pundit class and within the halls of power in the English game, is broken. The continuing reaction to events over the Premier League's latest round of games would seem to make this impossible to ignore. Yet it's almost inevitable that rather than serious reflection, this latest round of rabble rousing will instead only lead to more hearty pats on the back and feelings of satisfaction for a job well done.