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The Art Of 'Flopping' In Soccer

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

World Cup soccer has entered its knockout round. And as the action heats up, so surely will the flopping. And if you don't know what that is, it's those acrobatic belly and nosedives players perform in an effort to convince the referee that they've been fouled.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brazil's Neymar, one of the world's greatest players, is so well-known for his flops that a cottage industry of memes has developed around his performances. Joining us now to talk about the art of flopping is writer David Henry Sterry, co-author of "The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide."

Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY, David.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: Thank you so much. I'm not flopping yet, but I may before this interview is over.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But, you know, I think for a lot of Americans who are perhaps less familiar with the sport the rest of the world calls football, these sort of balletic falls seemed to be caused by the barest brush against one's opponent. And they may wonder, what in the world is going on?

STERRY: Well, flopping is the dark art of the beautiful game. And make no mistake about it, it is an art. The best floppers, you look at it in real time, you go, oh, God, he got fouled because he looks like he's the victim of the cruelest, brutalist brutality as he crumbles like he's been shot and arrives on the ground. It's not until you look at it in slow motion afterwards you realize it was literally a stiff breeze that knocked him over.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, I want to break this down a little bit because I am actually curious. So how long should they remain on the ground? Is it better to clutch your ankle than your knee? I mean, I just want you to break it apart for me as a watcher of this.

STERRY: Yeah. Well, I used to be a coach, and we would spend one practice session before the season started just perfecting the art of the flop. The first thing you have to do is you have to lean into the opponent that's behind you if someone's behind you. And as soon as they make any contact with you, the first thing you do is to get your face into an operatic mask of pain, and this has to be done in conjunction with a death knell cry. And then you flop around on the ground, literally. Recently Neymar did a - I think he made six entire revolutions rolling on the ground.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aren't the refs onto the charade, though? I saw that a penalty awarded to Neymar in a match against Costa Rica was actually overturned upon video review of his fake flop.

STERRY: And when you watch that, when you look at that in real time - and Neymar, to be fair, he was fouled in the last World Cup from behind and broke his back...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

STERRY: ...By being fouled. And he gets brutally punished every game. He does.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He does.

STERRY: However, in this particular instance, he hardly even got touched. And normally, you know, you got to understand that when a game can be decided by a score of 1 to nothing, a penalty kick - which is almost certainly a goal - might be the thing that takes you through to the next round. I think they should start giving red cards to floppers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really? So that's what I was about to say.

STERRY: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think the penalty should be for fake floppers?

STERRY: Yeah, get them out. You're done. You flop, you're gone. I - it's really...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But isn't it just a part of the game?

STERRY: Yeah, but I think it's...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, isn't it just another soccer skill?

STERRY: Yes (laughing), you could argue that it is another soccer skill. However, it's just gotten to the point where it degrades the game. It's not fun when this happens all the time, and people are rewarded for cheating. You're not supposed to be rewarded for cheating.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Writer David Henry Sterry, thank you so much for speaking with us.

STERRY: Thank you. It's been a great joy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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