Diving, simulation, premature evasive action – call it what you will, it’s an aspect of the game that isn’t going away.
Diving has become an increasingly relevant part of British football in recent years, and it’s quite clear the fans don’t like it. But diving is not a contagion that will filter out of the game any time soon.
Indisputably it’s an unsavoury aspect of modern football, trying to con the referee. But diving is certainly not the only way in which players attempt to trick the officials. A striker firing a torrent of abuse at an assistant referee when he knows he was offside or two opposing players sticking their hand in the air in an attempt to win a throw-in are just two examples of how players try to cheat the system on a regular basis.
Is diving any worse than a cynical challenge by a defender who makes a decision to prevent a counter-attack? The punishment is the same, so surely it should be perceived as equally unpleasant.
For those who may disagree with my theory that diving will not leave the game any time soon, I will explain my reasoning: the majority of the best players in the game are guilty of it.
If it was a small number of less-able players seeking advantage on a regular basis, it would be eminently more punishable. However, that is not that case.
Many of the finest players on the planet are the prime suspects. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas all regularly seek to gain an advantage through unfair means. In the Premier League, too, the better players are the most frequent offenders. Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, two of the most revered players in English football, are constantly maligned for it.
For those who cite English players as a source of nobility in the debate, Ashley Young and Steven Gerrard have, on several occasions, been found guilty of it.
Arguably the biggest factor leading to simulation as a residual aspect of the game is the ambiguity regarding how to punish it. The FIFA Laws of the Game state that “attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)” is worthy of a yellow card for unsporting behaviour. This raises two issues:
The first relates to the issue discussed above. The fact that the best players are responsible for diving makes referees more reluctant to issue the appropriate punishment. If a referee decided to apply the appropriate punishment and issue two yellow cards to – for arguments sake, Ronaldo – there would be outcry. Moreover, the fact that it is often hard to determine on first glance whether a player has dived or not makes the referee’s job even more difficult.
One of the only occasions I can remember a referee applying the law and sending a player off for a second bookable offence caused by simulation was the dismissal of Arsenal's Giovanni van Bronckhorst against Liverpool in 2001. That speaks volumes.
The second issue, regarding the aforementioned laws of the game is with the first part of the statement. The rule states that feigning injury is worthy of a yellow card. Exaggerating, or creating, injury is present in almost every match in modern football. It is arguably more existent that simulation itself. In the last ten minutes of any football match around the world it is not uncommon to see a player invent an injury to buy some time for their team.
Diving is undoubtedly something football would be better off without. Unfortunately, while there is an opportunity to seek an advantage, players will do so however possible. With the difficulty referees have in interpreting whether a player is guilty of simulation or not in the little time they have to make a decision, it will always be in their interests not to punish the player – they will receive far less criticism for getting it wrong and not booking the player, than getting it wrong and issuing a yellow.
Barring a dramatic attempt to eradicate it from the game that would see a vast amount of red cards shown, diving will be staying with us - just like pulling shirts at corners, cynical challenges and false claims of contact with the ball.
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