In Defense of the DiversIs diving really football’s biggest problem?
by Scott Nicholls | Tuesday, October 16, 2012
That is the headline for one story on an English soccer website. Next to it is another headline “FIFA: Diving is a cancer.” The war on diving continues to wage in England and continues to be a top priority of FIFAs. And the poster boy for this campaign? Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, apparently, the biggest cheat in the game.
Diving (or “simulation” as is the correct term, according to the FA and FIFA) has been in the game for years now. I remember when it first started to become prevalent – we all associated it with the increase in numbers of foreign exports to the Premier League, and we didn’t like it.
Not one bit.
Now it is part of almost every game, in every league, at every level of football in the world. This poses a problem for referees that they’ve never had to deal with before – what to do about diving? There are more ramifications to diving than just winning a free kick (or more) for your team. One problem is determining what is a fair play and what is a foul play.
There are guidelines set for referees to determine if a player has “simulated” within a game:
- A separation in time between the impact and the “simulation”
- A lack of ballistic continuity (i.e. the player moves farther than expected because of the resulting tackle. See Sergio Busquets in … any game)
- A lack of contact consistency (i.e. a player gets elbowed in the chest, but goes down holding his head.)
The problem with these guidelines is that all three of them can be fair play, too.
Take our first situation: Eden Hazard beats Ryan Shawcross, who, in the process, knocks Hazard off balance in the penalty area. Hazard tries to stay on his feet but cannot. In this fictional example, we have a separation of time between impact and “simulation.”
This is still a penalty, but given these guidelines, what is the referee to do? In similar situations this season, it seems the result would be a yellow card and a free kick the opposite way.
Secondly, I don't agree with this guideline of a lack of ballistic continuity. The referee is supposed to know about trajectory, angles and speed at point of contact right when the player hits the ground? And they have to take in the possibility the pitch may have been watered beforehand, rainfall, the weight of the infringed player and weight of the offender? It is absolutely absurd. I know David Elleray was a headmaster (school principal), but I doubt he was a master of split second physic laws.
So how do you define simulation? How can a referee tell when somebody is trying to “cheat” to win an advantage for his team? I think Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s comments on obscenity sum it up well: “I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it.”
Referees know when they are being cheated, they just do. Some are just better at it than others. Fans also know it, albeit because of the multiple replays from camera angles we are privy to.
The ramifications for “diving” are pretty clear. You either get a decision or you do not. Diving is so ingrained into the game right now that referees oftentimes – rather than doling out yellow card left, right and center – will motion for a player to “get up.”
This action seems to go relatively unnoticed when it’s in the middle of the field, but when it’s inside the penalty box the pundits, fans, and players/managers all cry: “Well if it’s a dive then book him!” But sometimes one must consider that the referee has simply been sufficiently fooled into thinking the attacking player was impeded – just not unfairly.
That is the most difficult thing for a referee to do, discerning a dive from someone who genuinely lost their balance.
In England, the punishment for diving is a yellow card and a free kick to the opposition team. In MLS, it is a far worse punishment. MLS has a governing body that is allowed to review plays after a game has finished and look at TV evidence to retrospectively ban and fine players.
But ladies and gentlemen, diving and simulation isn’t the same thing. Not even close. The problem in soccer is diving. FIFA is right in saying diving is a cancer. But simulation is not. This is why I find the media/FIFA/Laurent Koscielny’s criticism of Suarez a little strange, and frankly a little boring too.
Simulation is an essential part of the game. Soccer has become faster to the point where there is talk that we need instant replay to decide what is a goal and what isn’t.
The pace of the new game dictates that sometimes referees need to be shown that an infringement has occurred. I would be willing to bet that Lionel Messi goes down “a little bit easily” on occasion – the man being so skilful that to a referee it could look like he tripped over his own feet.
A few weeks ago, Suarez came out and said that he felt foreign players get treated unfairly by referees. Initially I thought what any other football fan would think, “Oh shut up and get on with it,” but in many ways this seems to be the case of late. Hazard has not been awarded four penalties in a row, yet not been booked for diving. If it isn’t a penalty, then is it a dive? Why no bookings?
Koscielny’s criticism of Suarez was after being asked which striker he didn’t like to face in the Premier League. He responded that Suarez “is tiresome to defend against. He cheats. He pulls your shirt, giving small blows. You always want to give him a kick but you have to be careful not to be sent off.”
So, according to Laurent Koscielny, Suarez is a soccer player. Not a cheat.
Koscielny does also go on to say that he’s afraid to “touch him incase he decides to go down,” but if you’re a good defender then you know how to go about this in the correct way.
FIFA says diving endangers other players whom are actually hurt, but I disagree. If a guy is rolling around on the ground, clutching his knee waving his arms around, he isn’t that badly hurt. There’s the old adage “you know he’s hurt, because he’s not moving.” People inherently know when another person is “hurt” or “injured.” You don’t embellish an injury, you’re too concerned with the pain you’re feeling to do that.
Going down “easily” and diving are too completely different things. Clearly diving to gain an advantage is wrong. Simulating or “embellishing” contact however, I’m not so sure.
Simulating, for me, is fine. Everybody does it – even the more reputable players (Michael Owen, England’s former poster boy, just admitted to doing it against Argentina in the World Cup in 1998).
How many times have you seen a striker being pushed and pulled as he goes through on goal. It’s a penalty, we can all see that … except the player stays on his feet, skews the shot wide and then protests.
Being honorable in that situation makes you look like you’re just looking for a decision to cover up your poor shot.
Going back to Hazard and the penalties he should have been awarded but has not – he’s being too honest about it. Re-enforce the referee’s initial thoughts. Do not give him a chance to second-guess himself – he will likely side with the defender.
It’s a different game now. Let’s try to keep up with it.