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Diving: Time to eradicate the bane of soccer’s existence

Jul 16, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT

Arjen Robben Getty Images

Despite the barrage of mainstream media articles in the United States (and abroad) that soccer has, indeed, “arrived in America” there remains a hangnail that, if staying power is a legitimate concern, is desperate for clipping: Diving.

Racial abuse aside (more on this below), diving is arguably the worst on-the-pitch problem in the game today. It fools referees, ruins matches and wrongly influences the youth while infuriating players, managers and fans. Which is exactly why the game’s governing organizations need to take an immediate stance and eradicate the cancer from our very existence.

Recently FIFA vice-president, Jim Boyce, posited the theory that players who dive should be sent off rather than shown a yellow card. “I think cheating has to be eradicated from the game,” Boyce told BBC World’s ‘Have Your Say’. “If it is absolutely no question whatsoever that it is a dive, I think perhaps Fifa have to look at whether that should be a red-card offense.”

Key to Boyce’s point, however, is that the offense should be handled by the referee at the time of the incident and not through video technology. “I believe that we don’t want to ruin our game by bringing in a lot more technology,” he said.

While Boyce’s recognition of the problem is admirable, the rationale behind not using video technology is a glowing example of FIFA’s debilitating failure to modernize, not to mention that it’s just plain incorrect.

“More technology” is not needed because all the cameras are already in place. And so too are the rules that allow referees to retrospectively review “serious breaches of the principle of fair play” so long as they’ve been missed by referees. Incidents of players engaging in punching, spitting, head-butting, verbal insults and racist slurs have all been the subject of retrospective suspensions for guilty players.

So why not diving? Has this despicable act not yet risen to the level of a verbal insult?

The solution is one that would go miles to turning might-be fans who pop up every four years for the World Cup into regular supporters of the beautiful game: Establish a fair play panel within FIFA and all league governing organizations across the globe. The panel’s duty would be to review, either by complaint or sua sponte, on-pitch actions that violate “serious breaches of the principle of fair play” including, in some instances, those seen by the referee.

This last component is key. Governing bodies have long reserved reviewing video for moments that the referee doesn’t see on the pitch but when it comes to serious fair play breaches that unequivocally damage the game, the time has come to carve out an exception to the rule.

And the punishment?

A one match suspension every time a player conclusively goes to ground without being touched and for the purpose of gaining an advantage.

It’s a simple adjustment that could prove momentous for the players, the fans (and would-be fans) and the game.

  1. jdfsquared - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    Completely, 100% agree. Retrospective review by a disciplinary committee (or fair play cmte, whatever you wanna call it), and that committee’s ability to hand out suspensions is critical. It’s successful in the NBA and other sports, it doesn’t slow down the game in the moment (like in the NBA for countless, simple calls – yawn), and it provides everyone an effective deterrent for would-be divers.

  2. navyeoddavee9 - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    Going to be tough to call diving at the speed of play, even blatant diving at game speed can be hard to call, don’t see how you can do it, without using replay

    • lyleoross - Jul 17, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      I’m going to disagree with you while allowing that there are always exceptions. Many fans don’t understand just how much discretion referees have. Many simulations are ignored simply because the referee doesn’t want to impede the flow of the match. Indeed, by far, the majority of simulations are ignored by no calls, and the referee on the pitch will comment on them to the players during play, “yeah, I saw that, you got the Emmy.” Fans never hear those exchanges.

      The problem is that at critical junctures, either there are no calls, or the referee does make the mistake. That is because a tone of no call has been set. The players know they can get away with a lot because they already have.

      When a referee starts a game he thinks about tone of the game and the teams. If he calls no fouls, the game will get rougher. That “will” in the last sentence is absolute. Diving is the same, a dive that occurs in a non-critical situation that is ignored sets a tone for the game.

      I suspect that the real solution isn’t review as much as it is call dives early. Make it like any other foul, a dive midfield is a foul, a dive in a critical position is a yellow, and a dive in the box is a red. That makes it a lot easier for the referee to call a dive as a foul. Most will be ignored since the ball rolls to the other team, but the referee would call advantage letting the player know that he has committed a foul by diving. Repeated dives earn you a yellow at a stoppage that does not interrupt game play.

      Make the calls consistently so that players know that a dive around the box is going to cost them.

      • lyleoross - Jul 17, 2014 at 1:32 PM

        BTW – calling dives as fouls would actually make game management easier. Much of a referee’s job is to manage tempers and the tone of the game. Dives cause a great deal of anger and frustration on the pitch. If the referee could recognize them as fouls then a defender who has had a dive committed against him would see some response and become less frustrated and angry.

      • Sgc - Jul 19, 2014 at 4:44 PM

        I’m gonna have to agree with the first guy. As fans, we’re judging diving by what we see, which is on the slo-mo replay, often well after play has recommenced. Saying “call it consistently” is not a plan, it’s just a hope.

      • lyleoross - Jul 20, 2014 at 4:53 PM

        What fans are missing is tone on the field, something the referee is privy to. That can’t be seen in a video. Referees are tasked with maintaining the spirit of the game. Now if you want it black and white, you can get that, but it will be a significantly different game. There will be a lot of stoppages and very little flow.

      • Sgc - Jul 21, 2014 at 7:36 PM

        That sounds like calling based on how loudly teams protest or guys’ reps to me. That’s not what I want to see. Play halted for replays isn’t either, so MLS’s retrospective punishment seems like the best idea anyone has offered.

      • lyleoross - Jul 22, 2014 at 3:02 PM

        Nope, it’s based on understanding the players, the tone on the field, and the game. As a recommendation read one of the numerous books on refereeing that are available.

        I do agree that retrospective punishment is in order, but how do you make it fair? Take for example the recent WC, where it was clear that some players are treated differently than others who are given a pass based on their value to the game? Also, please note that retrospective punishment is already in place. There are three for diving that have occurred in MLS this year that I recall. I don’t know what diving frequency in the MLS is, but it might be interesting to do a before and after analysis (that is assuming the punishments weren’t in place at the start of the current MLS set up) to see if they’re effective.

  3. txbearmeat - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:47 PM

    Use replay then. The point should be to get the calls right, not to protect a ref’s ego.

    • lordfletcher - Jul 17, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      I agree film should be used but I am not sure if you mean replay as in, in-game or post. I don’t have anything wrong with an organization taking action post game if that is required. If the ref can’t see an obvious dive d/t his angle on the play or whatever, the league should take action post game. Give these players a one game band d/t diving and fine them for unsportsman like conduct, call it 5k to local charity or (again) whatever. If everyone simple acts, rather than do nothing, this can be fixed in a short amount of time. I would say 3 years and no more issues till you find yourself in championship game modes (where there is no next game) ….

      Look to the NHL for a better example than the NBA. I know 99% of the players do not want to dive, but if they are forced to in order to equal the play, its hard to blame them. There are 3 parties to blame here, players, refs, league. FIX IT. Act now, its down right embarrassing

    • jeremytwoface - Jul 17, 2014 at 9:45 AM

      I agree… I understand that the refs don’t want to be wrong, but he can’t see everything. And players are very good at making it believable.

      At the very least, you can have post match reviews and issue fines/bans for diving after the fact.

  4. rawmustard - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:59 PM

    This is something that is tough to call at game speed. It’s no wonder that the first yellow for simulation in the World Cup didn’t come until the third place game, and even then, Oscar had clearly been contacted.

    • sw19womble - Jul 17, 2014 at 5:15 AM

      And that’s the crux of the problem – there’s contact and then there’s “contact”.
      Regardless of all, it’s the overreaction that we need to stamp out.
      I’d be happy to see a player awarded a free kick, but also get given a yellow card for “simulation”.
      ‘Matching’ penalties works in hockey and players would get the message pretty quickly that the squealing pain-cries triple-roll 1080 swan-dives don’t get you the decision – just a booking.

  5. scyankee64 - Jul 17, 2014 at 12:26 AM

    It might be enough to review it after the match and ban the player the next match.

    • mikeevergreen - Jul 17, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      Two matches.

  6. rockstardaddy - Jul 17, 2014 at 2:04 AM

    The only logical solution I suppose is to hand down one-game bans (and escalations for multiple offenses) after matches while allowing the play on the field to continue accordingly. Games will be affected by dives, but bans will deter in time.

  7. fantom21 - Jul 17, 2014 at 5:37 AM

    Solving the “problem” shouldn’t be FIFA imposed , it should be handled individually by each football association. While some of you might not want to admit it, diving isn’t frowned upon in some countries. For instance, in England diving is a form of cheating and tricking the ref, while in Italy, diving is the art of deception used to force the refs hand. Most countries teach their youth on falling the proper way, leaving their foot in a challenge, or even dragging the foot. I don’t expect people to agree with my viewpoint, but diving is seen as a tool in some countries and a cheating tactic in others, so the FA’s should deal with it rather than FIFA.

  8. fantom21 - Jul 17, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    Plus, do you think all these soccer players are born with the natural ability to fake a foul? It’s taught to them in their youth academies. I do believe in drawing fouls to alleviate pressure, as many of the world class players can do( Pirlo, Arda Turan, Wesley Sneijder). But it’s a double edged sword, once a player learns how to draw fouls, there’s nothing in the training that says it’s ok to do it in your own half but not in the opponents box.

  9. dfstell - Jul 17, 2014 at 6:48 AM

    I feel like I have a different perspective on this because I’m a newer soccer fan. Some of you guys have been inside the bubble your whole lives and have been listening to American football fans make fun of soccer players rolling around too much. You’re just too defensive from a lifetime of getting picked at for being a soccer fan.

    These calls absolutely are not hard to make at “game speed”. That’s insane. 99% of the falling down in soccer is BS designed to influence the referee. Sure, there is contact sometimes, but people can receive contact and not fall down. It happens all the time. Or go watch a rec league soccer game and watch those clumsy non-pro athletes staying on their feet.

    Of course, they do all this to influence ref behavior which is problematic. Refs needs to call fouls when the players remain on their feet. Start doing that and this problem will stop.

    And soccer’s rules play a part too. It is SO hard to score in soccer that it makes sense for players to attempt to win free kicks, penalties and yellow cards. The influence of referees is present in every sport, but it is rare in other sports for a ref to even have the power to make such game-changing calls as in soccer. Change the rules a little bit. Penalties shouldn’t be such a sure thing. Have different types of penalties. Let the wall be closer. Make more FKs indirect.

    Soccer has benefited from every expansion into new territories. From continential influences to Latin influences to Asian influences. The american influence will be “not falling down”.

    • lyleoross - Jul 17, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      I’ll cut you some slack since you’re an admitted newby. However, you’re wrong. The first thing is that pro defenders challenge and play the body in ways that youth players would never think of. They foul on purpose and very well thank you. And when they foul, it is their intent that the man on the ball goes down because if he doesn’t, he’s going to create a goal scoring opportunity that has to be stopped. What is more interesting is how little perspective non-soccer fans have on just how hard these players hit each other. While there is some legitimate faking going on, when a player hits you in the leg with his boot, coming in at full speed, it hurts, it’s a shock, and you go down.

      That said, the pro attacker does not always need to go down, and there is plenty of diving. If you watch, say Robben, from contact to contact, you see that when it’s in his best interest, he goes over the defender’s leg, and when he needs a dive, he runs into that leg.

      While review is a good idea, it isn’t the only answer. There is no doubt in my mind that the referee in the NED vs MEX game should have known that Robben was diving. Any decent refereeing manual gives a list of criteria about when, and why diving occurs. They list a set of things that coincide with the dive, things like, location – in the box, body language – really Robben? you look like you were crucified, time of game, score etc. Most of those pieces were in place when Robben took his dive against MEX. So, why no call? For all the reasons that Jordon got a step, that’s why. Referee’s are supposed to be impartial, but in some misguided belief that pros really are better, they, and FIFA, are misled by their interior emotions to make bad calls.

      Therefore, for review to work, it has to be driven by the managers. A referee may ignore the situation, a manager won’t. But, there has to be a cost. Part of the game is it’s free flowing nature, and managers should not have the power to disrupt the game when a team is gathering strength and speed and gaining advantages. Connect reviews to substitutions. Add a sub so there are four, and every review costs you one. That means reviews are very costly, and only occur in dire circumstances.

  10. heelfans - Jul 17, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    As mentioned above, the simplest solution is a post-match review with suspension to follow. This doesn’t affect match flow but will assuredly get players’ attention after a few examples. The number of replays that accompany regular game films means that no/minimal extra effort would be required to implement.
    However, there is one peripheral issue: some diving occurs due to a player’s frustration at constantly being hacked by defenders with no fouls being called. If the referees can begin to believe that players are no longer exaggerating fouls, it will be necessary for referees to step up and begin to protect the skillful dribblers!!!

  11. granadafan - Jul 17, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    The problem is that the consequences for diving aren’t severe enough. Perhaps it’s time for soccer to give out “time outs” as in hockey and take them off the field for a period of time. As it is right now, they stay on the pitch until it’s really severe, which doesn’t happen too often because refs are loathe to give penalty kicks or red cards. If they’re sent off for a period of time, maybe the game will be cleaned up some.

    The same goes for being taken off the field on a stretcher only to see them pull a Jesus and make a miraculous recovery as soon as they reach the sidelines. If you’re “injured” enough to be taken off the pitch, you can’t just hop right off and re-join the match. You’re out for a period of time to be assessed by doctors. Players are making a complete mockery of the game and injuries.

  12. talgrath - Jul 17, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    MLS is ahead of the curve on this with their Disciplinary Committee and their video reviews; maybe FIFA will take their lead again like they did with the foul marking spray can.

  13. waynelock - Jul 17, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    I am a newby as well. Been watching MLS for about 2 years now. One thing I cannot figure out, and can’t seem to get a straight answer, is why is there only 1 ref on the field? Why can’t there be one ref on each half of the field. Therefore, one ref has responsibility for his half, but can see things from a different perspective when the action is on the other half of the field.

    • granadafan - Jul 17, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      They have two additional linesmen. They need to give a little more power to the linesmen to call the dives as well. Or they can add a 2nd ref. One ref trying to control a huge pitch and 22 players all running around is tough.

  14. bananaballs - Jul 17, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    It’s not as much the diving that annoys me it’s the embellishment. Players rolling around grabbing their leg like they’ve been shot after virtually any contact. There is no punishment at all for them since there was contact and even with this proposal it wouldnt address that issue.

    The other aspect that annoys me is the virtual guarantee of a goal that is a penalty kick and the relative ease at which they’re awarded. It’s made so there is such a great incentive to embellish or dive because you’re given an easy goal regardless of how dangerous of an area of the box you’re in. Look at this in comparison to penalty shots in Hockey and how they’re awarded. They’re rare in Hockey because you have to have a clear breakaway and then be taken down or grossly interfered with during the process in order to get it, and when you get one it’s no guarantee of a goal. Goaltenders have as fair of a shot as the shooters in a hockey penalty shot. With soccer it’s a guess and jump ordeal and basically relies more on the shooter screwing up than any real ability from the goalkeeper.

    If there was a way to make soccer penalty kicks a bit more even and thus more exciting you’d probably reduce the incentive to dive from that alone. What’s the argument against moving the spot of the kick to the very top of the box to give the goalkeeper more time to react to a shot and a more difficult kick required?

    I hate seeing a game ruined by that.

    • mlsconvert88888 - Jul 17, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      I’m in agreement with you, but just to play devils advocate to support the ‘gimme’ PK’s;
      Making PK’s less automatic takes away incentive for diving, but it also takes away a deterrent for cynical fouls in the box.

      • bananaballs - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:17 AM

        Even if they tweaked PK’s to make them more even handed they’d still be a scoring opportunity that would in most cases be better than the play/location that the foul occurred. Most of the times I see these guys go down in the box in areas where they’re unlikely to score even without the foul yet are gift wrapped a goal due to the rule that it has to be granted since it’s in the box.

        Like that Robben penalty in the Mexico game. He flopped, but he was also fouled. The scoring opportunity he had there even without the foul was not even remotely close to as good as the PK scoring opportunity. Because there was a tiny amount of contact the game is then immediately decided and a team is eliminated from the world cup because of it.

        I was watching a documentary on the New York Cosmos and they had a system back then instead of kicks they’d do essentially much like what a hockey penalty shot is and allow the goalkeeper to come out and challenge the player bringing the ball down. It looked really exciting and I think that would be a viable alternative. Was that just something unique to the NASL?

  15. okiraan - Jul 17, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Hear, hear! I say review incidences in question after the match and give a two match ban.

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