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Football's Ugly Pandemic - The Dive

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The only acceptable form of diving.
The only acceptable form of diving.

After all the talk and drama of Liverpool's recent defeat to Newcastle, I decided it might be time to take a look at cheating, the ramifications of it and the stigma it carries. No one wants to be labeled a cheat. It is something that cuts to the core of a player's reputation and has the potential to damage their game. Referees can be influenced by it, opposition fans latch onto it and most importantly, it makes spreading the beautiful game to new markets such as the US much more difficult.

Obviously cheating is something that goes back as far as time as competition drives human behavior. It is the overriding principle for capitalism/free market economics. The desire to succeed sometimes sees us put our morals and dignity aside for the ability to gain an advantage. But what is cheating? Was Suarez's handball in the World Cup cheating? Was Maradona's "Hand of God"?

Now that Suarez has been labeled "a cheat" and "a diver" and "a racist" by many, I have started to hear people bemoan his handball against Ghana. If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here. It is very easy to follow the crowd and jump on the Suarez hate bandwagon, but was this really cheating? Here would be a lawyers take:

Law 12 of the FIFA rules states:

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following three offences:

  • holds an opponent
  • spits at an opponent
  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

So is it really forbidden to do these things? Well, a lawyer's answer is no. Nowhere in the rules does it say that a player SHALL NOT, it simply states how they would be punished for doing such things (yes I realize it is semantics). So, if one was willing to accept such punishment, then it would stand to reason that one CAN do anything they want during a game.

This got me thinking because I generally regarded Suarez's handling of the ball intentionally as a smart play. He knew the consequences of letting Ghana score, decided the consequences of punching the ball out were worth the punishment so he did it. I thought that was a smart play at the time to keep his team alive. But then I started to think, if I accepted it in this case with that logic, would I have to accept Maradona's "Hand of God" goal as acceptable? Then my stomach turned over and I my mind went into overload.

This past weekend was full of more dives and cons. The referees are fighting an uphill battle and it is unfair to ask so much of them. Did Carroll dive, well yeah. Kinda. He seemed to be playing for contact (which is unethical in my opinion, but legal) and when it didn't come he was unable to recover and threw himself/fell to the ground. He even seemed to try and keep his legs together for extra points from the judges for minimizing his splash. He deserved his yellow.

Then we have the bust up with Reina and Perch. Reina had every right to be irate with Perch. Perch was intentionally trying to foul him. But then Reina lost his cool and kissed Perch's nose ever so gently with his forehead. At the exact same time, a sniper at St. James' Park must have taken a shot and felled Perch right to the floor. Reina was rightfully sent off, but would he have been if Perch hadn't hammed it up? I would say probably not. In addition, should Perch have been cautioned twice and sent off for two bookable offences right there?

In FIFA's published interpretations of Law 12 it states:

There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour, e.g. if a player:

  • commits in a reckless manner one of the seven offences that incur a direct free kick
  • commits a foul for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack
  • attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)

The list is much longer than this, but I pulled out the important ones. It seems to me that his attempt to intentionally foul or block or Reina who was clearly trying to start a counterattack would necessitate a yellow. A minute later, he is sniped from the stands, falling to the ground writhing in pain only to rise from the dead and continue his confrontation with Reina. This has to be another clear yellow for attempting to deceive the referee by feigning injury. (it should also be noted that Perch should have received another yellow a few minutes later after he cheaply conceded possession and pulled Suarez back intentionally to stop an obvious counter).

This is the point I am trying to get at. The act of feigning injury must be punished and yes, this is coming from a Liverpool fan (although Bale has been booked more for diving than any other player this year in the EPL). For all you others out there, don't sit here and tell me your team doesn't do it because you are wrong. It is a problem that is entrenched in the footballing world on all teams from all countries and continents and it must be stamped out for the game to go forward and grow. For me there is one simple solution and that is retrospective yellow cards and a potential fine.

It is impossible for a referee to determine at full speed if someone dived. It is just too fast of a game about 95% of the time. So why not ease the burden on them and allow the FA or whomever to review game footage and issue a yellow card after the fact? It would have the same consequences as if it had been brandished during a game. They would count towards suspensions due to accrual of cards and if the player had been issued another yellow during that game, he would then be suspended as if he had received two yellows resulting in a red. This also needs to be applied to instances where players are touched on the shoulder, but then collapse holding their faces. In each case, the evidence would need to be fairly conclusive, but it still could easily be done and interpreted. Hell, we all analyze these with a couple of replays in under 30 seconds each weekend.

I still cannot for the life of me figure out why the FA has stuck with this archaic system where if a ref has done something or admitted to seeing an incident, then it cannot be further examined. The FA has no problem second guessing referees through the appeals process so why can't the opposite be true for blatant acts that warrant further attention and/or punishment?

As for the referees' feelings, they should want to see a fair game called. Any referee who can't admit a mistake has no business being in charge of a match. I can't imagine very many of them complaining about a set up that will take some of the burden off their shoulders. They should still be able to issue yellow cards during the game for anything they view as cautionable, just as they currently do, but I want to see this crap stamped out in every form and the referees obviously need help to do this. I hate it when Suarez dives (which he does, but I don't think it is as often as it might seem. He does also have the most touches inside the penalty area in the EPL which skews that perception) just as I hate it when opposition cons the ref. FIFA, the FA and all the other governing bodies must take some action this off season. Just making it a point of emphasis as was done a few years ago is not good enough. The problem will only continue to rise until something is done.

As for the Suarez Maradona comparison, after thinking about it considerably I really don't know what makes one play more acceptable than the other. Was it because Suarez's was instinctive and there was a penalty and a sending off that accompanied it? Does Maradona's make me sick because it seemed more premeditated and, more importantly, went unpunished? I don't know. But in each case, the player took a risk and decided the potential payoff was worth it, and it paid off for both. I guess it depends on which side of the ethical fence you choose to stand.

Feel free to weigh in on this and any potential fixes you see for the epidemic in the comments. Decide for yourself as well; click on the links below:

FIFA's Laws of the Game

FIFA's Interpretations for the Laws

Did you know FIFA has a Code of Ethics? How is that for irony?