Reports in England suggest that the FA are looking into introducing a two-match ban for players who dive or feign injury so that their team gets a penalty or an opponent sent off during football matches. This ban, which already is in place in Scotland, could be applied retrospectively, so if a referee misses a dive, the player can then be punished by a disciplinary panel.
Scottish rule 201 states: “No player shall cause a match official to make an incorrect decision and/or support an error of judgement on the part of a match official by an act of simulation which results in that player's team being awarded a penalty kick and/or an opponent being dismissed and/or any other substantial advantage being gained.”
This has been received with almost overwhelming support in England. For whatever reason, diving, or simulation, is seen as the worst of the offences a player can commit on the pitch. When people in England talk about cheating in football, they are talking about diving.
So any steps to eradicate it from the game are a good thing, right?
People have been calling for this type of ban for years. Earlier this season, Burnley manager Sean Dyche said that such a ban would eliminate diving within six months.
However, to me, this has ‘token gesture’ written all over it. It’s an example of being seen to be doing something about what I think is a very minor problem, rather than addressing some of the bigger issues facing the game.
Punishments for diving are rare. The BBC say that the percentage of yellow cards given for a player diving this season are 1.28% of the total given. In the past ten years, the highest that percentage has been is 2.64%. So, is it a case that there are loads and loads of offences going unpunished? Or, is it that this isn’t the widespread problem people think it is?
I’m not convinced this will be a deterrent at all. Most teams would rather win a game, and then lose a player for 2 games for cheating, depending of course on who the player is, than not win that game.
I’ve also got a problem with the way this rule is implemented. If we agree that simulation needs to be punished; why is it only punished when it results in a penalty or a red card? Why not when it doesn’t succeed or happens in other areas of the pitch? It’s still cheating whether it works or not.
And, what do they mean by “support an error of judgement by a match official”? Are players to be punished for not correcting a referee when they make an error?
A few years ago, you may remember that during a game between Chelsea and Arsenal, Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs was sent off for deliberate handball in a case of mistaken identity. At the time, the real culprit, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain told the referee it was him, but the decision stood. The reason for that was that referees are told to ignore players saying anything like that because they can’t be trusted to tell the truth. So how does this tally with “support an error of judgement by a match official”
The unpleasant truth is that football both encourages and rewards cheating. All teams cheat in one way or another.
As the rewards for success and the penalties for failure have become so great, a ‘win at all costs’ mentality has crept into the game. This means that cheating is almost part of a player’s job description. As former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini said “Football is cheating”.
Several dictionaries define cheating as ‘to act dishonestly so as to gain an advantage’. So, applying that to football, I take cheating to mean a player or players deceiving the match officials in order for their team to gain an advantage that they should not have had.
In football players cheat on a regular basis. They can be the eye-catching cheating events such as diving or exaggerating contact in order to win a free kick or a penalty. It could be the regular sight of players, and their coaches, trying to persuade the referee, either through actions or words to send an opponent off, which is something that I think is unique to football, I can’t think of another sport where teams actively try to get an opponent sent from the field of play.
Then there are the ‘smaller’ cheating events. Free kicks get mysteriously moved several yards forward, players take throw-ins from ten yards further up the pitch than they should; corners get taken with the ball outside the quadrant. Then there’s the goalkeeper who dives forward from his line when facing a penalty.
Then there are the types of cheating that aren’t considered cheating by the media or fans in general. For example, we can call a striker who saying goes to ground with little to no contact in order to win a penalty a cheat, but we don’t call the defender who ploughs through a player, then holds his hands up in a gesture of mock-innocence a cheat when a foul is not given.
Why? It’s exactly the same thing.
It’s become a standard tactic at corners for one attacking player to deliberately block a defender, basically setting a pick. That’s obstruction and a foul, but is very rarely called as such and I’ve never heard a player being criticised for doing it.
If a driver of a car deliberately causes you to crash into them so they can make a compensation claim, that’s insurance fraud, and can result in a spell in jail. If a footballer deliberately causes an opponent to crash into them so they can get a free-kick, penalty or a card for the unwitting offender, they are described as ‘clever’.
If someone deliberately fouls an opponent in order to stop what could be a goalscoring situation from developing then they’ve ‘taken one for the team’ and it’s seen as a good thing.
When it was introduced, some people called the vanishing spray referees use at free kicks, progress. I call it the ultimate regression. It’s a clear sign that players can’t be trusted to stand ten yards away and stay still.
Yes, a player diving to win a penalty or getting an opponent sent off is more obviously likely to change the outcome of a game than taking a throw-in in the wrong place, but if the objective of this rule is to try and eliminate cheating in football then they should be treated as the same.
Unfortunately, you, I and all other football fans reading this have to take responsibility for cheating being widespread in football. Firstly, we’ve helped to fuel the ‘win at all costs’ mentality, which leads teams and players to try to do exactly that.
Then, we sit back and allow these things to happen, or at least do nothing to stop it. We- to use a phrase from the FA- consume football at high levels. We attend matches, or watch them on TV knowing that players from our team, whoever that team may be, will at some point cheat during the game. While we may be outraged when an opponent cheats, we turn a blind eye see when one of our team invents or exaggerates contact in order to gain an advantage. We are the great enablers.
What will be interesting is the way that this rule, should it come in, will differentiate between a dive and a player losing balance or falling legitimately. It’s one of the great myths of football that contact= foul, but the reason that players go down with the tiniest amount of contact is that the rules are being interpreted that contact, especially in the 18 yard area, is a foul.
If they want players to stop diving, then stopping fouls being given for the tiniest contacts would be more effective a deterrent than any potential ban.
I don’t like the idea of this rule because it blames the players for essentially doing their jobs. It’s a fact of all team sports that you have to act in the best interests of your team at all times. If players can cheat with near-impunity, and it’s better for their teams if they do, then how can they be blamed for cheating? Also, this ban is going to be aimed at the players who cheat and succeed; so how can we single out certain players for cheating, just because they did it better than someone else?