Written by Mark Docherty
Diving in football is one of the very worst aspects of the game. Every year those at the top of the football hierarchy make bold statements about how they will combat football’s bogey issue. However, every year footballers continue to dive and the rules continue to be applied inconsistently and, above all the other problems facing the game, diving remains the one which truly brings it into disrepute. Given the numerous reforms which have failed to tackle the issue, it must be questioned whether there is any solution to the problem or whether simulation and the conning of officials will become a permanent fixture.
Recently yellow cards have been more readily dished out to those who are caught diving and retrospective bans have also been brought in. However, they seem to be having little or no effect on the cheating which has become commonplace. At the very top level we have seen Manuel Lanzini given a retrospective ban and Wilfred Ndidi given a second yellow card for diving, yet there is a strong argument that the same punishments are not being issued to top players. At the moment, the rules are simply not being applied consistently so there is no deterrence to dissuade players from trying to win a penalty. If diving is to be stamped out, players must believe that they will be punished for trying to con the referee, and that goes for the best players in the world just as it does for less reputable players. At present players can make a reasoned judgement and decide that the possibility of winning a penalty is worth the slight chance of picking up a booking.
Not only are dives going unpunished, but it is not unheard of for players to be punished for diving when they have either been legitimately fouled or have simply fallen over. The case which sticks out in my mind is when Fernando Torres was sent off for Chelsea against Manchester United after being given a second yellow card after having his legs hacked from beneath him. There is also an instance where Matt Jarvis stayed on his feet for West Ham against Arsenal despite clearly having his shirt pulled, and didn’t get a penalty. Footballers are regularly criticised for going down too easily, but if one looks at the issue from their point of view, more blame might be placed on referees. What incentive is there for a player to stay on their feet if they know that they won’t get a penalty if they do so, and they may get booked for diving even when they have a strong case?
If diving is to be eliminated from football, three things need to happen. Firstly, every dive must have the same punishment, no matter who the culprit is. Consistency is the key to let players know where they stand and what they can expect from referees. Secondly, players must be given fouls when they choose to stay on their feet. It is too easy for referees only to give free-kicks and penalties if players go down, or they will feel that they have to dive or they will not be credited. Lastly, there should be harsher punishments for those who are found to be guilty of simulation. Hefty bans and fines would go a long way to discourage players from trying to con referees. The key is to convince players that the risk of being caught diving outweighs the potential reward of winning a penalty for their team. However, although these would be the steps which should be taken to stamp out diving, I very much doubt that they will be enacted.
Urgent action is necessary if diving is to be stopped, but given the track record of anti-diving reforms, I am not especially optimistic. Sadly, there is a good chance that we will still be discussing how to stop players diving 30 years down the line. Perhaps football’s governing body will surprise me and finally find a way to stop diving, or maybe they won’t. One thing we can all agree on, however, is that it will be a better game if divin can be eliminated one and for all.