Simulation in Football: A Real Problem

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Simulation in Football: A Real Problem
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Simulation.  Gamesmanship.  Faking.  Whatever you want to call it, the art of trying to waste time and deceiving the referee is cheating and a blight on the world game.

Let's not be naive about this, trying to con the referee has been around long before even Maradona's "Hand of God" goal.  It would seem though that over the last four or five years the instances of time wasting whilst in the lead with ten or sometimes twenty minutes of the game remaining has risen alarmingly.

How many times have we been frustrated by an opposition player rolling around on the pitch with what seems like a career ending injury after engaging in an aerial contest that happens 50 times a game without incident.

The biggest problem that football has now is how to police it.  They have cracked down on players staging for free kicks and penalties after being lightly touched or not touched at all by issuing yellow cards.

But as the rule book stands now there is no provision for action by the referee other than to use their own discretion.  This includes issuing yellow cards and/or letting the play continue whether the player has regained his feet or not.

The issue with this is that the referee must be convinced that the player or the team are faking the injuries. Sometimes there are incidents that happen behind the play out of the sight of both linesmen and the referee.

It would enter the referees' mind that he would need to be absolutely sure this was simulation before handing out a second yellow card thus sending the player off and possibly changing the game.

So what can be done about it?  Well in some parts of the world it happens so often and by everyone that it has just become a part of the game. If players think that someone is taking it too far then they deal with it themselves. But is that really ideal?

In other countries the practice of simulation is widely frowned upon and any player who engages in such conduct is roundly criticized and more often than not never does it again.

It is when these two cultures clash that there are major problems.  Just recently during the final group games of the Asian Champions League a major culture clash occurred between Chinese side Tianjin and Australian team, the Central Coast Mariners.

This was a meaningless game as both teams could not make the knockout stage of the tournament. But with 15 minutes to go and Tianjin leading 1-0 away from home the match took a nasty turn.

Nearly every time there was a stoppage, one of the Chinese players would be on the ground complaining of some kind of injury.  Syrian referee Mohsun Basma was forced to separate players a number of times when Central Coast players became increasingly angry over the time wasting tactics.

Referee Basma did his best to keep the game moving including picking players up and at one point pushing a Tianjin official off the pitch when he came on to attend to one of his players despite not being called to come on.

It would seem as though in some Asian countries this is common place. In Australia, it is seen in a very poor light.  It also affects the status of football (soccer) in this country.  They are competing with three other codes of football and any negatives to the sport are quickly pounced upon by rival codes and media.

So what does FIFA do about this blight on the game?  Do they give referees more power or instruct the fourth official (who does little more than hold the substitution boards up and keep the managers from yelling at each other) to watch for the time wasting late in the game.

Or maybe follow a suggestion by the Scottish FA and introduce video evidence to punish players and teams to try and stamp it out.  Start taking wins and points away from teams and the problem will quickly go away.

But what constitutes a "real" injury and a fake one?  I say "real" because a lot of times during a game there will be a definite knock that does hurt but players make more of it than there really is, mainly to take a rest or get a drink. 

The fake injury comes in when a player is barely touched and goes down or is hit in the leg and hits the deck holding his head.

This was the case when a ball was kicked into Brazilian star Rivaldo's leg and he went down clutching his face during the 2002 World Cup. His Turkish opponent was sent off by the referee who was taken in by the act.

At the time Rivaldo was issued a fine but not suspended despite FIFA claiming even then that they would clamp down on simulation.  Staging for free kicks and penalties is one thing but deliberately wasting time is a completely separate issue which has not been looked at seriously by FIFA.

As the administrators of the game they have a duty to protect the integrity of the game worldwide but especially in countries such as Australia and the United States where incidents like this will have a major detrimental affect on the perception of the sport.

For too long they have made empty promises about cleaning up the game whilst waiting for the problem to just magically go away.  This will never happen as long as players feel that the penalty for wasting a few minutes here or there is far outweighed by the benefits of winning games and leagues.

FIFA need to take a major stand before next years World Cup.  They cannot allow another major tournament to be ruined by this disease that has infested itself in the game.  Act now or risk a major problem when a country threatens legal action because they feel they were cheated out of a spot in the quarter finals and a large financial gain.

The sport deserves better than this.

 

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