Diving, the act of miming an injury or contact in order to induce a foul call, has stained the beautiful game for decades. It persists in world football mostly because there is not a clear way to stop it.
Put another way, diving is gamesmanship at its ugliest, an act of deliberate deception to earn a penalty, free kick or the sending off of an opposing player.
And it’s not only bothering die-hard football fans; diving is turning off new ones.
Ask any American why they have yet to embrace the world game, and the word “diving” is bound to pop up. Though the tactic exists in both the NBA and the NFL, those sports have clearer preventative measures institutionalized to limit its influence on the game. No such deterrents are in place for football.
But isn’t it an easy fix?
Here are 10 possible punishments for diving in football, listed by increasing severity. Each should be taken into careful consideration.
If a player is suspected of diving, a simple foul could be given in the other team’s favor.
This response is fairly mild and requires accurate and consistent calls from the center ref to be assigned fairly. While it’s mildness might not be a strong enough deterrent for some, to me it seems the most measured response.
The problem is that often match officials won’t see the simulation from afar, which brings us back to the central problem of diving: Most of the time, it works.
Consider Bryan Carrasco’s hilarious dive in Chile’s match against Ecuador. This dive is so blatant and fantastical you have to believe a foul should be given against Chile simply because of Carrasco’s sheer audacity.
However, a foul was immediately given in favor of the Chileans. Such a clear-cut case of diving was allowed to succeed, and the referee was only 10 yards away.
Such poor officiating is not uncommon in the world game, which is why FIFA should allow another pair of eyes on the field. The expectation of fairer calls with two refs on the field rather than one who could be fooled is reasonable to have.
Within the current refereeing system, it's difficult to imagine that fouls will be given correctly for diving.
Currently, match officials are allowed to assign yellow cards to players they suspect are guilty of simulation, especially when it’s so terribly done.
While Howard Webb did not reach for his cards in this case of Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the Portuguese striker would be less quick in the future to engage in such theatrics.
A yellow is significantly harsher than just a foul, especially if it’s given to a player already on a card. While I think FIFA is right to give its officials this kind of leeway, the practice suffers from the same problems plaguing assigning a simple foul.
Most of the time, the official won’t see it, or they'll assign it incorrectly. Though it is a better deterrent than a foul, yellow cards have yet to influence players enough to cease diving.
In the event of a dive, the offending player could be sent off temporarily to a sort of penalty box while their side plays a man down for 10 minutes. During this time, managers could not substitute for the player.
In effect, this punishment borrows a lot from hockey, which routinely assigns players to the penalty box, thus beginning a power play. It would work the same way in football, with the ball being awarded to the opposition after the player heads to the box.
After time is up, the player would be sent back on with subsequent fouls for diving resulting in increased time in the penalty box, say in increments of five.
This punishment lacks a yellow card but does give the offended team a temporary man advantage, simulating what would have been the result of a red card. If they knew they would be taken out of the game and significantly weakening their side, players might be more reluctant to dive.
Slightly harsher than a penalty box ban would be the forced substitution of the diving player. On top of a foul, the player’s manager would be forced to take him out of the rest of the match.
No further suspension or card would be given, but the player would not be allowed to continue playing. Not only would this punishment take away possibly a key player to the side, but it would burn one of the manager’s three substitution opportunities. This would significantly alter the strategy of the game, with managers everywhere suddenly losing some of the choice they have tactically.
As opposed to a temporary sending off, this ruling is essentially a “red card lite” with a similar punishment. The only difference is allowing the sub, which is fair considering that diving isn’t quite a red card offense.
Of course, officials could very well resort to giving straight reds for suspected diving. Unlike a forced substitution, the side would not be able to replace the offending player and be reduced to 10 men for the rest of the game.
On top of that, instead of the customary one-game suspension, a diving red card would result in a minimum of two games to be missed. Who would dive with this rule on the books?
While this would be an incredibly strong deterrent for diving, the consequences of getting this call wrong would be correspondingly huge.
Imagine if you’re streaking into the penalty box with the ball. A defender clips your ankle, and you go down hard, clutching your leg. Instead of the defender being red carded, you are sent off instead for diving; no penalty kick, just a trip to the showers.
A punishment of this magnitude might, as a side consequence, actually incentivize defenders to foul the opposing attackers while trying not to get caught. Well, more than they already do.
While it might not work at the lower levels of world football, being forced to miss the next two games for your country due to diving would be a strong deterrent for high-profile footballers.
Missing international games not only hurts the wallet (some countries give bonuses for players selected in major competitions) but also denies possible selections the pride of wearing the nation’s kit. It also limits the manager’s selection for the side, with a star player perhaps unavailable due to cheating in the domestic leagues.
The problem here is that we would want a solution for diving that would be applicable on all levels of football. Why would a semi-skilled English player care about missing international games when he isn’t on Fabio Capello’s radar in the first place?
Instead, this punishment is aimed directly at the stars, whose play is most often emulated by young, aspiring footballers. While it would force the cream of the crop to set a good example, an international ban might ultimately do little to prevent diving.
If no on-field punishment could be effectively given, game officials could review controversies after the fact and dole out fines for diving players.
To make sure it isn’t a drop in the bucket for the highly paid or unreasonable for the lesser majority, the fine should be a percentage of the player’s wage. Upwards of 15 percent seems about right, with three diving calls in a year resulting in the forfeiture of almost half a player’s salary.
That money could go to improving the quality of the game, but we would probably want to avoid handing it to the officials themselves. There’s no need to incentivize dive calls.
With deceitful play on the pitch resulting in significant consequences off it, players would probably be less inclined to simulate. In 2009 the average player salary in the Premiership was just over £1,000,000, making a 15 percent fine about £150,000. That’s real money and would be as quick a way as any to eliminate diving from the game.
While some would argue that 15 percent for each infraction is a little steep, remember that the determination would be made off the field with the assistance of video replay. It would do little to punish a player during the run of play but might go a long way in preventing such fakeries in the future.
Nothing stings quite like public humiliation, which is why special signs should be made for divers to wear during their next match.
Like a Florida woman accused of battering a police officer, professional footballers would be forced to proclaim their deceitful gamesmanship for the world to see.
Few things would please me more than to see Cristiano Ronaldo or Didier Drogba wander around the pitch for 90 minutes with the word “Diver” stapled to the back of their shirts. It's been coming for years.
Not only would it humiliate the player involved, a sign would serve as a warning for other players not to follow the judged down an inevitable road to perdition. The sign would be simple, pragmatic and effective in a game where rulings rarely are.
If the players are going to cheat, at least teach them how to do it right. Enrollment in a prestigious acting school would cure many of the poor reactions to perceived fouls players incur.
For instance, if you, the player, are seemingly kicked in the knee, why go down cradling your face? It’s all about correct body part identification. No one will believe you if, after seemingly getting pushed in the shoulder, you go down clutching your ankle.
Of the Americans who hate “soccer” that I know, most decry not the simulation itself but the poor, cheap thespianism involved in selling the call. Players often go down like they’ve been shot or had their hamstrings snap after a simple tap in the shins.
If players seem bent on diving regardless of the punishment, officials would be wise to improve the on-field product by assigning 10 weeks of mandatory acting lessons. It would go a long way to curry favor with a possible American fanbase and a disillusioned rest of the world.
I can’t wait for Wayne Rooney’s graduation production of Hamlet. “To be or not to be mate, innit the bloody question?”
If we were to properly translate the rage supporters of the game feel when they witness blatant dives, there would be no other alternative but to tar and feather the offenders.
We wouldn’t stop there, though. As in days of old, we would have to parade the player through the street on a raised beam, encouraging the growing crowd to alternate between chants of “shame” and “diver” before finally leaving him lying in a pool of his own humiliation.
Now that I think about it, mob vengeance is the only way to go. It satisfies the embarrassment of a diver sign, and the cost of removing all the tar and feathers would probably be as significant monetarily as a fine. We’re getting the best of both worlds here. The only way it could get better is if we could somehow incorporate it during the game…
I’ve got it. After a player is caught diving, the center ref immediately red cards him, resulting in an ejection. He then goes to the sideline where his teammates and solemn-looking FIFA officers wait with a barrel of tar, a bag of chicken feathers and a large wooden beam.
The player is then stripped to the waist, tarred and feathered, and then hoisted once around the pitch by his teammates for all to see. His grim caravan would preform their loop and then head into the locker rooms. Play would resume afterword.
I don’t think there are any negatives here. By involving teammates, the diver condemns his colleagues to a walk of shame as well. Who wouldn’t pay to see that?
Other idea: public flogging. I’ll save that for another slideshow.