As sure as the leaves turn brown and start dropping from the trees, the debate over diving rears its head every Autumn as the Premier League starts getting into its stride. This season, it’s Suarez, Bale and Welbeck. In previous seasons, it’s been Nani or Gerrard, Busquets or Drogba. There’s not a club that isn’t tainted by it, and the issue is bigger than petty tribal rivalries. But is it possible to stamp out, or is it something that is so ingrained in football culture that we have no choice but to let them gracefully fall to the ground?
In British society we’re particularly outraged by cheating, and there’s a sociological argument to be made that the working class roots of football respects a robust challenge, or even an honest punch in the face, but can’t accept a more white collar fraud like feigning injury. It’s not a position that is universally held, and there is plenty of opinion that in South America for example, diving is more considered to be the poor man getting one over on the authorities. It might not be encouraged, but it’s part of the cat and mouse game that is attacking and defending.
And it’s not limited to a far removed culture such as South America. Compare the most stark and systematic program of cheating perhaps ever seen in sport, with the recent Lance Armstrong doping scandal. Michael Calvin, writing in the Independent recently described the continued ‘canonisation’ of Armstrong in a United States society largely ignoring the cheating aspect of his career. It’s a generalisation of course, but cheating does seem to pique British minds more than elsewhere.
Assuming that even though we care more than other cultures about the problem, most people would still want to stamp it out, how could we go about changing the current situation? What do we constitute to be a dive? Most people would argue that you have dived if you have gone to ground without being touched, or not being touched with significant enough force to produce that reaction. On first look, the former seems fairly easy to spot, and the latter is more difficult to prove.
At the recent ‘Leaders in Football’ conference at Stamford Bridge, Pierluigi Collina, without doubt the most respected referee in the history of modern football argued that ‘If touched and fouled, a player has every right to go to ground’. So if you’re illegally clipped without the defender getting the ball, you’re entitled to go to ground to win the penalty. At the same conference, Michael Owen said that most players will do exactly that, and agreed that he had done so in the past, notably against Argentina at the World Cup in ‘98 and ’02.