Divers in the box should be sent off

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Nobody likes diving (except the Italians). Eduardo’s flop against Celtic has garnered an enormous amount of attention, both for the offense and for UEFA’s since rescinded two-match ban. Most of the commentary on this episode however, like Philip Conrwall’s on Football365, seems resigned to the supposition that, “diving is a problem, but is – as this case shows – incredibly hard to police.”

This acceptance of being powerless to stop divers is disappointing because it overlooks the influence of the rules of the game. Right now, a diver that is caught receives only a yellow card, but can gain at least a penalty and also a possible man advantage, an easy risk-reward assessment. This creates incentives for attacking players to dive in the box. There is a solution. Just as was the case with the establishment of a red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, divers trying to win a penalty should face equal punishment.

Being sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity—originally called a professional foul—is a relatively modern addition to the game, first introduced by the English Football League in 1982 and then adopted by FIFA prior to the 1990 World Cup. It arose primarily because of an incident in the 1980 FA Cup Final when West Ham’s Paul Allen was deliberately fouled by Arsenal’s Willie Young to prevent his clear run on goal. A committee of English football luminaries recommended players who commit such “professional fouls” be sent off. Through the years, the language has been altered to eliminate the interpretation that the foul was deliberate, and the rule now reads simply “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.”

While it is not uncommon for players to be sent off under this rule, deliberate fouls in such situations are extremely rare. The severe penalty has served as a disincentive for this type of play.

The current rules on diving create the exact opposite situation. Part of Cornwall’s analysis is correct; it is hard to police divers. But the main reason it is so hard is because there is so much diving. Players go over in the box all the time because the reward of inducing the referee to give a penalty is so much greater than the punishment should a player be caught diving. If, however, the player risked being sent off for a dive in the box rather than just a yellow card, the calculations would change dramatically.

Referees would be put under pressure, because just as a penalty can decide a game, so can a red card. But think of it this way, the risk of being sent off for going down too easily will likely result in players fighting to stay on their feet. The dramatic flops and players that go down under a stiff breeze will probably be a thing of the past.

There is also a question of fundamental fairness. Cynically violating the rules and spirit of the game to win a penalty kick that results in a goal around 75% of the time gets a yellow. Bringing down an attacking player—cynically or not—in a situation that will likely produce a goal less frequently still merits a sending off. It seems to me that the crimes are similar and the punishments should be too.

Making diving in the penalty area a red card won’t end all the flopping, especially late in games. But it would clearly force attacking players to think again about going down in the box and may result in more scoring chances and goals coming from open play rather than the referee’s whistle.

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One Response

  1. Your blog its amazing thx a lot !

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