I think most people would agree that diving is something we don't want to see in football. It's a form of cheating that irritates fans around the world on a seemingly weekly basis.
But why is diving such an issue for supporters? Why do we look at it as something that needs to be eradicated from the game?
At a fundamental level we see football as a fair game. Sure, there are discrepancies in how much money each club has and that leads to an imbalance of quality on the field, but football only works if we stick to the rules.
When a player dives, he's trying to deceive the referee into awarding a penalty or free kick. At times, this can even lead to player dismissals. All of these factors have a major influence on the outcome of a game. Over the course of a season, this can be the difference between winning the league or not, being relegated or not, qualifying for the Champions League or not.
In conclusion, this stuff matters. A lot. It makes sense that we want players to be punished for diving. If they're punished enough, perhaps they'll stop doing it.
Hopefully we're all in agreement at this point; cheating is bad for the game, and those who continue to exploit it should be punished. Right?
Levels of Cheating
Things start to get a bit blurry when we consider other aspects of cheating in the game. Let's go through a few of them to see if our opinions change.
#2. Partial Simulation
This is an interesting one. Not outright diving, but a few theatrics to make sure the referee gets the message. As an example, let's imagine a player running into the opposition's penalty area. He is fouled, but not hard enough for him to actually be knocked to the floor.
The rules of the game suggest that a foul is a foul and therefore a penalty should be awarded. However, the player is worried that the referee won't award the foul and decides to fall over to try to force the issue.
Is this cheating? Kind of. The player is trying to deceive the referee to put his team at an advantage. We already established that he had been fouled, so the outcome of being awarded a penalty is correct. However, if we're going to state that cheating is cheating, then this is just that.
#3. Faking an Injury
Players fake or exaggerate injuries for different reasons. Perhaps they are hoping an opposition player will be shown a red card or simply wish to waste some time. Either way, I don't think this one leaves much open for debate. If a player is trying to deceive the referee in this manner then he's a cheat.
#4. Time Wasting
This is common practice in football when a team is content to end the game with the current result. Time wasting comes in various forms, and this is where things start to get a bit tricky.
If a team is time wasting by refusing to attack and instead simply passing the ball around the defenders and goalkeeper then this is fine. It might not be the most entertaining thing to watch, but there's nothing in the rules that says you have to play an all out attacking game.
However, there are other ways to time waste. Spending too long taking goal kicks, throw ins, corners, free kicks, exaggerating injuries, taking a long time to leave the pitch when substituted. These could all be considered cheating. Running down the clock without the game being played is something the opposition can't do anything about.
#5. Professional Foul
The term 'professional foul' is often used by pundits to describe a situation where a player intentionally fouls an opponent to put a halt to a potentially bad situation. For example, if a striker is running through on goal and there is only one defender left, he may decide to foul the striker to stop play.
Although the defender knows he could receive a yellow or red card for his actions, he may be able to stop a goal from occurring by doing so. This is a really tough one to judge. On one hand, you could consider it intelligent play, but it could also be considered cheating.
A foul is something that is deemed unfair and that's why you can be booked or sent off for committing them. A deliberate foul is an act of misconduct that takes advantage of the fact that a referee can't award points for a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. If a penalty is awarded, it gives the defending team an opportunity to stop a goal from occurring even if there was a high chance it would have been scored had the foul not been committed.
#6. Professional Handball
We've seen potential justification for the professional foul but what about a professional handball? I don't see any difference between the two in terms of outcome.
The best example I can think of was during a Uruguay vs Ghana match when Luis Suarez deliberately stopped the ball from going into the net with his hands. Suarez was rightfully sent off and Ghana were awarded a penalty which they then failed to score.
Was Suarez right to do this? I don't think so because it's blatant cheating. Would I do the same thing in his position? Probably. Although he received a red card, the correct punishment for what he did, he stopped Ghana from scoring. Because they were awarded a penalty and not a goal, this gave Uruguay a chance to not concede.
This one shouldn't require too much analysis but it does occur. Most recently, I was enraged by Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final. Firstly, I believe he deliberately (and successfully) tried to injure Salah but you could argue that there is reasonable doubt.
However, I don't believe the following clip can be debated:
Nowhere near the ball, Ramos moves in and elbows Karius in the head. It was confirmed by medical staff after the match that Karius was suffering from a concussion. I don't know whether this affected Karius for the rest of the game, but he put in one of the worst goalkeeping performances I've ever seen. Either way, Ramos is clearly cheating in this situation by trying to harm opposition players.
#8. Referee Intimidation
We've seen this one on numerous occasions. Players will swarm the referee in an attempt to get him to side with their opinion of events. Clubs actually receive fines for players doing this now, but it's nowhere near enough to stop them from doing it anyway.
Is this cheating or simply doing whatever you can to try to influence the outcome of a situation? This is especially difficult to judge if the referee is actually in the wrong.
If football were a totally fair game then players would have to take responsibility for being honest on the pitch at all times. However, we see dishonesty in every single game and it's never really a talking point within pundit circles.
For example, if I am a defender and the ball bounces off me and goes out behind the goal, it should be a corner to the opposition. However, the officials don't always see this and will sometimes award a goal kick. The same applies to incorrectly awarded throw ins, free kicks, and penalties.
I can't recall a single time when a player has been incorrectly awarded the advantage and then told the referee that they've made the wrong decision. Yet, if the player is aware of the incorrect decision and doesn't say anything, then surely this is also cheating?
Where Do We Draw the Line?
What do you think about this? Are there levels of cheating and should we view them differently or should we be just as outraged about dishonesty over a corner kick as we are about diving for a free kick?
I'd love to read your thoughts in the comment section.