Cast your mind back to 2013, it’s the playoff semi-final; Watford v Leicester. It’s 2-2, both teams need a goal to send them to the final. Anthony Knockaert throws himself to the ground theatrically and wins an unfair penalty. We all know what happens next. But, imagine for a minute that Knockaert found the net with that penalty, a dive wins the game and maybe even promotion for Leicester City. Has he cheated?
We see it every weekend, some of the world’s best players are guilty of it; the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Mo Salah, even Ronaldo all gain an advantage from diving. It leads to goals, changes games and can even alter the outcome of a season; but is it cheating or just clever bending of the rules?
In the rule book, diving – also known as simulation – is classed as “unsportsmanlike behaviour” and is “punishable by a yellow card”. However, we very rarely see a card produced for it, which is why we continue to see players attempt to deceive the referee and succeed in doing so.
With the introduction of VAR to The Premier League, we’ve started to see a slight decline in overt forms of diving in which contact was never made as this is too easy for the VAR team to overrule, so how are the culprits still getting away with it?
Now, players have started to tap into more deceptive and clever ways to con the referee; the old leave your leg out to force contact with a defender is a regular occurrence every weekend, as well as going down under the slightest bit of contact which would never be enough to send you to the ground in any other situation.
In any case, diving has become a significant part of the game we know and love; causing frustration and anger as we see the integrity of the game come into question. We can all agree that certain things such as match fixing and taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is cheating and is unacceptable in sport as it goes against the rules and gives athletes an advantage over their competition. So, if we can all agree on that being called cheating then isn’t diving the same? Afterall, it is breaking the rules for an unfair advantage, isn’t it?
Sportswriter Roger Pielke would argue not as although it violates the rules, it doesn’t go against the “norms” of football. So, is what we’re watching on a week in week out basis just clever manipulation of the rules? Well, yes, in a way.
As mentioned earlier, VAR being introduced to The Premier League has reduced the amount of unsportsmanlike behaviour, and decreased wrong decisions being made. With that in mind, if a player was to go down too theatrically and unfairly then the decision would be overturned. But we’re still seeing cases of “diving” in football matches which go unnoticed by the referee and VAR.
So, what’s happening is not a breach of the rules, but clever manipulation of rules by the players. It’s unsportsmanlike; the fans don’t want to see it; the referees aren’t doing enough to stop it, but ultimately, it’s part of the game. And the players who are using it to their advantage are seeing the rewards, whereas the players who are being too honest are seeing decisions go against them.
The reality of sport is that everyone tries to gain an advantage on their opponent in some way, some are more sportsmanlike than others, but it happens every day in every sport. Importantly, however, it doesn’t indicate cheating.