Diving or 'player simulation', to give it its official
FIFA terminology, has long been the scourge of world football. Eduardo's
theatrical tumble in the Champions
League qualifier between Arsenal and Celtic was a recent example
of how player histrionics can deceive a referee into giving an incorrect
and potentially match decisive decision. A psychologist at the University
of Portsmouth has produced a new study which he thinks could help
referees out the cheats.
Dr Paul Morris has published a series of 'tell tale'
signs of when a player is behaving dishonestly in the forthcoming
Springer Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour. Dr Morris'
research has shown that there are distinct actions which footballers
use, either individually or as part of a series, when feigning contact
by an opponent. These include:
- Clutching a body part which has clearly not been struck.
- Taking an extra roll when they hit the ground.
- Taking fully controlled strides after a tackle, before falling.
- Holding up both arms in the air, with open palms, chest thrust
out, legs bent at the knees in what Morris describes as an 'archer's
"One action is unique to a faked fall - the archer's
bow," Dr Morris tells Soccerphile. "This occurs in many
dives but biomechanically it does not occur in a natural fall. Instinctively,
the arms either go down in an attempt to cushion the fall or out
to the side for balance in a genuine fall. Moving the body like
this is completely controlled behaviour... the moment the arms go
above the shoulder is a clear indication of cheating."
During his research Dr Morris showed four-second clips of tackles
from televised live games to over 300 people. The participants were
only allowed to see the clip twice in real-time before they were
asked to spot the fakers. The results showed that there was a high
level of agreement by participants in their classification of the
players who intended to deceive and those who did not. The problem
was there were also a number of cases where intention could not
be agreed upon.
"That's why they will never be able to fully eradicate
diving from football," says Dr Morris. "My findings
have indicated that while there are blatant examples of simulation
and legitimate cases of players being fouled each weekend, there
are many ambiguous cases too. What the average football fan would
want is for the referee to be able to spot all the behavioural traits
I have discussed, to ensure clear examples of diving are spotted."
Diving is stereotypically thought of as a 'foreign'
behaviour by certain sections of football supporters and media in
the UK. When the discussion of simulation is raised, it is often
accompanied by an overseas name and rarely that of an Englishman.
Dr Morris completely refutes the idea however that diving is more
culturally accepted in other countries outside of England and also
rejects the suggestion English players are less likely to dive that
their foreign counterparts.
"This behaviour (diving) has no national boundaries; everyone
does it, it even occurred unprompted during our research trials,"
he jokes. "Diving does seem to have become more common in
the last few decades in English football, but the fact there has
been an increased influx of foreign players into the Premier League
during that time is purely incidental. One can point to the fact
there is now far greater technology to analyse games, people see
football in a far different light than they used to. Sure, there
are players that seem more likely to dive, but their nationality
cannot be considered a factor. This is purely individualistic behaviour
we are talking about."
Diving continues to attract negative headlines across the football
world and rightly so. The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK
is currently spearheading a campaign against simulation in the game
and FIFA has vowed to 'defend the integrity of football'
by continuing to take firm action against divers, as it did against
Arsenal's Eduardo (albeit that FIFA overturned the two match
ban at a later date). Morris understands why fans of the game despise
simulation so much.
"Diving is a trait that repulses supporters as it is seen
as dishonest and unfair way of gaining an advantage on the field.
From a very general point of view, cheating is seen as a sign of
weakness and in a masculine environment, this goes against the norms
of excepted social behaviour. Stereotypically, the English have
a reputation as being advocates of fair play and this is often given
as a reason why diving is so unpopular in the national game."
With such scrutiny over diving, one wonders why players continue
to commit this offence. Morris is quick to point out that if certain
individuals feel they may gain an advantage through dishonest means,
they will try to do so. "The diver has two clear intentions
from his actions. He wants to deceive the referee first and foremost.
The player also needs to get the referees attention, which is often
why we see such flamboyant behaviour. The 'best' divers
therefore are those whose fall can look natural, but at the same
time be bold enough for the referee to think an offence has occurred."
Dr Morris would like to work with referees in helping them understand
behavioural cues associated with dishonesty on the football field.
As a keen football supporter and psychologist, he's already
considering his next project too.
"I am interested in intentionality and another area of football
which fascinates me is tackles. I would be keen to analyse challenges
and see if there are 'tell-tale' signs when a player
goes into a tackle with an opponent with the aim of causing an injury."
Insight into such a subject would have been useful at Eastlands
last Saturday following Emmanuel Adebayor's 'challenge'
on Robin van Persie.