Not real, but simulated | FIFA wants tougher policing on dives

The International Football Association Board did not include this image in its slide presentation on simulation. (

London and San Francisco | Dave Eggers states the facts straight in a book excerpt published last weekend in the Observer Sport Monthly. In yet another permutation of the “Why Americans don’t like soccer” argument, Eggers mentions, first, the Cold War–era “commie” taint and, second, the prevalence of diving (aka “simulation”):

[D]iving in soccer is a problem. It is essentially a combination of acting, lying, begging and cheating, an unappealing mix. The theatricality of diving is distasteful, as is the slow-motion way the chicanery unfolds. First there will be some incidental contact, and then there will be a long moment—enough to allow you to go and wash the car and return—after the contact and before the diver decides to go down. When you’ve returned from washing the car and around the time you’re making yourself a mini-bagel grilled cheese, the diver will be leaping forward, his mouth Munch-wide and oval, bracing himself for contact with the pitch.

It’s World Cup time, and time for quadrennial reinforcement of bookshelves.

All of this is tongue-in-cheek—one of 32 essays, each keyed to participating teams in the upcoming World Cup finals, in the forthcoming Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup—and perhaps uncomfortably timely for the International Football Association Board, the FIFA-linked group that oversees the Laws of the Game (always capitalized). Only last weekend, we saw Mark van Bommel precociously airborne in the clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid following a penalty-box challenge from Roberto Carlos. Van Bommel earned a penalty. Ronaldo, who tried the same tomfoolery sometime later, received a yellow card.

On a recent edition of the BBC’s World Football, Premiership referee Graham Poll affirmed that a yellow card is presently the maximum sanction for simulation. He dislikes the idea of retroactively punishing offenders, since not all games are reviewable from reverse angle, from the goal-cam lens and the plethora of other camera positions. Early last month, IFAB in a pre–World Cup directive to referees asked for more rigorous enforcement of diving and other forms of gamesmanship.

Few solutions, however, seem ready-made for an affliction that, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba excepted, no one is ready to admit to doing. Everton’s Alan Stubbs points the xenophobic finger abroad, saying that diving “is a foreign thing.” “They’ve,” meaning non-English players, “brought a lot of good things to the Premiership but a lot of the other side, too. … It’s the last thing you want to see. It’s not a man thing to do.”

With these prefatory remarks, we can confess to our own penchant for dives. We play strictly in casual, unofficiated park games, but the joy of going to ground has basic origins. First, there are few opportunities to fall down in daily life, and we like to take whatever chance we get. Second, it makes one feel that one is participating fully, not holding anything back, and, while we frown on poor sportsmanship, might some of these divers just be going for a little extra gusto?

The original rule book of association football—in FIFA nomenclature, the “Table of the Law”—did not have the foresight to cover diving, although one rule specifically prohibits “tripping or hacking,” a provision that helped force an advocate of the rugby game to leave the Freemasons’ Tavern negotiating table in 1863. The rule book also says that “no player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots,” a problem that for the most part has been conquered.

This humble two-page rule book has been elevated in English writer Melvyn Bragg‘s recent tome to a place among Twelve Books That Changed the World, so no sniggering. While the pub-going public-school men could not have foreseen everything, they “enabled the world to play a game which now commands a unique and previously uncharted, unimagined empire of followers, participants, fanatics and rich merchants,” writes Bragg in an excerpt. The rules set the boundaries, permitting the creativity, feigned and otherwise, within. In this, the game offers space for both Drogba and Fabregas and remains, in Bragg’s words, “a masterpiece of socio-leisure architecture.”

Link to more about the Bodleian book
The publicists say: “Every rule is accompanied by images from the hand-written manuscript preserved at The FA which records the first time that anyone put pen to paper and wrote down the fundamental tenets of football. …”

Update: The Bodleian Library of Oxford University has published The Rules of Association Football, 1863, in time for the World Cup finals. With an afterword by Bragg and a foreword by Sir Bobby Charlton, the 56-page hardback includes facsimiles of the original 1863 manuscript, which had been preserved by the FA before transfer to Oxford.

In an Apr 15 appearance on Parkinson, the ITV chat show hosted by iconic Michael Parkinson, Bragg spent much of the time discussing his inclusion of the “Laws of Association Football” (see transcript). In particular the two banter about Bragg’s claim that “football has been more effective than anything else in Britain in combating racism.” Parkinson mounts a counterargument and, in addition, makes his affection for cricket quite clear:

Bragg: I’m not saying [football is] the best game Michael, cricket might be the best game! [Laughter]

Parkinson: It is. 

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (1)

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  1. Brian says:

    It is absolutely impossible to talk about diving without talking about its evil Siamese twin: shirt pulling. When you watch high-level soccer, it’s a miracle that anyone ever scores off a set piece given how much shirt grabbing takes place. Why is it that shirt pulling is called “tight marking” but diving is angrily condemned? They’re both cheating.

    The other dirty little secret of diving is this: many times, it’s the only way to get a legitimate foul called. I watched an MLS game last year where a defender bumped a forward who was running on to a through ball. The forward stumbled but stayed on his feet and the ball went out of bounds. Amazingly, the ref still pointed to the penalty spot. And it occurred to me that I didn’t know if I’d ever seen that before. Sure, the foul was legitimate and the penalty deserved. But 99% of the time, the ref will not call a foul unless the player goes to ground (99.9999999% if it’s a question of awarding a penalty).

    So in our haste to send divers to the electric chair, let’s also demand that officials call legitimate fouls that don’t result in a player going to ground. If you want to discourage diving, reward players who stay on their feet!

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