Diving for glory. Is blaming foreigners jingoistic piffle, or sadly spot-on?

Tom Webb
Tom Webb

Salut! Sunderland has been banging on for years about diving, the feigning of injury, unprofessional attempts by players to get opponents booked or sent off and other forms of cheating. The issue is raised with every “Who are You?” interviewee and I can think of only one or two who said too much fuss was made of it.

But should we really accept that British players are largely blameless, or that they were until they caught the nasty habits of Johnny Foreigner?

Francis Lee was a diver. Gary McAllister produced the most skilled, graceful dive I have seen at the Stadium of Light or anywhere else, starting in Ryhope and ending up in our penalty area, duly hoodwinking one of the Tring Grahams (Barber not Poll) and stealing a point for Liverpool.

Non-Liverpool fans have frequently accused one of the club and England’s most admired players of recent years, Steven Gerrard, of being a serial diver. Then there was Theo Walcott.

Gareth Bale took it to a high art form, Ashley Young tries hard to emulate him and Jay Rodriguez – not known as a regular culprit – was guilty one of the most blatant examples in recent seasons. And I am sure readers can readily call to mind numerous other English, Scottish, Irish and Irish players who have habitually tried to fool referees, often succeeding. British pundits, bless ’em, witter on about a player being “entitled” to go down.

But let us hear out the academic responsible for new research suggesting that foreigners are indeed the main culprits.

Tom Webb, from Portsmouth University’s department of sport and exercise, says his study* shows the “growing trend of player deception” is directly linked to the large number of foreign players in the top flight.

Dr Webb bases his findings on interviews with nearly 40 refereeing professionals from England, Spain and Italy,.

“Diving is a massive problem in football and there is a constant battle against it in the sport,” he said. “It’s such a sensitive issue because it involves someone trying to cheat and often significantly affects the outcome of the game.

“This study found that the practice of diving is more accepted in countries like Spain and Italy and South American countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, so players from these countries who play in the UK are more likely to be responsible.”

A Spanish referee interviewed for the research said the problem had increased in England because so many players of other nationalities and cultures have been imported. In contrast, said this ref, English players had traditionally respected the laws of the game.

Salut! Sunderland regulars will know of the ironic question posed in our “Who are You?” interviews, asking opposing supporters whether cheating is now so commonplace that we may as well give up and and put the teaching of it into coaching manuals.

Dr Webb found it’s already happening. As last week’s Spurs interviewee, Richard Littlejohn, might well say, you couldn’t make it up. But other Spanish refs told the researcher they were convinced players were being trained to dive and deceive officials.

“The situation is a problem, not just one player,” one said. “It is one of the most difficult problems for us because there are players who are very good actors and I think they train during the week to confuse the referee.”

Over to the Salut! jury. Lots of questions arise.

* are foreigners really to blame for spreading a rotten culture of cheating?

* who are the worst perpetrators, homegrown or from abroad?

* are football supporters too ready to condemn opposing players and overlook cheating by their own?

* is this not a depressing piece
of “on the one hand murder is wrong but on the other … ” drivel: “Diving in football divides opinion across the world: some view the act as a legitimate form of gamesmanship, while others see it is a black-and-white issue regarding cheating.” (from that Bleacher Report piece – link above – mentioning Rodriguez)

* is it fair or jingoistic to suggest, as that Bleacher contributor and Dr Webb do, that some cultures applaud cheating provided it’s done well?

And more. Your shout …

* The above draws on material from the article on Dr Tom Webb’s study published by Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

Why do certain cultures, especially pPanish and Latin AMerican, seem to regard

4 thoughts on “Diving for glory. Is blaming foreigners jingoistic piffle, or sadly spot-on?”

  1. Hi Jake,

    Really interesting, thanks for your views. I think referees would agree with a lot of your summation.

    There is a view that player behaviour such as diving, feigning injury and general demeanour on the pitch is more acceptable in certain countries and cultures than in others. The study that we conducted was in Europe, I would expect, given what we have found in Europe, that some of the issues related to player behaviour would be exacerbated once we considered other confederations (such as CONCACAF or CONMEBOL in South America) for example.

    This is certainly a subject which annoys many, especially in England, but if we can further understand culture and behaviour of both players and referees in football that is certainly a start.

  2. At the moment the risk/reward ratio is heavily weighted in favour of the attacker diving. The risk, if he’s caught out, is only a yellow card. The reward, if he gets away with it is a penalty and usually a goal. That balance needs to be redressed by dishing out red cards for diving in the box. That would stop the cheating bastards doing it within a month.

    As for the foreign thing, I can only offer the view of it as I see it as an Englishman living in Spain. I don’t watch much Spanish football for exactly the issue you’re debating here. Diving and feigning injury is definitely more common here, and it usually comes with exaggerated grimacing, yelping, and prolonged whingeing to the ref afterwards. Even the most innocuous challenge is followed by fake limping and prolonged shin-rubbing. And, and this is crucial, nobody talks about it, nobody criticises it and it’s never discussed. That indicates to me that it is regarded as a legitimate tactic, which saddens me a lot, I hope it never comes to that in England.

  3. Hi all,

    thanks for your comments. I thought I could address a couple of the points made and elaborate a little.

    The paper is based on responses to interviews by elite referees, ex-elite referees, referee managers, referee coaches, referee assessors etc. The referees perceive (particular in Italy and Spain) that player behaviour is and has been declining over a period of time. The referees have commented that they can see this clearly in the Premier League, where they also perceive that there is historically a notion or ethos of fair play. So in effect it is referees from other countries (as well as England) that are identifying it (diving) as a growing concern. There is no jingoism because of this fact. I can also elaborate a little on some of the sociological theory which has been applied to wider society and that I have applied to football and in particular refereeing.

    The themes from this paper were inductively generated and player behaviour in particular was a strong theme. The cultural theories suggest that countries can be grouped depending on their values, beliefs, history and cultural norms. The referees in this research were discussing their views of ‘culture’ and in particular, when talking about diving or simulation discussed concepts related to a ‘Latin culture’ The sociological research tells us that this can be and has been applied to countries in ‘Latin Europe’ such as Spain and Italy because they share some values. This also applies to the behaviour of individuals in certain situations.

    Having said all of this, there is clearly a concern surrounding diving and this is something that referees are also keen to address.

    Interesting observations – thanks for the input.


  4. No it’s not just foreigners who do it. Yes players are trained to leave a foot trailing so that it makes contact with a player whose attempted tackle would not have connected with any part of the attacker. You see it all the time. A bit of refreshing comment from Tony Pulis at the weekend when one of his players went down. As Pulis said if he’d stayed on his feet he would have had a chance to score.

    But then it works the other way and defenders are trained to block runs off the ball – John Terry is an expert – grab arms and shirts on the blind side of the ref and they get away with murder in and outside the box. I would have moaned like anything if Defoe had fallen over on Sunday when his arm was being blatantly held preventing him from getting a clean shot away and nothing was given. But by staying on his feet he couldn’t strike the ball as cleanly as he would have liked and the chance was easily dealt with. Our defenders will do the same if they can get away with it but that doesn’t make it right.

    Refs (and the authorities) need to stop piddling about with minor changes to the offside law and start to penalise foul play and simulation when it occurs. And they need to apply the laws consistently against all teams. It would be a start if the assistant referees were more inclined to flag when they see infringements and not just now and again.

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