Despite the barrage of mainstream media articles in the United States (and abroad) that soccer has, indeed, “arrived in America” there remains a hangnail that, if staying power is a legitimate concern, is desperate for clipping: Diving.
Racial abuse aside (more on this below), diving is arguably the worst on-the-pitch problem in the game today. It fools referees, ruins matches and wrongly influences the youth while infuriating players, managers and fans. Which is exactly why the game’s governing organizations need to take an immediate stance and eradicate the cancer from our very existence.
Recently FIFA vice-president, Jim Boyce, posited the theory that players who dive should be sent off rather than shown a yellow card. “I think cheating has to be eradicated from the game,” Boyce told BBC World’s ‘Have Your Say’. “If it is absolutely no question whatsoever that it is a dive, I think perhaps Fifa have to look at whether that should be a red-card offense.”
Key to Boyce’s point, however, is that the offense should be handled by the referee at the time of the incident and not through video technology. “I believe that we don’t want to ruin our game by bringing in a lot more technology,” he said.
While Boyce’s recognition of the problem is admirable, the rationale behind not using video technology is a glowing example of FIFA’s debilitating failure to modernize, not to mention that it’s just plain incorrect.
“More technology” is not needed because all the cameras are already in place. And so too are the rules that allow referees to retrospectively review “serious breaches of the principle of fair play” so long as they’ve been missed by referees. Incidents of players engaging in punching, spitting, head-butting, verbal insults and racist slurs have all been the subject of retrospective suspensions for guilty players.
So why not diving? Has this despicable act not yet risen to the level of a verbal insult?
The solution is one that would go miles to turning might-be fans who pop up every four years for the World Cup into regular supporters of the beautiful game: Establish a fair play panel within FIFA and all league governing organizations across the globe. The panel’s duty would be to review, either by complaint or sua sponte, on-pitch actions that violate “serious breaches of the principle of fair play” including, in some instances, those seen by the referee.
This last component is key. Governing bodies have long reserved reviewing video for moments that the referee doesn’t see on the pitch but when it comes to serious fair play breaches that unequivocally damage the game, the time has come to carve out an exception to the rule.
And the punishment?
A one match suspension every time a player conclusively goes to ground without being touched and for the purpose of gaining an advantage.
It’s a simple adjustment that could prove momentous for the players, the fans (and would-be fans) and the game.