Player Dives. Is this the end of the world?

 By Paul Gardner

A few years back I tuned in to a San Jose Earthquakes telecast and was immediately impressed with the broadcaster. It quite quickly occurred to me that he was doing the program alone, no partner with whom to exchange giggly remarks. That was one positive factor, but there was also clarity of voice, brevity of explanations and -- glory be! -- identification of the players.

I rated it the best American TV commentary I’d heard, a pleasure to listen to. I later learned that there had been some technical screw up and that the scheduled tv commentators never got on the air at all. I had actually been listening to the radio commentator -- John Shrader.

I’ve heard quite a lot of Shrader since, though always with a play-by-play partner, which gives me a rather different and less exemplary Shrader. Nevertheless, I’ve had no reason to revise my positive opinion.

Until Saturday, that is, when I had the misfortune to hear Shrader, along with partner Jim Kozimor, working on the Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose telecast. This game has already aroused a firestorm of comments because of a penalty awarded to RSL by referee David Gantar in the 62nd minute of what was, at that point, a scoreless game.

What Gantar saw -- or believed he saw -- was Alvaro Saborio being fouled in the penalty area by Quakes defender Brad Ring -- so Gantar gave the PK and red-carded Ring -- presumably for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Then after consultation with his AR, Gantar rescinded the red to Ring, and gave it instead to Bobby Burling. Saborio scored from the PK -- RSL were up a goal, and the Quakes were down a man.

Of course there were protests from the Quakes, strong ones, as they felt that Saborio had taken a dive. After the PK, Quakes keeper Jon Busch made rude gestures in the direction of the RSL players and the referee.

Meanwhile, up in the TV booth Kozimor and Shrader were carrying on like you wouldn’t believe. I thought I had just witnessed a controversial call -- hardly an earth-shattering event, I’d say. But no. This was, I got the impression, the worst thing that both Kozimor and Shrader had ever seen. They could not let it go. On and on they went, with repeated replays, reminding us that referee Gantar had initially red-carded the wrong guy, then that no Quakes player should have been red-carded, and that Saborio should have been booked for diving.

The replays -- we certainly saw enough of them -- were, as usual, never quite conclusive. The MLS website later reported that the replays showed “little to no contact.”

Both Kozimor and Shrader were 100 percent certain there was no contact, “You are kidding me!” lamented Shrader, “You can see space between the two of them!”

This always puzzles me. Where does this idea come from that, for a foul to be called, the contact has to be heavy? A moment’s thought will tell you that is an utterly absurd notion. For a player running at speed, probably on the balls of his feet, trying to cut and swerve, how much contact is needed to tip him off balance, to send him sprawling? Very, very little. The slightest clip of the raised leg will be enough to trip a player -- he does not have to be clobbered. What Kozimor later said -- that the contact, if any, “was not worthy of a red” misses that point.

“I’m sorry, this is awful,” said Shrader. Ten minutes after the call, Shrader was remarking “I’m not sure he [referee Gantar] is gonna look at that videotape and be very proud of that call.” Then we got tear-jerking stuff about what an honest team the Quakes are, how they like “to play the game true”, and they “don’t take dives.” Take that, RSL.

There was also a strange point made by both Kozimor and Shrader -- this was over 10 minutes after the call -- that the referee must be absolutely certain in making a PK call (yes, obviously) ... “especially when the game is scoreless.” Try to find that in the rulebook.

Two minutes after that, Kozimor had to remind us of the “controversial decision,” shortly before announcing, in almost funereal tones that RSL had scored again. Three minutes after that, Shrader told us that MLS could rescind the red card to Burling, but was unlikely to do so as it meant saying “our referee made a big mistake ...”

A pause of two minutes, and we got another replay of Saborio going down, with Shrader intoning, “Saborio, dive - with a capital D-I-V-E ...” Quite carried away now, Shrader went on “It’s embarrassing really, embarrassing for the referee, embarrassing for the outcome of the game, an embarrassment for the league.”

There was more moaning and whining as the game ran down -- Kozimor’s feeling that some of the RSL players would “be embarrassed by Saborio’s dive -- and they should be.” As the game ended Kozimor was saying that the Quakes had this one “in some ways, taken away.”

After Busch had got into RSL coach Jason Kreis’ face on the sideline, back came Kozimor and Shrader for yet more recriminations, with an intense Shrader telling us that “those who love this game should be ashamed of Saborio’s actions ...”

Did Kozimor and Shrader have a point? Yes, they did. But it was not one that needed emotionally belaboring for over half an hour. Maybe Saborio dived, maybe he didn’t, maybe he was clipped, maybe he slipped. Referee Gantar saw it as a foul (by the wrong guy, initially). Even if that was the wrong decision, it wasn’t an outrageous decision ... unless we are asked to enter a fantasy world where Burling never commits a foul.

Both Kozimor and Shrader admitted several times during their rants that RSL was the better team. But the idea of a dive seems to have slightly unbalanced them. Why? What’s the big deal here?

A reminder: this MLS season started with a series -- four of them -- of frightful fouls that resulted in serious injuries to players (none of the four players has yet returned to action). Yet I do not recall reading a single condemnatory word about the players who inflicted those injuries. On the contrary, they were all defended by their coaches and teammates, all of them were painted as guys who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Quite possibly, that was all true. In no time at all, the injured players were carted off to hospital, out of the way for the time being, while sympathy was poured on the aggressors.

Saborio’s crime -- if, indeed, he committed one -- did not break anyone’s leg. But for reasons that I have yet to fathom, diving is seen as a more heinous crime than violent play. So no one will be saying what a great guy Saborio is, not even what an excellent goalscorer he is. Neither Kozimor nor Shrader made any complimentary remarks about him during their onslaught.

Diving is, obviously, to be deplored as a way of trying to deceive the referee -- of cheating. But are we asked -- by those who see it almost as a death-penalty crime -- to believe that diving is the only form of cheating going on? That tacklers never pretend to have pulled off a clean tackle when they know perfectly well they’ve just fouled an opponent? That goalkeepers never make out they got the ball cleanly when they know they’ve just grabbed a forward’s ankle? And so on -- and all those examples occur more frequently than diving.

I do condemn diving. But I do so in the overall context of the game, in which forwards (the usual suspects) are much more sinned against than sinning, in which violent and reckless tackling is a bigger problem -- indeed, is the very problem that encourages players to dive, as a defensive reaction.

Just ask yourself two questions: How many penalty kicks have you seen given when you’re quite sure the forward dived? How many penalty kicks have you seen not given after the most obvious of foul tackles?

That second total is going to be way higher than the first -- and that is where the real problem lies, the one that, to quote John Shrader, “those who love the sport should be ashamed of.”

26 comments about "Player Dives. Is this the end of the world?".
  1. gary at k, July 26, 2011 at 12:49 a.m.

    Litmus Test:
    The more one talks about "diving", the less they know about the game.

  2. cony konstin, July 26, 2011 at 7:33 a.m.

    Diving is an art. Fouling in not an art. It is done because of the lack of ability to play the game. When I watch games I would love to see commentators rip the coaches apart for having their teams play trench soccer. I would love to hear the commentators rip the players for playing bubba and billy ball. Kick it long bubba. Run billy run. Soccer is a beautiful game when it is played with joy, intenisty, creativitely as well as keeping the ball most of the time on the ground and passing to the feet. But it usually is in the air or in stands or over fence. Soccer in America is hobby and until it is a way life we will get useless comentators, terrible refs. billy and bubba ball and coaches who will never transmit the spectacular to the field. REVOLUTION!!!! or EVOLUTION!!!! US Soccer needs it. 30,000 futsal courts could help start a fire.

  3. Kent James, July 26, 2011 at 7:48 a.m.

    Paul, would it bother you if someone (out of sight of the referee) knocked the ball in the net with his hand? After all, it doesn't hurt anyone. Diving (in the box) can be even worse than that, since you can also get someone thrown out of a game at the same time. So diving does deserve to be condemned vociferously. It also hurts the game with the public at large; it is embarrassing how some players will fall down when someone breathes on them too hard, and the rolling around on the ground in an effort to show how bad the foul was adds to the shame. Diving should not be part of the game. Of course, the worst impact of diving is that the fear of being fooled by a dive makes referees sometimes hesitate to call real fouls. So diving actually increased the foul play that your rightly condemn. Get rid of diving, more real fouls can be punished (and hopefully, reduced). That being said, there are subtleties in diving that warrant different treatment from the referee. To me, a dive is something that is completely made up (pretending there was contact when there was not, e.g.). That deserves a card (and I'd recommend more serious punishments imposed after the game, such as multi-game suspensions). Less egregious behavior (but still not good) is when an attacker gets a little bump (that may knock them momentarily off balance, but from which they could easily recover), and the attacker chooses to fall down. Soccer is a physical game, there is incidental contact, which should not be punished. So in this case, I don't think the referee should call a foul (but neither should the player who tries to get the foul called be carded). Of course, if the contact is not incidental, the foul should be called. I don't think a player who has truly been fouled has any obligation to try to "play through" the foul. Yes, hard fouls are worse than dives, and should be punished (as you always push for). But diving contributes to the number of bad fouls by making referee's jobs harder, as well as hurting the games image. It doesn't have to be an either/or thing; both types of transgressions should be eliminated as much as possible.

  4. John Klawitter, July 26, 2011 at 8:21 a.m.

    Paul, I don't agree with all of your opinions (definitely much greater than 50%), but you are apot on here. I'm glad that you are able to watch as many games as you do and comment on them. One thing I have learned quite by accident, since the only way I can watch as many games as I do without incurring the rath of my family is to turn the sound down. I've had the notion confirmed from time to time when there was nobody at home to annoy and I could turn the volume back up and you have provided further confirmation of the same; without the sound, I can't help but enjoy the game. Maybe some day, we'll actually have a broadcaster who actually enhances the match much like the broadcasters of old did for us in other sports, like Vin Scully, Jack Buck, and, even, Howard Cosell.

  5. Terminator X, July 26, 2011 at 10:54 a.m.

    Agree with the article. This hysteria over diving/simulation is overblown. It doesn't really bother me, although agree there could be some tweaks to the rules to prevent some of the more egregious offences. When looking around the world, only in the UK is there such an obsession with diving, while they look the other way on outright brutish defending which is a much larger offence against the sport. I think because the US is heavily influenced by the EPL/British announcers there is also an unhealthy obsession with this issue. In the rest of the world, it's not really considered much of an issue, so hearing these announcers howling in disbelief is quite humorous. So it's really the British, those influenced by the British, and novices to the game that continually obsess over diving/simulation. Unfortunately, here in the US it seems that this group of people are the majority of the English-speaking media, so we have to continually hear about it, and I'm actually quite bored with it. Glad I know how to speak Spanish so I can mostly avoid it.

    I would rather have players, especially creative ones, protected and avoiding contact than have to go back to the days of brute ball like when Pele was kicked/injured deliberately out of the 1966 World Cup or when Claudio Gentile and the Butcher of Bilbao had their reigns of terror. There is bound to be some abuse of this, so I'm sure there could be some countermeasures to go against the worst abusers. However, this obsession with diving in the US and in MLS in particular I believe is unhealthy. The league pretty much has a well-deserved reputation of being brutish (as the broken legs/ankles of several creative players this year can attest), which really hinders the spectacle.

  6. Carl Walther, July 26, 2011 at 10:56 a.m.

    To Kent James--thank you for the well thought out and logical comments. I agree completely.

  7. S MacDougall, July 26, 2011 at 11:39 a.m.

    "The slightest clip of the raised leg will be enough to trip a player"

    Then every time there is the slightest clip, a foul should be called? If you are going to have rules you have to apply the rules consistently - and you know that standard cannot be applied. The game would be nothing but a series of free kicks. That's why so many 'slight clips, jersey tugs, late challenges', etc. are not called. Are you advocating that every slight transgression of the laws be whistled?

    The problem with this call, with this type of call, is that it is unequivocally 'a game changer'. If up to then you have not called everything, then why are you calling this? You have to ask, does what just happened merit changing the game? There should be a higher bar for that kind of decision because of its impact on the match. That decision often settles the match, like it did on Saturday. If you had wanted the players to decide the match, sorry you're out of luck, - a referee, trailing the play who had to make his decision with imperfect information just did that.

    There is a better way. Think Hockey, where game changing decisions are reviewed in Toronto, or the NFL where they do it on site. Purists will argue it impedes the flow of the game. As you note, that flow was impeded by the call, the argument, the PK, the celebration and then the restart. There was time to review the call and get it right. And if diving players knew their dives would be reviewed, the odds of success decline - and maybe the diving would too.

  8. David Sirias, July 26, 2011 at 11:46 a.m.

    Terminator also is spot on.

    As pointed out there is a gray area where the slightest bump or brush up with no take down intent or thuggery becomes a dive. By all means the gray call should go to the defender. But in exchange, "professional" fouls from behind need to be yellow carded--all of them-- even if they occur in the defensive third. These are the true insidious tactics. They occur much often than the more famous hacks that result in reds and fines, but have a much greater impact of destroying game flow and attacking opportunities. This should all be specifially memorialized in the rules --along with offside tie goes to the attacker. I would even favor a redical rule change such as yellow + 1/2 next game suspension for professional fouls.

  9. beautiful game, July 26, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.

    Kudos to Dave Sirias, world-wide, the refs tend to not punish 'professional' fouls which are intentional contact with the opponent and not playing the ball...this type of delinquency should be enforced 100% and the game will prosper.

  10. jason ungar, July 26, 2011 at 12:59 p.m.

    If you dive, anywhere on the field. Auto penalty kick and red card. It ruins the sport.

  11. El Duderino, July 26, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.

    1) "For a player running at speed, probably on the balls of his feet, trying to cut and swerve, how much contact is needed to tip him off balance, to send him sprawling? Very, very little."

    Soccer is a contact sport and defenders have a right to their space. If they are going shoulder to shoulder there is a ton of contact going on and force being applied but there is no foul.

    2) "Maybe Saborio dived, maybe he didn’t"

    Now you've lost me.

    3) re: Announcers. Shrader is fine. Kozimor gets a free pass in my book because he is not a soccer guy, he is a hired gun that the Quakes brought on to get us more casual coverage on CSN Sports Central, where Kozimor works as an anchor. I'm perfectly fine with that b/c it helps grow professional soccer in the bay area. Plus Kozimor is genuinely interested in the sport and seems to be applying himself to learn more. I refuse to be snobbish towards him... that's something that turns off a lot of casual american sports fans about soccer because soccer fans can be so snobbish towards soccer noobs.

  12. James Froehlich, July 26, 2011 at 1:31 p.m.

    Bravo Terminator X. Hate the diving but US fans, players, and commentators tend to get hysterical about it. IMO it is often (not always) the attackers attempt to level the playing field for the heavy handed(footed) fouls that don't get called.

  13. John Polis, July 26, 2011 at 5:10 p.m.

    I continually find it surprising that so many times it seems like the replay shows the result of an action quite clearly, yet the announcers, who got it wrong in real time, look at the replay and find it necessary to stick to their first eroneous evaluation, then go on for some time trying to justify their faulty analysis.

    Additionally, the proliferation of ex-players in the broadcast booth--while most always a welcome addition because of their knowledge of the game and experience on the field--nevertheless exposes an ongoing weakness (even with ex-pros) when it comes to accurately analyzing a referee's call or performance.

  14. R2 Dad, July 26, 2011 at 5:33 p.m.

    MLS refereeing is not up to FIFA standards--part of the reason why there were no US referees at the World Cup last year. Why? Referees are not judging tackles properly. Yellow (reckless) and red (excessive force) cards are not awarded, failing to enforce the LOTG. Until MLS refereeing more closely matches standard FIFA application of the laws, we will not develop into a top footballing league.

  15. Power Dive, July 26, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.

    This is an instance where I don't care about what's "fair" and what makes the game more beautiful. Diving needs to be eliminated from the game. Whatever it takes. I'd support post-match replays and red cards and fines being issued for clear diving. It makes the game extremely unappealing to soccer/non-soccer fans and gives the stigma that the sport is for sissies, pansies, wimps, cheaters, etc. I have a lot of friends who are non-soccer fans because of this fact. They like football, basketball, etc. I'm NOT saying I agree with them, but it's a fact. Why do I care what these soccer ignorant people think? I believe that money makes the world go round. Get more fans of soccer, get more money. Get more money and popularity, watch the U.S. contend for World Cups.

  16. John Hofmann, July 26, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.

    If memory servces me right, the last two San Jose/RSL games in Utah have ended 0-0. The announcers, representing San Jose, were absolutely correct in assuming that the flop and resulting penalty kick would for all practical purposes determine the game. I was listening to something else, so only had the picture on, but the replays suggested (about as well in my opinion as replays can ever suggest) that this indeed was a flop. Period. The contact appeared to be absolutely minimal if at all. The announcers were serving San Jose fans, and their response was absolutely appropriate for an American audience, because culturally Americans tend not to like cheating (which flopping is characterized as in this country). The bottom line of course is whose ox is getting gored. The French, or at least a significant percentage of them, I'm sure thought the hand ball that put them in the World Cup was fine. The Irish didn't. My reaction, and I don't give a rat's rear end about either, is the Irish got really screwed and deserved something more than a bunch of sactimonious hand-wringing.
    I'm against bad fouls. I'm against fouls that prevent a scoring opportunity. "Professional fouls" tick me off, because it disrupts the game and, I suspect, accomplishes its goal which is to prevent more goal scoring opportunities from evolving.
    Having said that, I have a suggestion on "diving". All potential circumstances should be reveiwed. If an apparent dive has taken place, a significant penalty should come down on the offending player. Will there be mistakes. I'm sure there will. That will be part of the learning curve. I was not a soccer fan 30-40 years ago or more, but I assume the diving has become more prevalent in recent years sinply because the rewards have become more lucrative. What is the mind-set of the players if a mistake is made on a non-flop? Assumption is they are ticked, but the inclination would have to be that flops are more likely to be penalized, significantly, and non-flops are also more likely to be penalized. The inclinition over time would be for players to make their hardest efforts not to go down, because of this. That would be the apparent opposite of where soccer is going today, where the inclination has become (as referred to in some comments) to fall down with even minimal contact because that's the direction the game is going in. Penalize the bad fouls with increasing severity, do the same for flopping. Over time there should be less of each and less interruptions to the flow of the game.

  17. Jay Wilson, July 26, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.

    I was at this game and had the privilege of seeing all the replays that were available in the TV truck. My first thought was how could the referee even make this call since he was nearly 40 yards behind the play on the ball. Plus, sports studies done years ago show that while running at full speed, which the referee was, you are legally blind. And the Asst. Referee was even with the three players involved, also running at full speed, so he wasn't in a position to make a positive call of whether it was a foul or a dive. Those on this board who assert that the officials should be "certain" before making such a game changing call of a PK and red card are, in my opinion, spot on.

    Diving impacts the integrity of the game. I have enough friends who already think soccer is not a top tier sport because of the game's reputation of having players fake being mauled after suffering substantial contact.

  18. Larry Beguin, July 27, 2011 at 12:40 a.m.

    Agree with both Power Dive and Mark Wolfson. Soccer will never be given acceptance in the U.S. until "diving" is eliminated.

  19. Terminator X, July 28, 2011 at 10:45 a.m.

    Soccer actually continues to become more popular in the US every year, despite some people saying that soccer won't be accepted because of diving. That argument is hogwash. In fact, World Cup soccer continues to gain momentum in the US.

    I could care less that guys who hate soccer make fun of the game because some guys fake injury. People who are bothered by this should grow a thicker skin. It's part of the game...the same thing happens in the NBA with all the floppers, and although people don't like it people still tune in. Those people would never be fans anyway, and there are plenty more that have been/will continue watching.

    The game has enough problems, yet continues to gain in popularity worldwide despite match fixing issues, FIFA corruption, etc. Diving is probably problem number 100 on the list of issues to be addressed, and frankly it's only a major issue if you listen to the Brits/those influenced by the Brits/soccer novices.

  20. Power Dive, July 28, 2011 at 12:08 p.m.

    Terminator - I do agree with the general premise that soccer is becoming more popular in the US every year. But, the growth is too small and too slow. "...those influenced by the Brits/soccer novices." Soccer novices. That's precisely the point. I've never heard a novice potential soccer fan complain about FIFA corruption or match fixing. I've heard many people complain about diving and faking injury. It's not #100 on the list, it's top 3 if not top 1 reason I hear for people ripping on soccer in the US. You can say all you want that those people are ignorant and don't appreciate a good thing and that you don't care about them. But, until the the casual sports fan in America becomes a soccer fan, we'll continue to be a small niche market that loses out on millions and millions of potential advertising revenue every year. That money could be used to make soccer better in the US. The MLS clubs have more money, now they can invest more in youth and their future. Like the powerhouse European clubs. They can invest in better coaching. Better players. It's all a domino effect that starts with money. Money that comes from having a large fan base an advertisers that follow them.

  21. Albert Wolf, July 28, 2011 at 9:56 p.m.

    Since Paul went on a rant about Shrader's rant, I want to rant too. I just saw a Chivas free kick hit the post. The ESPN announcer said it was bad luck. Why? Why wasn't it good luck that he got so close? Just a few more inches and he's missed the target completely. Every ball that ever hit the woodwork is bad luck for the person who hit it?

  22. Power Dive, July 28, 2011 at 10:23 p.m.

    I love the rant Wolf and have one of my own. People always say that a goalie got lucky if a forward hits the post. Hogwash. Goalie's job is to keep the ball out of the net. Post does not equal net. Lucky is if it was clearly going in but a falcon came down and snatched it out of mid-air. I've yet to see that. I have seen a bull break-up a play by coming on to the field though.

  23. Brian Something, July 29, 2011 at 11:11 p.m.

    I agree with Gary.

    It never ceases to amaze me how one form of cheating (diving) provokes hysterical overreaction with fans demanding offenders be sent to the electric chair, or at least tarred and feathered. But other forms of cheating (shirt grabbing, arm tackling and other forms of 'professional fouls'), including some that are far more serious than diving to player safety (hacking, kicking), do not provoke anywhere near the hysteria. The reaction is completely disproportionate and bass ackwards.

  24. Kent James, July 29, 2011 at 11:27 p.m.

    Power Dive is right (but how can someone named "Power Dive" be against diving??) in his refutation of Terminator's defense of diving, but I would add another important reason to get eliminate diving; it not only drives away fans, but also discourages kids from becoming soccer players, and one thing that hurts the US ability to compete internationally is the fact that so many good athletes don't ever play soccer (whereas in most other countries, soccer gets all the best athletes). While Terminator is right suggest that diving is an art (good divers really can be deceptive; Stoichkov was one such player), but is that an art we really want to emulate? Guys who grab jerseys (and shorts) can be pretty deceptive too, but I'd classify them all as cheaters, and would hope that we could eliminate them. Also, being against divers does not mean that one is in favor of thugs; people committing violent tackles should also be punished severely, and players committing such tackles pre-meditated should be dealt with even more severely than divers (since they're more dangerous).

  25. Jay Wilson, July 30, 2011 at 6:47 p.m.

    FYI, Shrader and Kozimor were somewhat vindicated yesterday. MLS fined Saborio $1,000 and suspended him for one game for taking a dive. They rescinded the fine on Bobby Burling for the red card he received but not the red card itself (?!!)

  26. Bill Richter, August 1, 2011 at 1:08 a.m.

    To those that don't understand what others mean when they say there was minimal contact, and to Paul Gardner, who is puzzled about how much contact there needs to be before a foul should be called, I will point out a term that no longer appears in the laws of the game, but still does in the advice to referees on the laws of the game: Trifling or doubtful. Among other things, this is mentioned:
    "A trifling infraction is one which, though still an offense, has no significant impact upon play".

    When a player dives, he is attempting to deceive the referee into thinking that either a foul was committed when there was no foul, or that a foul that was insignificant was actually significant. Mark, a red card cannot be rescinded once issued because there is no way to put the player back in the game several days after the game has been completed. You may be referring to the additional game suspension, I do not know if that was rescinded as well. I do know Burling didn't play last night, and that may have been a contributing factor to the 2-0 loss.

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