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Soccer Blights: Diving and Referee Abuse

July 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

Most of the 2018 World Cup has been entertaining. Or at least interesting. Not often we get to see the likes of Iceland, Morocco, Egypt and Panama in the tournament, and see what they are all about.

A case can be made that many of the traditional powers had crummy tournaments — and we are looking at you, Germany, Argentina and Spain. The inability of the teams from North America, Africa and Asia to compete evenly with the Europeans and South Americans … is an ongoing problem.

But the biggest concerns are more basic and more easily seen by even the most casual of fans: Abuse of referees, and the blight of “simulation” — that is, diving; that is, cheating — and Fifa does not seem interested in fixing those two glaring problems.

First, referee abuse.

I do not recall a World Cup at which we saw so many instances of three, four, five, eight players surrounding a referee after he had made a decision.

Those mini-mobs of footballers not only enclosed the referee via clots of humanity, they often were willing to pursue any referee who temporarily escaped from players, and surround him anew.

Referees do not need to explain themselves to players, and they certainly do not have to listen to the beefs of players who are not wearing the captain’s armband. Sometimes, it felt as if players were trying to intimidate the referee with their face-to-face jawing.

Mark Geiger, the American referee, had a particularly hard time with Colombia in the round of 16. The Colombians on several occasions descended on him en masse, and just kept yammering at him.

Also an issue? Verbal abuse. You don’t have to be a skilled lipreader to have noticed lots and lots of eff bombs being directed at refs — with no punishment for the players.

Two recommendations: 1) any player who bumps a referee is shown a red card. Clear cut. Hands off the ref. Touch him, and you are gone, and 2) referees should be encouraged to start handing out multiple yellow (warning) cards to winnow down the mobs and punish verbal abusers. Set a time limit: Five seconds of complaining, then a player is carded for “dissent”. A few incidents of three yellows being shown at once would end the swarming tactics almost immediately.

The other obvious and significant issue, is diving. Faking a foul. Faking an injury. This strikes at the heart of the game and its fairness and has forever; the issue here is that it seems to be getting worse.

It is not about what really happened, it’s about what a player can sell to a referee. That leads to ridiculous displays of faux agony of the sort regularly shown us by Brazil’s Neymar, probably the planet’s most notorious diver.

We also address this on two fronts: If neither the referee nor his linesmen see a foul committed against the guy who has just hit the ground … show a yellow card for diving. Fifa does have a rule against diving; use it!

The other leading form of gamesmanship is the fake injury. Guy feels slight contact, he goes to ground and writhes for a time while 1) hoping he can get a yellow shown to an opponent while 2) teammates get a drink of water and chat while the referee tries to figure out if there really is an injury.

To deal with this, any “injured” player who is holding up play while alleging injury must be taken off the field before play resumes, and must not be allowed to return to the contest for one full minute.

Again, if players come to understand that they are going to be disciplined (via the one-minute on the sideline ban) for fake injuries, we would see a sharp and immediate decline in that seedy tactic.

Cleaning up the game would not be difficult. Red cards for touching the ref; yellow cards for multiple players who surround a ref and do not give way in a matter of seconds; enforcement of the diving rule, and the one-minute ban for any player who has left the field under the pretense of being hurt.

That is about it. Soccer would still have some issues, but the biggest and most infuriating could be addressed quickly.

It is time for Fifa to act.



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