During the World Cup, I keep seeing images like the following.
It is interesting, there is a lot of play acting in the masterful sport that is Football. It is a pity, as if players just got on with the game we would see longer periods of amazing skill and tactical insights.
However, people play act as they believe that the expected benefit of doing so exceeds the cost, the chance of getting a fake penalty, or getting another player sent off is greater than the expected cost of not doing so. Yes these are often spur of the moment decisions in of themselves, but these players train and build up a knowledge of doing this BECAUSE they expect the benefits to be greater than the costs.
This is a function of what the referees do. For players to be unfairly sent off, or an unfair penalty to be put in place, the referees must sometimes give those. This isn’t their fault, even for professional referees it is impossible to make the perfectly right call. However, given the uncertainty refs do have a choice – they can be more lenient of tackles or stronger on giving cards for tackles.
If they are more lenient, then they will give less “wrong decisions” too divers, but they will also let tacklers get away with rough tackles. As a result, a more lenient ref will increase the chance of injury for a player!
This is the choice that has to be made when training refs and setting rules – where along the “injury” vs “diving” scale is FIFA and the national authorities willing to set things? Greater number of injuries mean famous players being out for longer, and lower revenue for these organisation, so quite a bit of leniency seems like a sensible choice (as long as people are still willing to watch 😉 ).
Of course, there is a possible way to lower the benefit from diving and reduce the chance of injury – improving referee calls. This is where technology can come in. Let’s see if that happens at some point 😉