LONDON - Judging by the outraged roar in any sports bar when a footballer is deemed to have faked a fall in order to win a penalty, the average soccer fan can distinguish between a genuine foul and play-acting.
The vexed subject of diving has been highlighted in the early part of the British season after Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva won an appeal against a two-match ban imposed by UEFA for diving in a Champions League qualifier against Celtic.
Eduardo was initially banned after winning a penalty when he tumbled to the ground despite no apparent contact with goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
According to research conducted by Paul Morris, a psychologist with the University of Portsmouth in England, the average fan usually gets it right.
In a telephone interview, Morris said a group of respondents were shown film of tackles from professional matches.
"We did it from games that weren't particularly famous, games that were in black and white, and we didn't show people who were particularly famous," Morris said.
"We showed people lots of tackles and we asked people in which one was there an intentional dive, people attempting to deceive the referee and ones in which there was no intention to deceive them.
"What we found was that people were remarkably consistent, everybody agreed which ones were dives, which ones were honest and also which ones they weren't sure about."
However, Morris said that although the study showed consistent responses it did not prove that the interviewees were necessarily right.
So a second study was set up in which footballers were instructed to fall honestly after a tackle or to dive.
"What we found was there was a perfect correspondence between the instructions to the diving or the non-diving player and the perceiver. So taking those two studies together we could show there was consistency and also there was accuracy," he said.
Morris has identified four factors which indicate that a player may have dived, notably the 'Archer's Bow'.
"We had to call it something, so we called it the Archer's Bow because people are bowed back like in a bow and arrow," Morris said.
"And what is so unusual about this particular behaviour is that it's not a variation on a theme that you see in an honest tackle.
"The tackled player will put their arms back, often they will put them back behind their head, the legs will go up behind their bodies, their chest is stuck out and often their head will go back.
"What is interesting about that particular behaviour is that you don't witness that in actual natural falls. If you are losing your balance you put your hands on either side to try to regain your balance.
"What you don't do is stick both hands over your head. One hand might go up, often if you are falling to one side, one hand might go down to the ground and the other hand go up but what you don't do is stick both hands above your head.
"Biomechanically people don't stick their hands above them in the air when they are falling over. This just doesn't happen"
Morris said the other three factors were variations on behaviour which could occur during honest tackles: clutching a part of the body which had not been hit, taking an extra roll when hitting the ground and taking fully controlled strides after being tackled before falling.
"What makes them dishonest is that there is something about the organisation and timing of the behaviour that is observed that is wrong," he said.
Morris is careful not to make exaggerated claims for his research and is full of praise for professional referees.
"The words we would use is there is probably a nice indication or pretty clear indication that simulation behaviour is engaged upon," he said.
"Referees actually have a very difficult job and they do it pretty damn well. So each time that you see both arms go back that's probably a pretty clear indication that simulation may be taking place.
"But I wouldn't like to say that reliably every single time you could make this distinction. It is an aid but not a solution.
"I have tremendous sympathy for the officials, they may not even see the crucial bit of action, a player may be running in front of them at the crucial time.
"The other thing is that the referee isn't making a single decision, 'Is this a dive or is it not a dive?', he's also making a decision 'Was it a foul tackle?'
"You can have a foul tackle without a dive, you can also have a non-foul tackle with a dive. Also what our research does show is that people do agree that people are not sure.
"The problem for a referee is that he's not allowed that luxury. He's got to make a decision."comments