In defence of diving: Why punishment for simulation is a blow to the beautiful game

The FA introducing retrospective bans for diving has been widely welcomed - but Johnny Sharp argues that it harms more than it helps, while ignoring the real threat to our sport 

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Please note: This is an opinion piece, and does not necessarily represent the views of FourFourTwo. Basically, all abuse to Johnny please. 

Lovers of the beautiful game rejoice! Finally the authorities have seen sense! Justice for all decent, honest, upstanding, honest, decent, decent, honest, upstanding football fans! And players! And managers!

I refer, of course, to the FA’s announcement that from next season, diving offences will be punished with a retrospective two-game ban. “The best thing to happen in football since the backpass rule,” said Bob B. on Twitter this week, echoing the received opinions spouted by many millions of other easily outraged keyboard warriors.

Jurgen Klopp, Tony Pulis and others have also expressed approval, while Leicester’s Robert Huth tweeted “Great news, add pretending to be injured and crying when you lose and we are really getting somewhere!” His condemnation of Jamie Vardy’s antics against Tottenham recently presumably got lost in cyberspace.

But at the risk of being condemned as an enemy of common sense, can I make a modest and reasonable defence of the heinous crime that is ‘simulation’ – aka diving, aka CHEATING, dragging the game into the gutter, dancing on the grave of Sir Bobby Moore and sticking two fingers up at the gods of the beautiful game? Dare I?

If refs cracked down on actual foul play half as keenly as they’re being asked to get tough with ‘simulation’, you might find there was less need for players to suddenly lose their footing

I don’t deny that in an ideal world, simulating fouls and deceiving the ref would not take place. And maybe, when all players wear computer chips and robo-refs spot every single rule infringement accurately, there’ll be no need for it. But when ranking sporting crimes, I feel strongly that diving is pretty far down the list compared to what else occurs regularly on a football pitch with barely a whiff of protest or punishment.

It’s the emphasis on the word ‘cheat’ that sticks in my craw like Marouane Fellaini’s elbow. It’s routinely used to condemn players who make the most of being fouled, but rarely, if ever, used about the many hundreds of players across all levels of football whose game is built around pushing, pulling, kicking, nudging, tripping, clattering, clobbering, thumping and, given the chance, half-crippling more skilful opponents.

When it comes to the most fouled players, the Premier League list (topped this season by Wilfried Zaha and Eden Hazard) is almost entirely populated by tricky forwards, silky wingers and playmaking midfielders. These are the very players who are the biggest box office attractions in the game, the ones who do the most to create and finish chances, the ones whose absence would make football an infinitely less engaging spectacle.

How often are world-class talents such as Ronaldo or Messi kicked in each game by 'good, honest professionals'?

Are their protests at said fouls ever backed up by supportive howls of indignation from the fans, pundits or managers? Not outside their home stadia they aren’t.

How often are world-class talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi kicked in each game by 'good, honest professionals' (Martin Keown)? I know, I know, they’re crying all the way to the bank, no doubt.

Yet when such stellar talents leap out of the way to avoid an obliterated metatarsal or shattered pelvis, and fall to the ground once more with feeling so the ref might just take notice, I think they’re within their rights to appeal for a pen. And after seeing so many such batterings go unpunished, can you blame them for taking advantage of the odd innocuous challenge by claiming it’s something more? They’re only redressing the balance, surely? And it's still scant consolation for being hoofed, elbowed, stud-sliced and toe-squashed 53 times every 90 minutes.

Fans, players and pundits alike have got their priorities seriously back-to-front on this issue.

For every YouTube compilation of players diving there are precisely... well, zero compilations of defenders’ sly digs, secret stud-rakes, casual stamps, elbow digs and passing bone-scrapers. That’s not solely because it’s way harder to catch on camera.

It’s also because it’s invariably the work of those universally admired defenders who would sneer at their victims’ complaints as the kind of cry-baby ‘play-acting’ they most abhor. But how are these transgressions of the rules – which are infinitely more likely to end a player’s career or contribute to their physical decline – so much less serious than trying to take advantage of a defending side’s malicious intent by drawing a foul?

And since the FA are now making such a major statement about ‘simulation’, there’s another issue they might want to consider - cracking down on fouls that don’t result in a player falling to the floor. Because players collapse when they get a kick for good reason: if they didn’t, no one would notice any foul had been committed.