Algeria’s Islam Slimani reacts after taking a knock during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Germany and Algeria in Brazil.
Algeria’s Islam Slimani reacts after taking a knock during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Germany and Algeria in Brazil. Ap

Professional football players and feigning injury

WE ALL know that professional football players feign injury.

Is it getting worse? Probably. Do we know why? Not really, but history suggests some plausible answers.

The first thing to say is that feigning injury in football today has reached truly epidemic proportions.

A Wall Street Journal article reported 132 minutes of "writhing time" in just 32 World Cup games.

Of the 302 separate instances of players appearing to be seriously hurt, 293 of them were up and playing within seconds. Just nine were actually injured.

Some defend footballers' theatrics by pointing to the speed of the modern game.

This is sycophantic nonsense. As players have become more technically skilled over the decades, the game has slowed to a comparative walk.

European professional football of the 1930s and 1940s, for example, was played at a breakneck pace, with players constantly colliding into each other without complaint.

The first three pre-Second World War World Cups, won by Uruguay and Italy (twice), were, by all accounts, brutalaffairs.

Things began to change when ruling bodies decided to improve the image of football by cracking down on acts of thuggery.

Feigning injury is an attempt to nullify the advantage an opponent gains from winning a contest for the ball.

And so by reducing the tolerance for foul play, the game's lawmakers have created a weirdly puritanical and hypocritical on-field culture in which exposing the misdeeds of others matters much more than one's own ethical conduct.

What the melodrama of football players tells us is that banning one kind of behaviour almost always creates another.

For every legalistic gain, there is a loss.

In the case of football, an important loss has been the ability of referees to punish diving or "simulation".

Because feigning injury is now so rampant, football's laws against it are surely the most regularly broken and yet under-enforced in all of sport.

As I see it, the only solutions are the use of video to retrospectively punish players who feign injury and the acceptance of the idea that sometimes in life people are hurt and it is nobody's fault.



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