Monday, 24 October 2016

Solving Diving And Other Football Cheating



OK, so I've not posted for a little while, and so much has happened in the political world. It's hard to know where to start (which is partly why I haven't for a while!), so I'll start outside that world altogether. This is an issue that's been getting on my nerves for a very long time, so I thought I'd start here.

It should be no shock to anyone that there's a great deal of cheating in football. We're not just talking about that odd bit of 'overacting' when a foul has occurred, though that is obviously bad enough. There is also the issue of reacting to things that have not even happened - things like lifting feet up in the air and falling over, arms raised and mouth open in appeal to the officials, when TV replays show that no contact whatsoever has occurred. Perhaps even worse than that is feigning contact to the face off the ball. And then there's the whole issue of screaming in the faces of officials, attempting to bully them into submission. It not only prevents many people from enjoying the game, it sets a bad example to others - whether they like it or not, football players are very important role models in our society, and there's nothing we can do to stop that from being the case.

Let's not beat about the bush here - cheating in football is rife, and cheats are prospering from it on a regular basis. This can't be right, and it can't go on - radical action needs to be taken to address the problem. These are things that are already against both the rules and the spirit of the game, but the entire sport is being ruined by them. It is clearly something that is not only being accepted by clubs, but encouraged and coached by them from an early age. It has to stop.

Whenever the issue is brought up, it seems to be quickly swept under the carpet, and nothing really happens. Mention technology (we have that kind of stuff now, you know!), and a chorus of 'but the flow of the game' quickly ensues. Sorry, but nuts to the flow of the game, to an extent anyway. The game does already stop and start, especially around the times we are talking about here, and a bit more stopping and starting to consult the technology is really not going to ruin anything. It took many years just to get the football authorities to agree that maybe, in top class games where there's plenty of money around to fund it, we could use actually technology to see whether the ball has crossed the goal line - aside from any other alleged issues, if ever proof were needed that the football authorities are not fit for purpose, that was it.

There is an issue before we get to there, though - that of simple discipline and respect. Any follower of Rugby Union, for example, will know that the kind of behaviour exhibited in almost every single top class game of football towards officials would there result in warnings, cards and sendings off. That is how it should be - the officials ('sir', on the field of play), and their decisions, should be respected, even if you believe them to be incorrect. That doesn't mean that no decision can be questioned in any way - as in rugby, the captain should be able to respectfully request a clarification, but surrounding the referee, screaming in his face (or across the pitch, for that matter) should be considered unacceptable. I believe that rules to that effect exist in football, but they are simply not being applied. There is somehow a visible assumption of 'player power' that needs to be dealt with, and it really wouldn't take long to do. It would only take one or two weeks of teams ending up with 4 or 5 players sent off for dissent or disrespect towards officials for that problem to end altogether. There is no reason not to do it, as far as I can see. Get on with it - the petulance is ruining the game.

Now on to technology. In top class games, there are cameras everywhere, recording every move (including more or less everything 'off the ball') in high definition detail, and often with camera capable of giving detailed slow motion playback. Why aren't we using them? To use Rugby Union as an example again, it is possible - you can have an official watching playback in communication with the referee on the field (including while play continues), and you can play back replays at full speed and slow motion to officials on the field via big screens. Why aren't we doing it?

The 'but it stops play' argument really doesn't apply, in my opinion. What I would propose is that the on-field referee (who always has the ultimate decision, of course) can choose to review replays at any time he (or she) chooses to, stopping play if they deem it necessary (there are rules for restarting play in all circumstances, of course). Further than that, though, they should be given direction that they should strongly consider reviewing a reply if they are considering any kind of card (in other words, they don't have to, but they have to be really sure of what they saw if they don't) - that would soon stamp out the habit of trying to get opponents carded by diving and overacting. On top of that, the official watching the footage should be able to alert the referee at any time to any foul play that they have seen anywhere on the field. That will, of course, cause play to be stopped - so it should, and it would be an end to getting away with things behind the back of the officials.

This kind of technology is being used regularly in Rugby Union at the top level, and it has made a massive improvement to the game, in my opinion. I think it is fair to say that, regardless of complaints, dives and other histrionics and innocence-pleading by players, decisions made are almost always absolutely correct. Of course, there is still the capacity for human error, but you can't possibly remove that altogether. You certainly can improve the facilities available for those who have to make the decisions, to give them the maximum chance of making the right call. Has it slowed the flow of the game down? Well, a little, perhaps, but that sacrifice has been well worth it overall.

One final issue where football could learn from Rugby Union. The 'sin bin'. The idea that a yellow card means something - 10 minutes off the field, and your team down by a player for the duration. Not only would it help to stamp out foul play, it would also, I think, be of huge benefit to the players and teams themselves. It would see an end to things like the sometimes frivolous card issuing by referees wanting to stamp their authority of the game early on (and the huge effect that that can have on tournaments with card accumulation rules, for example). In combination with the checking of video footage, it would make sure that even yellow cards are actually fair and justified, and only given because they are fully deserved. Surely that is in the interests of everybody?

Football is, as is often said, a beautiful game. Currently, though, it is being constantly damaged by the inability of its authorities to get a grasp on the issue of cheating and ill-discipline. You can't blame the players for trying to make the most of what they are being allowed to get away with - it is their living, after all, and they are professionals. They are always going to do as much as they can get away with to win. It is a failure of regulation. Solving it really isn't terribly difficult - most of the facilities required are more or less in place, and the rest of it is just a willingness to actually do something to sort this kind of stuff out. Let's stop messing about and get on with it.


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