Because it’s so often obvious when players are being deceptive (read: diving and faking) researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland decided to look to soccer for data to help them understand human deception. The results aren’t all that surprising.
Players, the research found, are more likely to take a dive when the game is tied in the latter stages of the game, and are more likely to do so in the penalty area. In other words, when a player sees a chance to go for the win with a penalty, he’s more likely to go down. Groundbreaking stuff.
For the work, lead author Gwendolyn David, a PhD student, analysed falls from 60 games – 10 each from the Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, French and Australian leagues – to determine whether they were “dives”.
The falls were then classed as legitimate, slightly deceptive – where the player was touched by an opponent but they exaggerated the impact – or highly deceptive.
She also examined where the falls occurred, the time in the game and the score at the time.
Wilson says only 6 per cent (169) of the 2803 falls observed were dives with the rest (2633) considered legitimate.
He says on average 33 per cent of dives were “rewarded” by the referee with a penalty.
“There is an 80 per cent chance of scoring a goal from a penalty and the study shows players are ruthless in their ability to realise that, and that’s why they are doing most of the dives in the penalty area,” says Wilson.
He says the study also shows if referees in a league are more likely to give a free kick the players in that league are more likely to dive more often.
While that six percent number seems low, keep in mind that dives get most of the attention. It just seems like there are more dives than there actually are because fans and pundits focus on them so much.
The researchers also found that referees aren’t using the tools at their disposal to curb diving.
“Even though these actions can affect a game or a championship, the primary way the referee can stamp ‘dives’ out of the game – a red or yellow card – is not being used.”
Wilson says the Australian and US leagues have recently moved to end the practice by starting to retrospectively punish divers.
“The two leagues will go back and check videotape after game and if [a player is] found guilty of diving they will get suspended,” he says.
According to Wilson, the change in policy is having a major impact on the rate of dives.
“At this stage it is only anecdotal, but it appears the numbers of dives has decreased substantially just by making the cost [to the player] greater.”
To that point, just today MLS issued a fine to Seattle’s Alvaro Fernandez for simulation in a match last Friday. Last season, the league opened the can of worms on diving by fining Charlie Davies and suspending Alvaro Saborio for taking dives.
And why are Australia and the United States at the forefront of the anti-diving movement? Because Americans and Aussies are adherents of other, more physical kinds of football.
In the end, however, the researchers came to the conclusion that footballers are no different than any creature in the animal kingdom when it comes to deception, leveraging every tool at their disposal to gain an advantage over their opponent.
“They really are just a bunch of animals running around the sporting field – they have the same simple motivations of scoring a goal and are affected by the possible cost of their behavioural actions.”