ZURICH (Reuters) - Detested in some countries and regarded as act of cunning in others, the practice of diving and feigning injury to win penalties and get opponents sent off has become ingrained in football almost everywhere.
Forwards have become increasingly adept at what is officially known as simulation, often provoking contact themselves yet somehow making it look the defender’s fault.
Referees have been caught in the middle and have to judge in a split second whether a foul was genuine or enacted, often an impossible decision to make even with the use of slow motion replays.
With the World Cup looming and the stakes higher than ever, soccer’s governing body FIFA is hoping that it can appeal to the conscience of the players to stamp out a practice which many feel is ruining the game.
“We need fair play,” FIFA’s head of refereeing Massimo Busacca told Reuters in an interview. “You cannot win the game with simulation, what are you to tell your children when you go home?
“Will you say, ‘I won the game by simulation, it was cheating’? It should be an honor to win a game on merit.”
Busacca’s comments may sound idealistic, especially in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a World Cup, but he was hopeful that players would listen.
“I’m always positive,” said Busacca, a former Swiss and international referee. “We stress that we want fair play, we want to see football, spectators want to enjoy football, so you have to win the game correctly. If we continue to say that, in my opinion we can achieve results.”
In some cases, he said, players would even own up if a referee asked them what had happened.
“It happened to me twice in my career, in the first division. I asked the player if he was sure it was a foul and he said it wasn’t then I changed my mind...
“It wasn’t in the penalty area but it was close. He said sorry and I changed my decision...imagine if we could have more of that in the future.”
He added: “Of course, everyone wants to win, and such an important competition, sometimes the adrenalin and emotion are so much that you forget, sometimes you do not think, it’s like a habit.”
On a positive note, Busacca said he believed that dangerously violent tackles had largely been eradicated from the game.
“I think that because we have worked a lot on prevention, we don’t see the really bad fouls anymore,” he said. “I think the safety of the opponent is clear for the referee today. In my opinion we have reduced these bad tackles.”
Referees, he said, still had to be aware of the use of tactical fouling by some teams, where players took it in turns to commit minor fouls in midfield to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm and passing.
“If you realize in the first 10 minutes that the coach has prepared the game (plan) in that way, you have to understand what is happening and...you have to do something.
“This is what we expect from top referees...to understand how the coach prepared the game, respect the other team and say now we have to stop this type of play.”
Busacca emphasized that it was essential for referees to have a good understanding of football and know about the tactics of the teams they were refereeing.
“The more you understand football, the more ready you will be for the game, and the more you are likely to be in the right place at the right moment, and run less,” he said.
“It’s about anticipation, you are there and then you wait. If not, you continue to run.”
He added that passing sides such as Spain were less physically demanding for referees and that, the worse the game, the more the official would have to run.
“Usually, you run around nine or 10 kilometers in a game although it can reach 12 if the teams are not playing well and keep losing the ball.
“You can imagine that when a team is passing and passing and keeping the ball, the referee doesn’t have to run a lot, but if they lose it all the time, there is attack and counter-attack, so you run all the time.”
Referees are often the brunt of angry outbursts from players and Busacca said the only way to avoid this was with better communication.
“Unfortunately, I realize that it’s quite impossible to eliminate this kind of behavior from players,” he said. “I don’t know why we accept (it) and I don’t know if really (we could) do more to eliminate this kind of arrogance sometimes.
“It’s important to communicate and if it happens at the start of the game, you have to send a message.
“Today, referees are lacking in communication sometimes...and with the players you need that because sometimes they are on full of adrenalin.”
Reporting By Brian Homewood; editing by Justin Palmer