Kamal El Ghorayeb
Last week’s issue of Outlook featured a piece on “video assistant referees” in football, which some football associations around Europe are introducing to avoid refereeing errors.
In a similar step towards making referees’ lives easier, the English Football Association (FA) have introduced retrospective punishments this season, for any player caught diving in an attempt to con the ref.
As much as refereeing mistakes have become an increasingly disruptive aspect of the game, so has diving. The most recent Premier League incident came in the 71st minute of Watford’s home game against Arsenal, as the former Brazilian forward Richarlison went down to the penalty box to receive a penalty. Richarlison’s tumble has since been described as a blatant dive.
Watford were down 1-0 with about 20 minutes left to play and they wanted the three points just as much as Arsenal did, as it would have seen them leapfrog their opponents into 4th place. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Richarlison happily obliged.
Under minimal contact from Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin, Richarlison hit the floor in what could be described as, a sack of potatoes. Referee Neil Swarbrick immediately pointed to the spot, and Bellerin was livid. The Gunners ended up losing the game as a courtesy of that decision and as a result, saw Watford move above them in the table.
After the game, many were left wondering how the incident would be judged by the new panel introduced by the FA, composed of an ex-player, an ex-manager, and an ex-referee.
For every incident, the panel must reach a unanimous decision for it to be ruled a dive and, in turn, the culprit is handed a ban for two matches. Richarlison was acquitted as the fall was not judged as a dive.
It is fair to say that everyone was shocked by the decision as pundits, analysts, and replays showed that the referee’s decision was incorrect.
As evidenced, retrospective decisions are not the definitive solution. This is without mentioning the potential conflict of interest by having an ex-player, ex-manager, and ex-referee judge the incident.
Sure, the player could end up receiving punishment for his actions, but what justice does that bring in this case, to Arsenal? If the panel could not judge an incident as obvious as this one as a dive, then how can they be trusted to judge more grievous incidents in a game with even higher stakes?
Diving has become a phenomenon thanks to some of its modern godfathers such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben. What is worse is that these players are idolized by millions of people worldwide: What kind of message is that sending to young footballers? It has become such a viral disease amongst youth teams, so much so that it even drove one coach to take drastic measures to stop his young players from diving.
In an article written by “The Guardian”, a youth coach said the following to his team: “Anybody I catch diving in a game will be subbed.” What was worrisome was that his players all reacted with shock and disapproval, riposting, “Everyone dives!” Yet the coach’s stance held firm as he replied with: “It’s cheating.”
It’s refreshing to know that at least somebody is vying to make a change. Here’s to FIFA following suit.