The diving witch-hunt strikes again
This ramshackle clampdown procedure has its limits. Those limits are left way behind by the Premier League’s persistent campaign against “simulation” or diving
We’re all pretty accustomed to football clampdowns by now. As a new season starts, or a World Cup rolls around, the league authorities or FIFA tell us that referees have been instructed to keep an eye out for, and to sternly punish, some specific offence. These have ranged from important things like tackling from behind and surrounding referees, to more trivial matters such as making sure players tuck their shirts in.
At the start of a new season the clampdown is applied vigorously. Halfway through, the initial zeal of the referees slackens – possibly because the clampdown is working – and by the end of the season it has been forgotten.
My feeling is that most clampdowns are justified, that they respond to a general feeling that some particular aspect of the sport is getting out of hand and needs to be reined in. But as is usual with anything involving refereeing or the rules, the action is always delayed and the clampdowns arrive a year or two later than they should do.
However, my generally benign acceptance of this ramshackle clampdown procedure has its limits. Those limits are left way behind by the Premier League’s persistent campaign against “simulation” or diving. The latest version of this campaign entails the post-game study of videos and the unearthing of dives that the referee missed and the suspension of the culprits.
As this zero-tolerance campaign goes on, it would be useful to know just how prevalent diving is in the Premier League. Is this an everygame occurrence? Or maybe once every 10 games? We don’t know as the necessary statistics don’t exist. Nonetheless, a full-scale campaign is underway without any solid proof that it is needed.
Looking at the offence itself, it is not a physical offence. No opponent is going to be injured, it involves only deception. This is condemned as cheating, which immediately moves the offence into a different category. It is now seen as morally wrong. Enter the moralists, with their puritanical intolerance.
Now the clampdown turns ugly and becomes a witch-hunt.
Witch-hunts are unpleasant procedures. The blind fervour with which they are conducted leads
inevitably to gross errors and the condemnation of innocents. At its worst, a witch-hunt becomes less interested in stamping out the supposed crime than in punishing the sinners alleged to have committed it.
For the traditional, early-August curtain-raiser to the English season, Bobby Madley was put in charge of the Community Shield game between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley. He is one of England’s top refs, so his duty was to set the refereeing model for the upcoming season.
Pity about that, for Madley made a right royal mess of things.
Given the witch-hunt, it was always likely that Madley would be looking for dives – and he found one in the 38th minute, duly yellow-carding Chelsea’s Willian. But the call was horrendously wrong.
Replays showed that Willian was tripped by Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin, a slight contact that knocked Willian’s moving leg against the back of his standing leg.
Chelsea should have had a penalty, but the main concern is not the scoreline but the sheer arrogance of Madley’s call – a potentially game-changing call that flew in the face of what actually happened.
So the innocent Willian was tarred as a sinner. And Madley, who wrongly condemned him? Nothing has happened to him. Barely a word of criticism has been heard.
Yes, of course, diving must be punished – but it must not be viewed as a uniquely heinous moral crime that has to be eliminated at all costs.
That way lies the odious witchhunt, and football should not be stooping that low.
Fall guy...Chelsea’s Willian (in blue) is clipped by Hector Bellerin of Arsenal
In the spotlight...referee Bobby Madley