In football, diving is a skill
Delighted to welcome CNN’s Kim Newsome to the blog and her first piece talking about Diving and it’s place in the modern game. Over to you Kim…
“A few years ago, when I first began working for a sports show on a prominent news network, I was editing training videos of a Premier League squad. My eyes had long glazed over at the shots of muscled bodies doing press ups and stretching, but an oddity made me freeze for a second. During a routine scrimmage, one of the players, a speedy but sturdy forward, was pushed lightly by one of his teammates and he collapsed to the ground, face contorted in agony, clutching wildly at his ankle. This motion went on for exactly three seconds, and then he hopped up and continued to play. I moved the scene back and forth on my editing timeline, looking at the light push to the man’s shoulder, and freezing the video at the moment when the player clutched at his ankle. “He’s diving in practice”, I said to no one in particular. I began to watch the rest of the scrimmage session with new interest. At any point when contact was made, a player would collapse to the ground, hold their ankle for a few seconds and then get up and sprint several yards to retrieve the ball. Practice.
A few weeks later, while watching a match on television I saw the same player I’d initially identified take a slight hit to the shoulder. The 6′ tall, burly athlete writhed on the ground with the exact same motions and grimaces I’d observed in the training video. The referee awarded a foul on the spot.
Football players are like any other athletes. They’re trained at a very young age, taught the rules of the game, and also taught (and paid handsomely) to win at all costs. Footballers learn how to throw themselves to the ground properly, so they won’t actually injure themselves. They learn to sell the dive, but not at the expense of their team or their own bodies.
I remember when Michael Owen was injured in the World Cup in 2006. The look on his face was not one of grimace and outrage, but he went white with shock and crawled to the touch line for safety – a very visceral, and very human reaction to injury. It wasn’t a game then; it was a man in real pain, whose career was in danger due to an opponent’s challenge.
At what point do we as fans, media, and the football governing bodies recognize the difference?
I believe that time will not come. Diving is gamesmanship and an art taught as often as one practices taking penalties or delivering clean tackles. Diving is a part of football, just as drawing a foul is a part of basketball, and positioning the arms just so to avoid a pass interference call is a part of American football. I’m not openly accusing coaches of teaching players to dive- but the players learn it somewhere; from watching match footage during the week, or from playing on the small pitches as young children. They know their team will be rewarded if they go down, no matter how muscled their bodies are, or how well trained their limbs are to respond to action.
I’d love to be proven wrong. I’m pleased every time I see a referee wag a finger and give a yellow card for an obvious dive- but it’s not up to each and every referee to police diving. They know what it is- and some may feel that if they ignore a dive, they may have just ignored a serious injury that could cost them their career and the career of a 21-year-old millionaire.
It’s up to the game to change. As long as there are rules in sports, there will be players looking to get around the rules in any way they can. Play to win: that’s the underlying message of the beautiful game. I have no outrage when I see a player rolling around on a pitch unless he does it for too long and misses a playable pass, or causes a delay that costs his team a scoring opportunity. I don’t need to be upset- I know the managers and the media and the fans will be upset for me. Diving is part of the game; an ugly one- but part of the beautiful game nonetheless.
Kim Newsome is a sports journalist currently working for CNN, and can be found at @KimNewsome