Why Do Soccer Players Dive So Much

Dear Sports Fan,

I hate to take your lofty discussions into the gutter, but I have to know: why do soccer players fake fouls so much?!



Dear Russ,

Thanks for your question and your concern over the tone of our discussions here. Faking being fouled in Soccer is officially known as “simulation” but commonly referred to as diving. It’s rampant. Players dive in absolutely every sport where there are fouls[1] but you’re right that it seems most frequent and visible in soccer.

Diving is in the news right now because there was a very silly and very obvious dive in the fantastic Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal match between the United States and Brazil. The U.S. women were down a goal and down a man[2] with only a minute left in the overtime period. After almost 45 minutes of playing with one fewer player on the field, the U.S. team was still pressing the Brazilians. Some normal soccer stuff happened and then all of a sudden, like she had been shot by a sniper, number 13 on the Brazilian team, Erika, crumpled to the ground. She lay there for a while and was eventually taken off on a stretcher. As soon as her stretcher reached the sideline, she hopped off it and ran onto the field as soon as she could get the ref’s permission. The ref, offended by her chicanery gave her a yellow card.[3]

There are three things about soccer that contribute to it being the worlds diviest sport. First, the official time is kept only by the referee on his or her watch. The ref can stop the clock at his discretion for things like injuries, etc. but it is at his discretion… so, there’s a chance that you actually will kill some time by pretending to be injured unlike football or basketball where the clock is managed by sideline officials along strict rules and visible to everyone in the stadiums. One of the reasons (at least that I’ve always heard) for soccer working this way is that if the crowd knew exactly when the game was going to end then there would be riots.

As you might imagine from the way the time is managed, the soccer ref has an enormous amount of power over the game. And unlike many other sports, he or she is pretty much alone in that power. There are two refs in hockey, three in basketball, and lots in baseball and football but only one in soccer. With one ref policing 22 players, it’s much easier to fool him.

The last factor that I think encourages diving is the usually very low scores in a soccer game. Most soccer games are decided by a goal or two. This swings the risk/reward factors way in favor of deceit. The ref in the U.S. v. Brazil game, as bad as she was, was unusual and admirable for punishing that dive with a yellow card. The in-game consequences are usually limited to some whistles[4] from the crowd.

Hopefully this helps explain diving in soccer. For your enjoyment, here is a video of some absurd diving in soccer games:

The next game in the U.S. Women’s National team’s attempt to win the world cup is tomorrow, Wednesday July 13 at 11:30 on ESPN. Go USA!

Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Does this exclude competitive diving? If so, does the world turn in on itself and implode?
  2. I know what you’re thinking, but the women themselves repeatedly used that phrase in post-game interviews.
  3. Two yellow cards get you kicked out of the game.
  4. international for “boo”

5 thoughts on “Why Do Soccer Players Dive So Much”


    I will get to the why, but first – the reality of watching soccer on TV versus officiating it live. Disclaimer: I’ve never officiated a game, but I’ve seen live games.

    At home we have the benefit of a broadcast view of the sport, and with HD technology it’s easy to see when someone dives or not, and usually only on a replay. How many times has a guy fallen near a player, and we at home don’t have an opinion until we see the replay? The answer — most of us. Referees don’t have that luxury.

    As for “why” players dive? The simple answer — it works. The more complex answer is interesting. If you are fouled you will likely not get a call in your favor if you don’t fall. So the way the sport is officiated created the behavior that you sometimes see in soccer today. If you take a boot to the shins and don’t fall – you’re unlikely to get the call.

    Imagine if in the NFL if they didn’t call defensive pass interference if the receiver didn’t fall? Guess what — they would ALL fall.

    The good news is that FIFA is getting a little more hip to dives. They will usually just tell you to get up, but sometimes they will book you for the offense. We need more of that, and then players may be less inclined to dive on questionable challenges.

    I don’t want to pass morale judgement on if it’s right or wrong, but it is part of the sport. If you can get past that – and remember – not EVERYONE dives, then there is plenty of beautiful skill going on that will certainly delight you.

    Faking injuries is pretty much crap. If a player has to be taken off the field because of a fake injury – only to return to the pitch on the next stoppage… you should lose a substitution.

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