Soccer

Jack: Robben vs. Rafa and the needless obsession with diving

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Kristian Jack
6/29/2014 4:57:49 PM
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The World Cup can be glorious for many reasons.

On Sunday it stepped up to educate viewers.

Arjen Robben was fouled in the box deep into added time in the match against Mexico.

The key word in that sentence is 'fouled.'

Defender Rafa Marquez stepped in and stood on the foot of Robben in the penalty area. At no level of this sport, from youth football to the World Cup, is a defender allowed to step on an opponent's foot. None.

It was a clear penalty. 100 times out of 100 a referee should give it.

However, there was a huge outrage on social media once the decision was made.

Just after contact, Robben kicked his left foot into the air and threw his arms back, flopping to the floor.

'Robben cheat' then was trending.

But is he a cheat?

Let us look at the facts from Sunday, ignoring what some people think he is like as a professional.

Robben, who earlier in the game was fouled and didn't get a penalty for staying on his feet, falls to the ground theatrically. However, as he is falling to the ground the real incident has already happened. The defender, Marquez, has misjudged his duties; he is too late and has dived in late and connected with the foot of Robben. It is the referee's duty at this time to decide if this is a foul. His decision should not be clouded by Robben's reaction.

This, of course, is easier said than done. A football referee's job is one of the hardest in professional sports yet, for some, there is an expectation for him to be judge and jury in cases such as this. Was it a foul? Did the player dive?

Here is what you need to know about these questions. Referee's are VERY good at deciding what is and what is not a foul. They are not, and should not be, VERY good at deciding if a player is diving. To come up with this verdict you have to measure intent.

This is VERY dangerous territory. For some, Robben was cheating in this scenario. For some, his actions are worse than Marquez, even though the skipper of the Mexican national team rashly DIVED in and committed a foul in the final minutes of a monumental football match.

The verdict is in on Marquez. It was a foul.

So, what of Robben?

Those throwing around the word 'cheat' must be sure the player had intent and desire to cheat the referee or opponent.

Whenever someone is guilty of something those accusing must always be clear of the rule itself and it is worth quoting the rules on simulation which comes under FIFA's Law 12 on fouls and misconduct.

Unsporting Behaviour (Simulation) Directive: If blatant simulation, caution. If minimal contact, consider cautioning player.

For the worst part of the crime - something they call 'blatant simulation' - the guardians of the game instructs referees to give a yellow card; exactly the same card that players receive for a poor challenge or time wasting, for example. When such a moment happens, that directly impacts a match it is worth noting UEFA's stance explained in article 10 under 1C on suspensions applied to misconduct:

Suspension for two competition matches or for a specified period for acting with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect decision or supporting his error of judgement and thereby causing him to make an incorrect decision.

That rule was applied in 2009 when UEFA banned Arsenal's Eduardo for simulation against Celtic in the Champions League. However, as this case proved, it is very difficult to judge whether a player has 'obvious intent' to dive. Arsenal rightly challenged the two game ban applied to their striker and it was overturned.

We are now at a stage in 2014 where we are evaluating how every footballer goes down to the ground under a challenge with many rushing to the assumption that they are 'diving cheats'.

This is not helping anyone.

As Arsenal proved when they overturned the Eduardo ban, accusing someone of intentionally trying to simulate is very dangerous. Asking a referee to do the same is even more moronic and the game is already at a crossroads with this as fouls are now being missed based on what happens directly afterwards.

And this is the biggest concern. Fouls, seen by referees, are being missed because of the outrage over simulation.

Fouls are already being missed as it is. Not through incompetence but because the game is so difficult to officiate. Referees rely on players to help them with this and if a player falls down theatrically under a legitimate foul, no one's attention should be turned to the latter.

This, of course, is as likely as officials missing clear penalties and players simulating.

The clear obsession with this area of the sport is growing and growing, particularly from a crowd who don't watch the game as often.

Despite the obsession, the crime remains a difficult one to judge.

Perhaps, then, energy is better used elsewhere? Don't count on it.

For example, if Robben had been booked for diving, would there have been such an outrage when Netherlands would have been denied a clear penalty in the dying minutes?

Not even close.

Robben fouled (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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