The four ways to ‘clean up’ and ‘improve’ the Beautiful Game

The BBC last week suggested that Gareth Bale was one of the most frequent divers in the Premier League, citing the two yellow cards that he has received thus far this season for ‘simulation’. Whilst I have no intention of defending Bale given that he is prone to theatrics on the pitch, I feel that the two yellow cards he has received are insufficient evidence to show he is the worst offender. The fact that the two yellow cards is the most an individual player has received for ‘simulation’ this season speaks volumes about referees’ unwillingness to reach into their pocket when they suspect a player has dived. Furthermore, this unwillingness to penalise players for blatant breaches of the rules is rife throughout the game and frustrates players and fans alike. Consequently, I have come up with some ideas for the powers-that-be to implement in order to put a stop to a number of frequently occurring infringements which detract from the beautiful game.

Firstly, the offence of ‘simulation’ shall be changed to ‘diving’ or, better yet, ‘cheating’. The players know it’s cheating, the refs know it’s cheating, we know it’s cheating so why are why all happy to be complicit in this lie of describing these actions as ‘simulation’? Furthermore, describing it as simulation implies that such actions are simply a minor offence as dictated by the rules, rather than what simulation truly is – cheating. Accordingly, if diving was a bookable offence known as cheating, there would hopefully be a great number of players with enough pride and dignity to want to avoid being labelled a cheat under the rules of the game. I realise that players are often labelled in the media as cheats, but it is all too easy for players to brush this off as biased opinion on the part of the pundit, or convince themselves that because other people do it, it is okay. In addition, yellow cards for diving will have their own suspension system: as well as counting towards one-match yellow card suspensions in the usual manner, a player who receives two yellow cards for diving will receive a one-match ban and neither yellow card will be expunged from the conventional system. Nevertheless, there will be some players who are willing to take the risk, especially given referees’ reluctance to book players for simulation let alone cheating, but they shall be dealt with by use of retrospective punishment.

Secondly, shirt-pulling and pushing in the 18-yard-box will warrant an automatic penalty if committed by the defending team and a free-kick if committed by the attacking side. Referees have become more proactive in awarding penalties when these offences occur during open play but they still seem disinclined to punish players who do the same in set-piece scenarios. A certain amount of jostling is understandable and acceptable, but it is wholly unacceptable for players to have their arms around an opponent or to have hold of his shirt. There will be no yellow cards for these fouls if the referee spots them during the game; however, if a player is retrospectively found to have committed an offence of this nature, he will receive a yellow card. This may seem incredibly harsh but it is the only way to guarantee that these petty and unsportsmanlike fouls are eradicated. The referee’s job in set-piece situations is incredibly difficult and with the amount of players jostling for position means that it is often nigh on impossible for the referee to spot an infringement, thus the only solution is to create a powerful deterrent rather than relying upon referees to be confident enough to apply the laws of the game and award a penalty.

Thirdly, dissent shall not be tolerated. Players will receive a warning upon their first instance of dissent and a yellow card for any subsequent offences, meaning that a player is capable of being sent off for three instances of dissent in a match. A heavy-handed approach, perhaps, but if players can’t learn to keep their mouths shut then they deserve to suffer the consequences. Players are permitted to speak to the referee so long as they do not seek to intimidate him or berate him for his decision. Furthermore, teams are not permitted to crowd around the referee. If a team has a grievance with a decision, they voice their concerns through their captain, as is the norm in rugby. Teams who flout this rule repeatedly will face severe fines and, in cases of persistent offenders, potential points deductions. The rationale behind this is that dissent undermines referees and puts undue pressure upon them which may subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, cause them to make different decisions. Furthermore, the attitude of some players towards referees is completely disrespectful and not something which should be a part of the game, which is an argument in itself for the strict disciplining of dissenting players.

Finally, all offences considered here shall be capable of retrospective punishment. This is to counteract referees’ apparent, and to a certain extent understandable, fear of appearing overly harsh or labelling a player a cheat. Undoubtedly critics will drag out a floodgates argument and decry retrospective punishment on this scale. This, however, would be completely missing the point; there may be a great deal of work to be done for the first few weeks as players learn that the retrospective system isn’t just rhetoric. Once the retrospective cards start being dished out and players realise that there are going to be held accountable for their actions they will be compelled to avoid these offences and then the amount of incidents subject to review will decline rapidly. Though the mere thought of the Premier League being slightly disrupted in any way may be intolerable to some, it is important to remember the impact that these measures could have in the longer term: just imagine a Premier League where diving was a rare occurrence, where players weren’t unfairly obstructed from every set-piece, and where referees and their decisions were respected. Not only would matches be fairer, players would be encouraged to act in a sportsmanlike manner in-keeping with the spirit of the game and, perhaps most crucially for fans, there would not be the same level of frustration that is currently experienced due to what is simply cheating in every game of the season.

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