The Dark Art Of Soccer: Faking Injuries

If you’ve ever watched a soccer game, there’s a good chance you witnessed at least one or two players faking injuries on the field. Although it is widely criticized and often cited as fans’ least favorite aspect of the sport, faking injury is now a very real part of the game. 

As such a condemned action in the beautiful game, why do soccer players fake injuries? 

This article takes a look at soccer’s dark art of faking injuries, exploring the reasons why players flop and solutions to bring an end to this horrible trend. The main areas we touch on include: 

  • Why players fake injuries
  • What faking an injury is called in soccer
  • Why players dramatically roll around on the ground
  • The worst fake injury offenders in the game
  • Solutions to the fake injury problem
  • Other sports where faking injuries is an issue

If you could get rid of any aspect of the game of soccer, what would it be?

why do soccer players fake injuries
why do soccer players fake injuries

Why Do Soccer Players Fake Injuries?

Soccer players fake injuries to gain an advantage over their opponents.

Unfortunately, faking injuries is now part and parcel of the game. Gone are the days where players pretend not to be hurt after a rough challenge. Today, players drop at the slightest bit of contact, often adding dramatic flair to the situation by rolling around or crying out “in pain”.

Ronaldo

While their reasons might be unethical, there is a strategy involved in faking injuries.

In general, players who jump on the ground or fake an injury are trying to deceive the referee. There are four main reasons for doing this:

1. To Win a Free Kick or Penalty

The main objective of faking an injury is not to convince other players that you’re hurt.

Players fall to the ground pretending to be hurt to trick the referee into thinking they were fouled.

Going down opportunistically in the opponent’s penalty box can result in a penalty being awarded to the attacking team, leading to an easy scoring chance.

If a player realizes that they are unlikely to score or take advantage of an attacking position, they may fake an injury to earn a free kick in a promising position. Free kicks near the opponent’s goal can present goal-scoring opportunities, either from a direct shot or cross. 

2. To Stop a Counterattack

Losing possession can make a team vulnerable to a swift counterattack.

In a desperate attempt to stop play after being dispossessed, a player may fall to the ground and fake an injury. 

A referee can bring the play to a halt if a player is deemed to have a serious injury, whether or not the opposition is in an advantageous position. Head injuries, broken bones, loss of consciousness, severe wounds, or a heavy collision may be seen as serious. Referees may refrain from stopping play for minor incidents such as regular contact, a rolled ankle, or muscle cramps. 

Faking a serious injury puts pressure on the referee to stop the game, even if they have doubts about its severity.

3. Time-Wasting

Time-wasting is another ugly aspect of the game of soccer. 

There are several sneaky ways to take valuable seconds off the clock if your team is holding on to a tight lead, particularly when the game is stopped for a foul, goal kick, or throw-in.

Although intentional time-wasting is illegal and can be punished with a yellow card, faking an injury may be hard to detect, making it an effective tactic. 

Timekeeping in soccer is quite different from most American sports. Unlike basketball and American football, the clock only stops at the half-time and full-time whistles, indicating the end of either half. 

Referees are responsible for keeping track of delays to the game and adding extra time (called additional time or injury time) to the end of both halves to make up for stoppages. However, with so many other responsibilities, it can be difficult for the referee to accurately track each and every stoppage.

Players often fake injury to slow the game down, waste time, and stall any momentum that their opposition may have.

Teams generally become very frustrated when opponents waste time, causing them to lose focus.

why do soccer players fake injuries 2
Players often fake injuries to get an opponent sent off.

4. To Get An Opponent Booked or Sent Off

As you’re probably aware, certain fouls are punished with yellow and red cards. A yellow card is a warning, while a red card means a player is permanently ejected from the game and cannot be replaced by a substitute. Two yellow cards equal a red. 

Sometimes players will fake an injury in an attempt to get an opponent yellow or red-carded.

This type of injury faking is particularly prevalent when a player has already been booked.

Knowing that their opponent is on a yellow card, a player might fake an injury in the hope that the referee presents a second yellow and sends them off. 

One of the most common ways modern players fake an injury is by going to the ground after competing for a header. On too many occasions we’ve seen players crumble to the floor, indicating to the referee that they’ve been elbowed, trying to get their opponent yellow or red-carded. 

While this is a shameful act, it is common in today’s game. Although referees don’t always fall for fake injuries by awarding free kicks, penalties, or yellow and red cards, they often struggle to tell whether an injury is genuine or not. 

What Is It Called When Soccer Players Fake Injuries?

There are several different words for describing faking an injury in soccer, such as flopping or diving.

In the United States, fans call it ‘flopping’, which is the same word used for faking an injury or exaggerating contact in basketball. 

In Europe and the rest of the world, it is called ‘diving’, due to the dramatic manner that many players fall to the ground. 

Under the Official Laws of the Game, governed by IFAB, attempts to deceive the referee by feigning an injury or pretending to be fouled is referred to as ‘simulation’.

By definition, simulation means the action of pretending or deception. 

What’s The Punishment For Faking Injuries?

If a player is deemed to be faking an injury or is caught trying to deceive the referee, the punishment is a yellow card. 

Simulation comes under IFAB Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct, and is seen as unsporting behavior. 

Many fans feel that this punishment isn’t severe enough and that players should be given red cards for diving. In the Premier League, there have been calls for retrospective bans for flopping offenders. 

The idea is that a regulatory panel would review instances from games after the fact to determine if players intentionally faked injuries. Offending players would then be fined and banned for a certain number of games.

First time offense

It was proposed that a first-time offense would be punished by a 1-match ban and that repeat offender would be punished more severely. 

While players have received bans for diving in the past, an official system for punishing this type of offense has never been established. 

Cristiano Ronaldo Flopping

Some high-profile players have received red cards for simulation, including Cristiano Ronaldo during the 2017 Supercopa de España between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The Super Cup is an annual competition contested over two legs between the previous winners of the La Liga and Copa Del Rey. 

The incident, which occurred in the first leg of the tournament, was a major topic of controversy as Ronaldo appeared to be off-balance and made contact with Barcelona defender, Samuel Umtiti, before falling to the turf.

Most observers agreed that although the contact was not enough to award Ronaldo a penalty, he did not dive.

Nonetheless, the referee awarded Barcelona a free kick and gave Ronaldo his second yellow card, swiftly followed by a red. This meant he would be suspended for the second leg.

In frustration, Ronaldo shoved the referee!

While Real Madrid may have had grounds for an appeal for the alleged diving incident, the shove earned Ronaldo a 5 game suspension so any attempt to rescind the card would have been futile. 

Check out the incident and see for yourself. And of course, enjoy Cristiano’s wondergoal while you’re at it! Do you think the red card was warranted?

Fortunately for Real Madrid, they not only managed to hold on to their 2-1 lead, but they went on to score a third and take home a 3-1 victory.

Even without their talismanic striker for the second leg, Real was victorious, winning the game 2-0, and earning a 5-1 aggregate win as Supercopa champions. 

Check out Cristiano Ronaldo’s gameday cleats: the Nike Superfly Elite.

Here are some more red card incidents as a result of diving. 

The MLS Disciplinary Commission: Rules On Flops

Major League Soccer is leading the way when it comes to eradicating simulation from the sport.

Through its disciplinary committee, the MLS reviews instances and plays after games to determine whether further disciplinary action is needed. 

The league established this committee to ensure player safety and preserve the integrity and reputation of Major League Soccer. It comprises former MLS players, a former coach, and a former referee, ensuring a balanced viewpoint on all on-field misconduct.

The committee is allowed to review and discipline players and coaching staff under 3 parameters. 

  • Parameter 1: if the in-game officials don’t witness an incident, resulting in no disciplinary action being taken on the field. For example, an off the ball altercation that the referee doesn’t see. 
  • Parameter 2: if the in-game officials handle the incident on the field, the committee may still see the need to add further disciplinary action.
  • Parameter 3: if the in-game officials see an incident but do not issue a punishment for clear and obvious simulation, the committee can issue cards and suspsensions.

Essentially, under parameter 3, the MLS Disciplinary Commission can review instances of simulation, then suspend, fine, and punish culpable players.

This approach has proved to be very successful so far, contributing to a fairer and cleaner league. 

Although the English FA and FIFA, two major organizations in world soccer, have made efforts to eradicate simulation from the game, they have made very little headway.

How has the MLS had such success with its efforts?

Perhaps it is due to the American audience. While most fans agree that flopping has no place in the game, US-based supporters tend to have stronger feelings on the matter than their European counterparts. Diving has never been welcome in the MLS and they’re doing a good job of keeping it that way.

“I think a vast majority of North American soccer fans and sports fans in general view the attempt to influence a referee decision through these means as unsightly or even unacceptable.”

Nelson Rodriguez , former MLS executive vice president of competition, technical and game operations Nelson Rodriguez .

Why Do Soccer Players Act So Dramatic?

Soccer players generally act so dramatically to grab the attention of the referee. 

If they simply rode the challenge and attempted to stay on their feet, maybe the referee wouldn’t call a foul. Rolling around on the ground and yelling ensures the referee will notice, often increasing their chances of earning a foul. 

Today, it’s hard to tell if a player has genuinely suffered a horrific injury or they are simply acting dramatically to get a ref’s attention. 

Is Faking an Injury Always Bad?

Intentionally cheating in sport is always frowned upon. Blatant diving to gain an unfair advantage over your opponent has no place in soccer. 

However, it has become widely accepted that players are entitled to “go down” or exaggerate contact if they are fouled to make sure they earn a free kick or penalty.

For example, if a striker feels a push in their back in the penalty box, more often than not, they will fall to the floor to make it clear that they have been fouled. 

Technically, exaggerating contact to win a foul isn’t simulation or faking an injury, but it isn’t 100% honest.

Opinions are divided as to whether or not this type of sly gamesmanship should be legal. When you consider the speed of the professional game and the difficulty referees have to keep up with all actions, can you blame a player for making sure fouls are called?

If a player does everything in their power to stay on their feet when they are tackled, there is a good chance that referees would miss fouls on occasion, putting the honest player at a disadvantage. 

The lines are becoming increasingly blurred when it comes to the level of contact that warrants a foul. However, VAR is helping referees to spot missed fouls or to reverse unfair decisions after the fact. 

It seems that VAR and review committees, like the one established by the MLS, are the most effective methods for stamping out fake injuries from soccer in the future. 

Worst Soccer Fake Injuries

Instant replay has provided us with some highly entertaining dives over the years. While nobody wants to see their team lose out because of a cheat, it can be enjoyable to watch players embarrass themselves by flopping.

Which Sport Fakes the Most Injuries?

Most sports fans agree that faking injuries or flopping is most prevalent in soccer and basketball.

However, it’s interesting to note that basketball and soccer account for some of the highest numbers of sports-related injuries in the United States every year. 


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