Updated: Monday, 16th December 2019 @ 11:07am

Debate: Diving in football... it's a contact sport and should stay that way but fakers risk ruining this

Debate: Diving in football... it's a contact sport and should stay that way but fakers risk ruining this

By Paddy von Behr

It may be better on these shores than in other parts of the world, but football is fast becoming a non-contact sport – and it’s ruining the beautiful game.

The first point worth making is this will not be a rant about the rise of diving in modern football.

The likes of Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale et al have received torrents of abuse for their play-acting – and rightly so – but these moans have become tiresome and repetitive.

My particular gripe is with the concept of ‘contact’, more specifically in the penalty area.

The importance of ‘contact’ appears to have surfaced as one of the game’s most prevalent unwritten rules – ‘if there’s contact in the box, it’s a penalty’.

What people seem to have entirely disregarded is the fact that a penalty is the result of an infringement in the area – i.e. a handball or a foul.

Outside the 18-yard box, were a player to make ‘contact’ with another, no pundit or commentator on this earth would instantly cry ‘foul’ with such conviction.

However, when the penalty jury is out, panels of ‘experts’ immediately set about determining whether or not the alleged offender ‘made contact’ with the man now rolling on the turf.

The implicit assumption is that, unless you remove yourself entirely from the striker’s path, you are liable to concede a spot-kick – it soon becomes very difficult not to sympathise with defenders.

Imagine you have Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero or Theo Walcott running at you and all you know from previous situations is you must not ‘make contact’ with him.

It’s a wonder the Richard Dunnes and Jamie Carraghers of this world even bother turning up to work anymore – this was not the case in their heyday.

‘Contact’ does not equal a foul and, as long as we continue to suggest it does, the game is edging closer to looking like a game of basketball.

Perhaps soon every single instance of ‘contact’ in the area will result in a penalty and, should the attacker score immediately after the ‘contact’, he will be awarded the goal AND the penalty.

But here’s where we come back to diving – the belief that ‘contact’ is a punishable offence is what enables simulation.

If attackers know ‘contact’ is sufficient to earn them a penalty – and they must also hit the floor to sway the referee – diving is the logical step once you have felt the brush of a defender’s leg.

The simple fact is that the concept of ‘I would have gone down there’ is to condone a dive.

This may not always be considered morally wrong – especially if you are a disciple of Diego Maradona, who believes tricking the referee is a skill to be rewarded.

However, unlike ‘making contact’, it is illegal – if you could avoid falling over but choose to throw yourself to the ground nevertheless, you have dived and that is against the rules of the game.

Not only is the obsession with ‘contact’ a fabrication that de-values football, its growing importance is enabling the epidemic of diving that we so despise.

Football is a contact sport – let’s keep it that way.

Picture courtesy of Jimmy Baikovicius, with thanks

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.