Referees to take hard line in crackdown on diving

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The Independent Online

The dive artists of the Premiership beware. Next season referees will launch a crackdown on "simulation". The move has been prompted by a suspicion that players practise diving, and the realisation that genuine penalties are being ignored because referees are wary of being fooled by the Premiership's conmen.

The dive artists of the Premiership beware. Next season referees will launch a crackdown on "simulation". The move has been prompted by a suspicion that players practise diving, and the realisation that genuine penalties are being ignored because referees are wary of being fooled by the Premiership's conmen.

The new policy was confirmed at one of the Premiership referees' fortnightly get-togethers in a Northamptonshire hotel last night. Graham Poll delivered a presentation to his fellow referees in which he said: "Players are very good at simulation. I'm not saying they do practise but I find it hard to believe they are so good at something without practising." The Fifa official added: "It is also clear we are not yet good enough at spotting it. There are penalties which should have been given this season which have not because referees have suspected simulation."

Keith Hackett, a former referee, now the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body which administers referees, added: "Referees want to be 100 per cent certain. They are hedging now because they have to consider, is it a foul? is it simulation? And bear in mind if it is the denial of a goalscoring opportunity it means a red card. We used to say, 'It's a foreign problem'. It's here. We will increase the intensity of action for simulation this coming season. The aim is to try to reduce it."

In an attempt to forestall the inevitable rash of early cautions, meetings will take place between the PGMOL and the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers Association. Clubs will also be encouraged to host visits by referees.

"We understand why players do it," Poll said. "The reward exceeds the risk and the pressures on them to get a result are immense, but we cannot condone it." Poll noted that diving is more prevalent when teams are struggling. He said: "When Chelsea hit a bad patch in December they had players booked for simulation in four successive matches. Since their results improved those bookings have stopped."

Poll admitted referees have been reluctant to enforce cautions for the offence, but this has only made the situation worse. For example, when Arsenal played Manchester United in the Premiership recently, he did not book Gary Neville for simulation. The following week the teams met again in the FA Cup and Neville dived again. That, Poll thought, would not have happened if he had been booked the first time. But as one referee said, it is a big decision: "Booking someone is like telling them, you have cheated. If a player tells us we have cheated, we send him off."

Poll identified four areas of simulation: a player going down when there is no contact; a player over-exaggerating minor contact; a player causing contact; and a player over-reacting in a non-tackle situation. An example of the latter would be Rivaldo's response during the World Cup when the Brazilian pretended he had been hit in the face when a Turkish opponent kicked the ball at him, hitting him in the knee.

A highly controversial example of the third instance was Robert Pires' infamous tumble over Dejan Stefanovic during Arsenal's draw with Portsmouth early in the season. The response to that incident illustrated the extent of the problem. Said one referee: "Harry Redknapp [the Portsmouth manager] told me he was upset but could not feel too outraged, as if Teddy Sheringham had done it at the other end and been awarded a penalty he'd have been happy."

When it comes to enforcing their new approach referees, as usual, will be on their own.

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