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Tougher action needed on soccer ‘simulation’

June 23, 2010

SOCCER-WORLDChile’s Group H game against Switzerland was wrecked as a spectacle by the dismissal of Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami for what the referee saw as a serious foul on Chile’s Arturo Vidal — to the disbelief of Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and his players.

It was an incident that changed the game from a nicely balanced encounter into one where Switzerland were forced to defend with 10 men for the best part of an hour eventually losing 1-0.

It would be interesting to see what FIFA make of the incident if they take a look at the TV pictures, which appear to show Vidal making a couple of hand swipes to the side of his opponent and then dropping to the floor, hands over face, as if he had been struck hard in the face – when it looked like he had barely been brushed.

“Vidal fell down with a lot of drama. It was quite a performance,” Hitzfeld said after the game. “It clearly wasn’t a red card — it wasn’t even a yellow card. It was unfair of Vidal to roll around on the floor and simply ask for a red card.”

I have some sympathy with Mitch Phillip’s point below that we should blame the players not the referees for rule-breaking but if there are cases when refs are confusing serious fouls with playacting then perhaps they need some help.

Soccer has a large infrastructure set up to deal with testing for performance enhancing drugs, a clear case of cheating, but has next to nothing in place to deal with what FIFA refers to as “simulation”.

Any player guilty of “simulating” a foul or an assault is not just conning the referee and cheating an opponent – he is cheating the spectators at the stadium and the watching millions around the world. It is apparently easy to trick a referee by a sudden movement in a fast-paced game but the rest of us watching slow motion replays aren’t so easily hoodwinked. And who wants to be taken for a ride like that?

Ask yourself this – would you really feel more cheated as a spectator if you found out that one of the players you had been watching had used a steroid? The chances of a full-back’s enhanced muscle growth influencing the outcome of a game is pretty limited compared with the ability of play actors to give their team a numerical advantage in crucial games.

Even if the sport is not to go down the road of stopping proceedings to watch video evidence during a match, isn’t there still a case for handing out serious bans on the basis of post-match video evidence?

After each match at the World Cup, FIFA could have a ‘Fair Play Council’ of entirely neutral observers (preferably ex-players who know the tricks rather than ex-refs whose sympathy might be with the conned official) who will examine the video evidence. In cases of clear cut playacting, whether it be ‘face grasping’ to get a player sent off or diving to trick the referee into giving a penalty, the council could issue bans with the minimum suspension being for one month.

One of the reasons doping is taken so seriously by sports authorities is that kids have to be shown that taking risks with your health and cheating to gain an advantage are not acceptable ways of competing. The same message has to be sent out regarding playacting, diving and other kinds of “simulation” that rot at the heart of football.

PHOTO: Switzerland’s Valon Behrami reacts after receiving a red card during the 2010 World Cup Group H match against Chile at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hanna

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