In association football, diving (or simulation, the term used by FIFA) is an attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by diving to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to appear as if a foul has been committed. Dives are often used to exaggerate the amount of contact present in a challenge. Deciding on whether a player has dived is often very subjective, and one of the most controversial aspects of football discussion. Players do this so they can receive free kicks or penalty kicks, which can provide scoring opportunities, or so the opposing player receives a yellow or red card, giving their own team an advantage.

Referees and FIFA are now trying to prevent diving with more frequent punishments as part of their ongoing target to stop all kinds of simulation in football. The game’s rules now state that ‘Any simulating action anywhere on the field, which is intended to deceive the referee, must be sanctioned as unsporting behavior’ which is misconduct punishable by a yellow card. The rule changes are in response to an increasing trend of diving and simulation.

A 2008 study found that there are recognizable traits that can often be observed when a player is diving. They are: a separation in time between the impact and the simulation; a lack of ballistic continuity (the player moves further than would be expected from the momentum of the tackle); and a lack of contact consistency (the player nurses a body part other than where the impact occurred, such as contact to the chest causing the player to fly to the ground, holding his face). In addition the ‘Archers bow’ pose, where the head is tilted back, chest thrust forward, arms raised and both legs bent at the knee to lift both feet off the ground to the rear), is recognized as a characteristic sign of simulation, as the action is counter to normal reflex mechanisms to protect the body in a fall.

Recently, researchers studying signalling in animals examined diving in the context of communication theory, which suggests that deceptive behavior should occur when the potential payoffs outweigh the potential costs (or punishments). Their aim was to discern when and where diving is likely to occur, with the aim of identifying ways to stop it. The researchers watched hundreds of hours of matches across six European professional leagues and found that diving is more likely to occur a) near the offensive goal and b) when the match is tied. None of the 169 dives seen in the study were punished.

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