Saturday, May 18, 2013

My entry in an MOOC - Diving in Football

It's been very busy busy over the past few weeks. Having nothing to do before other than read football articles on the web and stare at any update coming on facebook after office hours, I came upon this site on my College alum forum, and decided to take a plunge at a couple of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) (I do recommend Coursera to everyone, it's a great way to recap your past learnings and, if you pay a nominal amount, get verified certificates to prove you have done something!)

As part of one of the courses I was doing (A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behaviour by Dan Ariely), we were asked to identify an irrational behaviour and provide solutions to solve this behaviour. The following entry below was my entry to this assignment. I would love to hear opinions/feedback/ other possible solutions or anything else, for that matter, on this.

Diving in football
This is one of the issues that FIFA has been trying to solve for a long time now. Wikipedia defines diving as 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. Alexandra Pizzera and Markus Raab, in their paper “Does Motor or Visual Experience Enhance the Detection of Deceptive Movements in Football?” define Deceptive movements as movements that purposely mislead the observer or opponent as to the attacker’s true intention or direction of movement. 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.

Whilst this behaviour was not detectable in yester years of the game, this has become very rampant in the modern version of the game. Consider the following statistics on the EPL by Opta:
  1. A QUARTER of English Premier League football players who fall down after being tackled are diving
  2. In the season of 2009-2010 in the EPL, a total of 168 yellow cards were shown for diving, dissent or swearing. That’s 1 card every 2 games. And these are simulations detected by the referees; there is a possibility of many more not being caught by the referees.)

This clearly shows that this behaviour is rampant in football, and there is a need to eradicate the same from the game.
Why is this behaviour problematic?
Say you are in the 85th minute of the game. The team in red is in the penalty area going for goal against the blue team. The striker has the ball with him, and is dribbling the ball against the blue defenders. All of a sudden, the striker, while trying to go past a defender, simulates a dive and goes down like a pack of pins. The referee blows the whistle and indicates a penalty to the red team, much to the dismay of the blue team. Even worse, as it was a clear run on goal, the blue defender gets a straight red card, and the blue team is now down to 10 men. The red team scores the penalty and the blue team just doesn’t have the time to get back in the game.
The situation above happens quite a lot in the game. Players look for the minutest of opportunities to simulate a dive and gain unfair advantage. You can clearly see why this behaviour is problematic, and needs to be removed from the game.
Research on this behaviour
  1. Tackling Diving: The Perception of Deceptive Intentions in Association Football (Soccer) [Paul H. Morris and David Lewis]: This talks about how footballers attempt to deceptively exaggerate the effect of a tackle, and also provides a taxonomy of typical behaviours associated with deceptive actions.
  2. The act of simulation in football appears to be within the fudge factor range of honesty (Week 3 Lecture 1). This also creates a conflict of interest in the player, with the reward of simulation (a penalty or free kick and possible card to opposing player) being much higher than the loss if he does get caught (yellow card to player).
  3. Does Motor or Visual Experience Enhance the Detection of Deceptive Movements in Football? [Alexandra Pizzera and Markus Raab]: This talks about whether motor and visual experiences enhance the detection of deceptive and non-deceptive actions in football. This study shows that prior visual experience in football was shown to enhance deception detection.

  • A solution based on the research is to train the referees through motor and visual training so that detection of the same increases during the match days. Training through videos increases the chances of the referees to catch such simulations on the field. However, this does not put the onus on the player to reduce the behaviour, and chances are that the behaviour would still continue, if not increase.

I believe that in order to greatly reduce this problematic behaviour in the game, the following would need to be followed:
  • When a player is caught simulating in a game, the team is penalized a goal. The goal is the most important statistic in any game. So, penalizing the team for the simulation would induce the factor of loss aversion and the player would look at not simulating from next time onwards, as now the team would directly get penalized by a goal, rather than by something that could lead to a goal. We would also be reducing the fudge factor, as now the player committing the dive could be blamed for the loss of the team.
  • In addition to this, we would introduce a simulation tax in the salary structure of each of the players. If the player is caught simulating, the amount, decided by the FA, would be deducted from the particular players salary. This would create a loss aversion on the individual player.

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