The prevalence of diving in the World Cups


Based on our proposed measurement model, dives can be identified in 3 different ways:

  • By the Referee in real time
  • By VAR when it's invoked
  • By Video Replay by our team when neither the Referee or VAR were able to recognise them

There are two special cases:

  • The embellishment case: when a foul clearly happened and a free kick was awarded, but the challenged player still demonstrated deceitful behaviour
  • Inconclusive incidents: when there's reasonable doubt about the presence of deceitful behaviour in a play but the Video Replay is not enough to prove or disprove.

With those thoughts in mind, here's a recap of how dives were identified in the 2019 Women's Wold Cup in France and the 2018 Men's World Cup in Russia.

The referees’ standpoint

The referees worked hard to preserve fairness in the games they officiated. The good news is that they successfully identified, in real time, 65% of all incidents analysed. The bad news is that virtually no player was cautioned for engaging in deceitful behaviour. This omission will have perpetuated the low cost of deception and thus the self-feeding mechanism identified by the Queensland study.

More positively, only 3% of the incidents analysed were awarded as fouls by the referee but identified as dives later through video replay. This is a fairly low margin of error.

The cultural standpoint

Even though referees worked hard to safeguard fairness, it is evident from our analysis how pervasive the practice of deception was in the tournaments. On average, deceitful behaviour shows up 11 times per match, and this number would rise to 15 if we were to include incidents marked as Inconclusive (23%). That would mean that on average, a player tried to deceive the referee every 6 minutes.

How dives were identified in the World Cups

The completeness standpoint

The high proportion of inconclusive incidents (23%) indicates a large margin of error. With better access to Video Replay footage, we anticipate that it would have been possible to significantly reduce the number of incidents falling into the Inconclusive category. If they were all to turn out to be Non-dives, the proportion of dives undetected by referees would be just 3%. Conversely, if they were all confirmed as dives, the figure would rise to 26%.

The VAR standpoint

Although the percentage of dives picked up by VAR was low (0.2%), the incidents in question were often highly significant. VAR successfully identified 4 dives in the box, which would very likely have led to unfair goals had penalties incorrectly been awarded.

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