From Schumacher to Santi: Are they really cheats or is it just part of sport?

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A hot, loud afternoon in Spielberg, Austria. It’s Sunday May 12th, 2002 and the usual site of a scarlet Ferrari is out in front of another Grand Prix. As usual, the Marlboro backed outfit had dominated since it rolled off the truck Friday morning, leading all sessions and now the race on its final lap. The crowd had expected to see this scene, except the driver and the number on the front of the car. Out in front was Rubens Barrichello’s number two Ferrari, not the number one driven by Michael Schumacher, who trailed behind. Despite dominating the entire weekend, Barrichello was then instructed by his team to slow down on the final lap and allow Schumacher through to win the race. Later the German would lift the Brazilian up to the top spot of the podium as the sound of boos sent a message louder than any car had done all day.

It would prove to be a landmark moment for the sport, a black eye that left a mark for some time. Schumacher, already comfortably ahead in the pursuit of the World Championship, didn’t need the extra four points he was given and the crowd didn’t appreciate seeing a result altered so obviously in front of their eyes. Many felt cheated and in the wake of such negative publicity the race left the calendar after 2003 and has not returned since.

After Austria 2002, the sport’s governing body, FIA, introduced a new rule within the F1 Sporting Regulations: “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited”.

With a stern rule in place Formula One teams spent the next eight years, led by Ferrari, finding ways to navigate it by still manipulating results to do what is best for their team. In short, the only difference from 2002 was the culprits were now too clever to be found guilty. In 2011 the Team Order ban was eliminated.

‘To do what is best for their team’.

cazorla dive
During Arsenal’s home match against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday Santi Cazorla made a split second decision to do what was best for his team. As defender Steven Reid swung his left left carelessly in his direction, missing the ball, the Spaniard decided he would fall down, resulting in three possible outcomes.

  1. The referee would wave play on and not consider it a dive or a foul.
  2. The referee would show him a yellow card for simulation.
  3. The referee would consider his fall to be a result of a foul that then gives his team a penalty as it is in the penalty area.

We all know by now that referee Mike Jones went with option three. He had a split moment to make the decision and appears to have gotten it wrong. Cazorla won a penalty, duly struck home by Mikel Arteta, and got his side the lead at a time when the club needed some confidence. In return he had his name dragged through the newspapers for a day and got a little bit closer to having a reputation for being a diver, but nothing close to that now facing the likes of Ashley Young, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, for example. Sounds like a fair deal for the midfielder.

Cazorla’s manager Arsene Wenger chose his words carefully post match saying he would review it and suggested he would speak to the player if he had not been touched, but added: “I am sorry if it was not a penalty but I have spoken to Santi and he said he has been touched and lost his balance.”

And that appears to be the end of that. Arsenal went on to a comfortable 2-0 win, Cazorla – through his manager – got out a message that he was touched and with that, like most public charges of simulation, the Spaniard is guilty in the eyes of some and not guilty in the eyes of others.

Although this case was clearer than most it is still not clear that the player had intent and desire to cheat the referee. This, of course, begs the question if something is so hard to prove then why are so many attempting to do exactly that?

Whenever someone is guilty of something those accusing must always be clear of the rule itself and it is worth quoting the rules on simulation which comes under FIFA’s Law 12 on fouls and misconduct.

Unsporting Behaviour
(Simulation)

Directive
 If blatant simulation, caution
 If minimal contact, consider cautioning player

For the worst part of the crime – something they call ‘blatant simulation’ – the guardians of the game instructs referees to give a yellow card. Exactly the same card that players receive for a poor challenge or time wasting, for example. When such a moment happens that directly impacts a match it is worth noting UEFA’s stance explained in article 10 under 1C on suspensions applied to misconduct:

suspension for two competition matches or for a specified period for acting
with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect
decision or supporting his error of judgement and thereby causing him to
make an incorrect decision.

That rule was applied in 2009 when UEFA banned Arsenal’s Eduardo for simulation against Celtic in the Champions League. However, as this case proved, it is very difficult to judge whether a player has ‘obvious intent’ to dive. Arsenal rightly challenged the two game ban applied to their striker and it was overturned.

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Formula One teams have had ‘team orders’, as it is commonly known in the pitlane, since the World Championship began in 1950. Back in the fifties drivers would pull in and hand their cars over to their senior team-mates if they had already been eliminated. As time went on, rules were enforced and most decided to do it a little more tactfully than the way Ferrari chose to in 2002. Their act in Austria forced a rule change but to this day teams easily get around it and team orders are expected by competitors, which is why the 2002 rule was taken out.

The rule applied to footballers being suspended for two games for causing a match official to make an incorrect decision will not be eliminated but it is one that is incredibly hard to force unless a player is as obvious as what Ferrari were in 2002.

No one knows this more than footballers themselves and although those of us watching would want them to be role models who would not look to fall easily to cheat an opponent, the truth is most see it as a way of ‘out-witting’ them, not cheating. For many, the quest to succeed far outweighs the need to do it the right way. Just ask Ferrari. And if the sternest realistic penalty for simulation is a yellow card it is little wonder this is happening more and more in the Premier League.

More evidence, of course, brings more awareness on this side of the game and players are now getting booked – and sent off – for simulation when they haven’t committed such an offense, but that is the environment the players themselves have created. At this stage referees should not be the ones questioned. If a player is handed a card for diving, whether he did it or not, then it is his fellow professionals who should have a finger pointing at them, not the referee.

However, everyone involved in the game should be careful in cracking down on such cases. As officials continue to hand out yellow cards, fairly or not, for simulation, what has been forgotten is that no matter how hard it tries the sport cannot, by the letter of the law, stop this part of the game. It doesn’t matter how many yellow cards it hands out or how many times Tony Pulis talks in front of a microphone. The competitors – whether they are racing drivers or footballers – are the ones who will always choose ways to get an edge over their opponents and proving a player had ‘obvious intent’ to cheat a referee by diving is as incredibly difficult to prove as team orders are in Formula One. F1 has learned to stop fussing about it and it is time football did the same before too many ‘did he or didn’t he?’ cases make a mockery of the game.