Monday, July 11, 2011

Faked Injuries in Men's and Women's International Football

Near the end of yesterday's thrilling US-Brazil match Erika of Brazil collapsed in the penalty box, overcome by an apparent injury. After a few moments she was stretchered off only to hop back to the ground and sprint back onto the field.  The cynical move earned her a yellow card from the referee for time wasting. 

Such simulated injuries ("simulation") in professional and international soccer are a frustrating part of the game.  Anyone who watched the first leg of the Barcelona-Real Madrid Champion;s league semi-final this past spring will have seen what simulation does to the beautiful game.

In a paper just out Daryl Rosenbaum and colleagues provide the first scholarly attempt to quantify simulation in the women's game, looking at the 2003 and 2007 Women's World Cups, and offer a comparison to their male counterparts based on research published last year.  Here is what they found:
The results did not support the notion that injury simulation is used as a time-wasting tactic by teams leading at the end of a match, as a greater number of questionable injuries in this situation were actually by the team behind (23 vs. 17). Referees were fairly accurate in allotting an appropriate amount of extra time to matches on average, so it is not certain this tactic would have the desired effect even if undertaken. A lack of association between questionable injuries and the second half or the latter third of each half argues against female players employing injury simulation as a means to rest and recover. This was more definitive than the mixed evidence from the men’s game, which showed an association with the final third of the second half (Rosenbaum et al., 2010).

Players may have success using this behavior to influence referees, as there was an association between questionable injuries and fouls. Situations involving contact and being tackled may be seen as prime opportunities to influence the referee to sanction the opposing player, as evidenced by the higher likelihood of questionable injuries. There was no association with yellow/red card cautions given to opponents, however. Looking at the relative stakes of a match yielded a mixed picture as well; questionable injury rates were higher for knock-out versus group stage games but also for teams playing games that had no bearing on ability to advance. Finally, even if injury simulation is employed with the intent of gaining a tactical advantage, it may not be worthwhile, as there was no link between questionable injuries and markers of team success such as winning the match or advancing out of the group stage.

There does appear to be less overall injury incidents and less injury simulation in women’s international football compared with the men’s game. The apparent injury rate of 5.74 is nearly half the 11.26 rate found in a similar study of 4 major men’s international tournaments (Rosenbaum et al.,
While the authors admit to a number of important caveats, it appears that women simulate less than men, but that rate is closing.  It does not appear that simulation gains any tactical advantage but it does detract from the game.  FIFA would do well to hold players accountable for simulation, perhaps providing severe sanctions in the most unambiguous cases based on post-game analyses.  As we have seen, accountability works.

Reference: Daryl A. Rosenbaum, Ravi R. Sanghani, Travis Woolen & Stephen W. Davis. Estimation of Injury Simulation in International Women's Football. Research in Sports Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 3, 2011 DOI: 10.1080/15438627.2011.556523

1 comment:

  1. Roger:

    Maybe FIFA will have to implement a rule very similar to what the NFL had to do when the players there started up a fake injury epidemic.

    If you remember back in the 70's a player could "go down" and stay there, have the trainer come out to look at him and 5 minutes later be ready for the next snap. He never once stepped off the field during that time. That is why the NFL instituted a rule that if the player "goes down" and the trainer/docs come onto the field the player must sit out the next play. This meant that the backup was in the game and there is a pronounced drop off in talent level and preparation between starters and backup players.

    So maybe FIFA will institute a rule where if a player goes down and the trainers have to come onto the field, no matter what they find, that player must sit out so many minutes of game time. To me if you are the winning team you wouldn't want to have to play a "man" down for that amount of time and if your losing neither would they. I think that would put the kibosh on Simulation once it started hurting their teams on the scoreboard.