Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why Do Soccer Players Fake Injuries So Frequently?

I've often seen this question asked, and I don't think it's just an imaginary pattern. Here's my armchair economics-based analysis.

Real injuries in soccer are usually intensely painful, but brief (particularly shin and other lower-leg injuries--even with pads, they can still hurt). An injured player may briefly be in agony, but it ends quickly and the player can get back up.

This means that it can be difficult for a referee to tell a real injury from a fake one. If the referee is fooled, the penalty to the "offending" team is the same whether an injury is real or faked, so it pays to fake injuries. Furthermore, there's no disincentive to fake an injury--the referee is not going to penalize a team for trying to make the other team look guilty. Even if the referee wanted to do so, he'd have to use replays to reliably find the truth, and soccer fans cannot tolerate the delays that would be associated with replays. Maybe they could fine players after a game upon reviewing a recording of the game, but I suspect the fines would have to be really big to change player behavior.

So to sum up: In soccer, faking injuries is pretty much all benefit, no cost. Again, this is merely an armchair just-so story. I'd be interested in hearing other just-so stories, too!


Beth said...

Are you sure there is no penalty? I could be mistaken but i believe you can receive a red card if you are believed to be faking in the penalty box. Even if this is the case this is probably not much of a disincentive. It would have to be very obvious. Players would probably just get better at taking dives.

Mike Hammock said...

Beth is correct: There are penalties for taking a dive. The problem is that the expected punishment is too low. That is, to stop fake injuries, leagues either need to increase the probability that they are caught and punishment, or increase the punishment, or both. This would mean using replays, additional referees, and big fines or long suspensions.

Petra Bryner said...

This reminds of a case of an old lady that faked slip-and-fall for 49 times. What a great player she could have been!
Anyway, I don't think that fans would be against replaying a questionable situation, even if it would mean stopping the game for a few minutes. It works well in hockey and that's a much faster game where every delay is more obvious.