Fake or Foul? A Soccer Ref Holds Forth
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
In Germany today, home team soccer fans found cause to cheer. Germany beat Portugal 3-1 to take third place in the 2006 World Cup. Tomorrow, France faces Italy in the championship match.
Now, if you're been watching the tournament, including today's game, you can't help but notice how many times players fall to the ground, grimacing and clutching one appendage or another. It makes you wonder what's feigned and what's a foul.
To figure it out, we called international referee Brian Hall. He officiated in the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup. He said he didn't think the number of feigned fouls or injuries is on the rise, but he says their importance is.
Mr. BRIAN HALL (Referee): Soccer, in particular, in this World Cup, with less than 2.3 goals scored per game, players are looking for that extra edge, and as a consequence, players are hitting the ground, whether it be in the penalty area where the referee has to award a penalty kick or, what we call, in the red zone or danger zone, an area around the - about 30 to 35 yards out from the goal mouth where a set play or free kick 30 percent of the time leads to a goal.
ELLIOTT: And we saw this happen in the semi-finals when France's Zidane scored the game's only goal on a penalty kick.
Mr. HALL: Exactly, and because it's a low-scoring affair, decisions by referees get magnified and put under a microscope.
ELLIOTT: Now, referees have to make these decisions in a split second. You know, you're right there. It's the heat of play. How do you decide or how do you know if a player's try to fake you out?
Mr. HALL: Really, as referees, you're looking for four or five key signals here. The first one is the location of this quote-unquote "supposed foul." Players tend to go down, as I said, in this danger zone, so when you see a player go down in that area, the first question is, was there actual contact?
The second thing you look at as a referee is the score. If the score's 0-0 or 1-0 and your team is losing, what will happen? Players will try to simulate fouls in order to get the referee to blow his whistle.
A third factor is the ball. Often times, Debbie, the attacker will have the ball and he'll push the ball too far in front of him, which means that the ball is going to end up going out of bounds or a defenders going to win the ball on the other side. And when the attacker sees that, the attacker thinks, hey, I'm not going to get the ball. I might as will hit the ground myself, try to get a free kick or penalty kick because the end result is going to be negative in the first place.
And then the fourth item, often times, we as referees look for is the attacker's feet. And you'll often times look at the replays, see the attacker will bring his feet together or drag the toes in the turf in order to facilitate their going to the ground. And then finally you'll see the forward or the attacker fall on the ground. And as they hit the ground what's the first thing they do? They roll over and they take a peek to see where the referee is and trying to say ah, I got you...
ELLIOTT: Are you watching?
HALL: Exactly. It's very difficult because you have to hope you are close to play and with the speed of the modern game that's not always that easy. And number two, you have to hope you have the best possible sight lines to the contact and to the play.
ELLIOTT: Now, just this week the head of FIFA, which is the International Soccer Federation that runs the World Cup, said that this practice of faking an injury is cheating and needs to be addressed. Do you agree?
HALL: I agree.
ELLIOTT: How do you do that?
HALL: How do you do that? That's the million dollar question. Simulation or cheating, I mean what do you call it? Simulation, cheating, embellishment, gamesmanship, play acting, all those - those terms, they ruin the enjoyment for spectators. And ultimately, FIFA does have the power to review acts after the game on replay and either fine or suspend players for bringing the game into disrepute. For example, in the game referees are instructed to issue yellow cards to players when they feel that they are cheating. But again, because it's hard, I think maybe using replay after the fact might be a deterrent.
ELLIOTT: International soccer referee Brian Hall speaking with us from Vancouver. Thanks so much.
HALL: Thank you.