The inspection shelf is a German invention, though I first encountered one in Prague. The shelf extends above the waterline in a toilet, holding the fecal matter for a quick review before it’s flushed. Changes in the shape, consistency, or colour of bowel movements often indicate disease, so spot-checking the stool is a healthy Teutonic custom.
On Saturday, the Czech substitute Jan Rezek threw himself to the ground with the explicit intention of cheating the referee and the Scottish team. It worked, and as Michal Kadlec blasted his penalty past Allan McGregor I realised something: football needs an inspection shelf. Instead of flushing away the evidence of sickness in our sport, we need a structure to review it.
I’m not suggesting in-game consultation of TV replays. The Fool Monty reviewed that argument a few weeks ago and I agree with his thinking – goal-line technology is as far as that should go. Football is a game of movement and motion, and lengthy halts to consult replays would damage that flow. Where the game can be improved is by allowing after-the-fact, but timely and thorough, reviews of contentious incidents, coupled with new powers to discipline divers for their fakery.
Rezek knew he wasn’t going to face any meaningful punishment for his tumble. He had only been on the pitch a few minutes, and he hadn’t been booked. Cheating – let’s not call it simulation – is considered unsporting behaviour and is punishable by a yellow card, not a red. So at worst he would get a yellow, and at best he’d win a penalty. The incentive is to cheat; you almost have to admire him for making such a calculated decision in the split-second he had.
But what if Rezek had known he could be handed a retrospective red card, and that he’d miss his country’s next qualifier? Or what if he’d been caught cheating in an earlier qualifier, and so for a second offence he was going to sit out the rest of the tournament – including the playoffs and finals? Would he cheat then?
Maybe, but I doubt it. There would be a big disincentive to dive and a much higher chance of being caught.
There’s already a parallel in football: drug bans. Taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs is cheating, and when players are caught with nandrolone or dianabol in their bloodstream they are given lengthy bans. Hell, Rio Ferdinand got a eight-month suspension from the game for forgetting to attend a drug test, and what’s worse: Rio Ferdinand being a numpty, or Jan Rezek diving over Danny Wilson’s leg to win a penalty that wasn’t?
Let’s be clear about the intent of these reviews: it’s to punish the cheating players, not the referees. The poor bastards in the black are being tricked just like the rest of us, and if post-match reviews discourage future diving then refs stand to benefit too. They won’t have to second-guess themselves every time a striker collapses in the box.
But why don’t we just give the refs more power, and let them send off the offending player? Well, again using Saturday as an example: referees make mistakes. Christophe Berra was tripped, yet his name ended up in the referee’s book. If the ref had the power to send him off he would have, and had it happened early in the game, it would likely have changed the outcome of the match. Penalising cheats after the fact will be a more effective way of targeting the disease.
This model of post-game punishment is already being tested. Major League Soccer in the United States is reviewing diving incidents and handing out sentences: so far two players have been suspended for a game each and fined $1000, a hefty sum for salary-capped MLS players. The league is threatening even larger punishments in future. FIFA and UEFA should monitor the MLS experience carefully, and mandate it globally if it works.
Deception and diving has been tolerated far too long. Let’s implement a footballing inspection shelf – so cheating players will have to take a long, hard look at the shitty things they do.
Scotland 2-2 Czech Republic
[For a full description of the inspection shelf, see <http://tinyurl.com/m7u5v>]