Simulation is one of the most contentious issues in football. What factors do referees consider when making these potentially match-changing decisions?
Incidents in the penalty area are one of the most contentious areas of our game.
Nearly every week, people disagree on whether referees were correct to award a penalty, caution a player for simulation or allow play to continue.
What factors do referees consider when making these difficult and potentially match-changing decisions?
When an attacker falls to the ground after being challenged in the penalty area, the referee is judging what made the player fall. And while the degree of contact is important, the point of contact is often more important to the decision.
A defender who bumps the thigh or hip of an attacker, when that attacker is moving slowly and is well balanced, is less likely to cause the attacker to fall to the ground than when a defender makes slight contact on the attacker-s foot, with the attacker running at full speed and about to step on that foot.
Now assume both attackers fall to the ground in these examples.
In the first case, the referee may deem that the contact was incidental to the challenge and was not the cause of the attacker falling over. The referee may allow play to continue.
If there is minor contact and the attacker falls to the ground, trying to deceive the referee into awarding a penalty by feigning injury or pretending to be fouled, the referee may caution that attacker for simulation.
In the second case, the referee may deem that even though the contact was slight, it caused the attacker to fall and will therefore award a penalty.
If contact is more forceful but it is fair, a penalty will not be awarded and the attacker will not be cautioned for simulation. Play will be allowed to continue.
Round 3 saw three major penalty area decisions. Everyone will have an opinion, but in summary, the Melbourne Victory player was correctly cautioned for simulation, a penalty was correctly awarded to Sydney FC and play should have been allowed to continue (no caution and no card) in the Newcastle-Central Coast match.
In order for referees to get their decision right, they must be in a position to see the incident.
While the referee-s view is not always as clear as the many camera angles available to viewers, referees undertake specific training in order to get a good angle and view of challenges.
They therefore get the decision right more often than not from the first and only opportunity they get to view it.
There are many examples of contact being made by defenders on attackers in the penalty area. The outcome in each case may be different, but the thought process of the referees is the same – “what made the player fall?”
Ben Wilson is the Football Federation of Australia director of referees.