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Women’s football flows better because players dive less than men, let’s hope it stays that way

Researchers have shown that male footballers dive more and spend longer celebrating goals than women, for whom the game (and not making themselves the center of attention) is refreshingly paramount

July 26, 2022 10:56 am(Updated 10:57 a.m.)

It was definitely a dive. Regardless of whether the BBC commentators chose to ignore what was happening before their very eyes or that referee Riem Hussein pointed to the spot, it was a dive.

England had been vibrant in the opening 10 minutes against second group game opponents Norway, but until then there had been no signs of the thrashing to come and it took a moment of theatrics to tip the balance. Ellen White went to go past Maria Thorisdottir, then flew to the turf after minimal contact.

Georgia Stanway smashed in the penalty and England ran wild in what will go down as one of the most memorable performances of Euro 2022, against one of the pre-tournament favourites.

Yet the reason White’s moment of mischief stood out quite so much was that there’s been a refreshing lack of shithousery from England’s players in the last few weeks, and across the tournament in general.

When debates around diving and theatrics in men’s football come around each season – as sure as night follows day – there is generally an acceptance that it is “part of the game”, that modern football couldn’t possibly function without footballers hurling themselves onto the floor at the slightest touch, or, in some cases, no contact at all.

And, of course, diving is always a major scourge on the game until your own player does it in a decisive moment against Norway to win the penalty that sends you through to the Euro 2022 knockout stage.

Detractors cry foul, divers maintain innocence, it is discussed for a while, then everyone goes home and we start again a few months later. But the same isn’t true of women’s football, and it is an appeal that shouldn’t be underestimated.

It’s false to say that female footballers don’t dive at all, or use precious seconds following a foul to time waste. A prime example is Brazil’s Erika in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup. The game was in extra time, Brazil leading by a goal, when out of nowhere she decided to drop to the floor. Her non-existent symptoms were so bad she had to be carried from the field on a stretcher by four officials before she miraculously recovered, undid the straps holding her in place and jogged the rest of the way round the touchline before she was, quite rightly , booed coming back on. Or Claire Lavogez’s Oscar-nomination-worthy effort in France’s quarter-final match against Germany in the 2015 World Cup.

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But statistics do point towards female footballers ensuring fans see a lot more actual football played on the pitch. A study carried out by sports scientists in Munich in 2011 found that women stay on the floor for a full 30 seconds less than their male counterparts after a foul.

Teams were fouled on average almost 11 times per game in the Premier League last season. If the same amount of fouls were committed in a Women’s Super League season, spectators would lose an extra five minutes and 30 seconds per game of action – a whopping six per cent of the match.

As a quirky aside: the study also found that men spend more time celebrating scoring goals and even take longer during substitutions, the interpretation being they want to make the action about them. Who would’ve thought it?

Professor Martin Lames, one of the scientists behind the study, said this about the research: “In general, the differences can be interpreted as follows: For men the thought of staging themselves is much more pronounced than for women, where the game itself is obviously paramount.”

The researchers believe tactics also play a part. “As many fans have conjectured, when they are in the lead, players take their time with injuries,” Dr Malte Siegle said. “Much more so than if the score is even, or when the other side is leading. This behavior cannot be observed in women’s football.”

A further study from around the same time supported this theory. Research conducted by Wake Forest University in the USA in 2011 measured how often players were forced to leave the field within five minutes of claiming injury, deducing that men fake injuries more than women, adding to time wasted.

These are, of course, studies dating back over a decade and it would be interesting to see what the figures look like now. It is believed the exposure of men’s football has fueled the problem. Not only does the attention make male footballers want to play up to it, but children watch and replicate their idols, creating a self-perpetuating loop of deception.

Using the old-fashioned method of watching with your eyes, there has certainly been, it seems, a more welcome flow to women’s football at Euro 2022 that it would be a shame to lose.

So if White dives – again – to win England the crucial penalty against Sweden tonight that sends them through to Sunday’s Wembley final, let’s celebrate but hope it doesn’t become a permanent feature of the game.

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