THE Football Association will consider taking retrospective action against players guilty of diving in an attempt to push simulation and exaggeration out of the game.
Diving has been a recurrent theme in recent seasons, with leading players including Gareth Bale and Luis Suárez receiving criticism for apparent simulation.
The issue is of increasing concern to referees and the professional leagues, who are conscious that it damages the game’s reputation. But the possibility of taking retrospective action has always been resisted because of fears it would lead to “re-refereeing” of matches.
In his first major interview however Darren Bailey, the FA’s director of governance and regulation, told Inside Sport he would consider a “regulatory response” to diving if it received the backing of the whole game.
“We are keeping a very close eye on simulation and exaggeration,” Bailey said. “What we would like to see is collectively the game as a whole taking responsibility for getting rid of that. We would like to see the managers and players say ‘this is not acceptable’, and see it squeezed out that way.
“But if it gets to the stage where it is not [dealt with] we have made it fairly clear we will need to consider a regulatory intervention, and that will have to be at a fairly high level.”
Introducing retrospective punishment by video is not a step the FA will take lightly, but Bailey said: “It is a prudent regulator that says, ‘solve it, and to the extent that you can’t, we will’.
“We have tried to get every opinion and stakeholder in the room. We get the PGMOL [referees], Premier League, Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association, League Managers’ Association, and we regularly say that we are looking at this. It is fair to say it is an agenda item.”
Bailey, a reserve player at Reading in his youth and formerly legal director of the International Rugby Board, acknowledged that using video evidence for simulation could open a “Pandora’s box” of issues.
“We would have to work with Fifa to make sure that the parameters were understood and that we don’t create the impression that you can reopen everything, because once the Pandora’s box is open you can have complications.”
Diving is one of many issues that cross Bailey’s desk in a role that usually attracts only criticism. He leads a 48-strong team at Wembley administering justice and policing the game. Their remit runs from processing yellow cards and scanning video footage for flying elbows to allegations of racist abuse, and also includes anti-doping and monitoring match-fixing.
Tellingly, in an era of ever-greater influence from the professional game, it is the one area the clubs have no desire to control.
Bailey says when it comes to on-field issues his aim is to reduce the number of cases by educating managers and players. He then tries to steer a consistent course, despite accusations of bias, incompetence, and fashionable causes such as diving or the two-footed tackle.
He insists that his department is objective, and that managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, fined £10,000 recently for criticism of an assistant referee, do not get special treatment. “Objectivity is essential. If we go out and tell managers where the lines are drawn there is a fair expectation that we apply the rules consistently. We go out at the start of the year, talk to the managers, and then we don’t want to see them.”
And despite the debate over diving, he remains opposed to taking action against incidents referees have seen but fail to deal with adequately: “Sometimes this idea of re-refereeing looks attractive but there are dangers. We are finding an increasingly high level of legal involvement in some of our cases and that is not the way we want to go for simple football issues.
“We want to keep football as simple as possible and not create litigation of decisions on Monday morning which, while potentially addressing one or two injustices in the season, lays the game open to many wider and darker implications.”
No regrets over Terry and Suarez cases of race abuse
The FA’s head of governance says he has no regrets over his handling of the allegations of racist abuse against Luis Suárez and John Terry.
The cases against Liverpool’s centre forward and the then England captain are perhaps the most contentious the FA has ever dealt with, but Darren Bailey says he is happy with the way they were conducted.
The Terry case was particularly bruising, dragging on for a year as the FA waited for the courts to address charges against Terry. The case also prompted criticism of the FA from its own disciplinary panel for its failure to tape record all interviews and errors in its disclosure of documents.
Bailey said he would not do anything differently in either case and that it was unlikely the FA would ever push through a case before the courts had dealt with it.
“If we were to have our time again I am not sure there is much more we could have done. We have to ask if processes can be more tuned to a football timetable as opposed to the length of time that those cases took.
“[But] those were so unique that it can be dangerous to try and extrapolate from them. I would say it was likely to be a highly exceptional circumstance in which a sport felt it was comfortable moving forward with a disciplinary case where the same scenario was being played out in a criminal court. It would have to be a very significant exception.
“With the reputational issues at play and the huge risk for any sports body where it to proceed and get it wrong, it is unlikely in any sport setting a case will be taken ahead of the courts.”
Bailey also defended the failure to record an interview with Ashley Cole. “We are in line with police practice, where the only people who are interviewed [on tape] are the offenders or where there are language issues.
“If it is good enough for the criminal law I don’t see why it is not good enough for sports disciplinary scenario.”
He also supported the charging of Eden Hazard for kicking a ballboy, which was rejected by a disciplinary panel that found the three-match ban for a red card was sufficient.
“When something like that happens, it is important that the game is seen to be taking the appropriate action. That process was gone through, the outcome delivered and justice was dispensed. But when these sort of things happen you do need to recognise there is a wider responsibility.”