A few times a year, we get an incident in men’s football that’s truly egregious—Pepe’s entire existence, for example, or Luis Suarez’ cannibalistic tendencies, or a beautiful impromptu and unassisted swan dive from Ronaldo or Neymar—and several notable pundits around the world sit back in their armchairs, take a puff of their pipes, and posit that this, this one thing, is the problem with men’s football.1 Then they invariably point to women’s football2 as a mystical beast: if only these men played like the women, who engage in the purest version of the game, with zero theatrics. And then, almost like clockwork, they promptly forget about the existence of women’s football again.
This Men’s World Cup was no different. In the midst of some truly unforgettable games was a bonanza of chaos and shithousery, the pinnacle of which was Neymar’s dive and roll. Neymar’s dive led to the usual trifecta of post-match discourse: several articles bemoaning diving, a million memes, and this video comparing a female rugby player’s injuries to one of Ronaldo’s non-existent ones being passed around once again. And while it’s a constant source of amusement3 that Ronaldo gets dragged into every diving incident whether or not he was the one actually falling down, the whole superwoman narrative is getting a bit old.
For starters, almost every conversation that begins with that video ends in misogyny or homophobia4: either with the implication that Ronaldo (and everyone else who dives) is effeminate in comparison to women, or that, if women could power through injuries, men should be ashamed of themselves for “rolling on the ground”. The moral superiority that laces most of the conversations is also at the expense of women’s football: if women, who play an inferior version of football, don’t dive, why do men continue to do it?
And there’s research showing that there is some truth to the narrative of women diving less than men — a 2011 Wake Forest University study found that men faked injuries almost twice as often as women (specifically, they counted players who fell down and weren’t replaced within five minutes or weren’t visibly bleeding. Nothing was said about the myriad of non-visible injuries that players have been known to power through5). Apparently, you could ‘trust more that [women] were injured’ when they fell. The Wake Forest study looked at the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, where 16 teams qualified and a total of 32 matches were played. There hasn’t been a follow-up study to determine if the prevalence of diving and fouling has increased as the Women’s World Cup has expanded to 24 teams, and as women’s club football has gained more prominence.
Given that no funding is imminently forthcoming for us to watch all 84 games of the 2011 and 2015 World Cups to properly tally fouls and dives and see if there has been a marked increase in either6, we’re forced to rely on existing statistics (and case studies) to prove our controversial point that women, much like men, do in fact cheat outrageously in football. Claiming women never dive is frankly an insult to the artform and the women who practice it.
So here’s a celebration of women in football engaging in the kind of professional (and unprofessional) fouling we know and love.
We’ll start with an absolute classic: the 2011 World Cup quarter-final between USA and Brazil. Brazil were leading in extra time with 2 goals to USA’s 1 and Erika took a swan dive in the penalty box with no contact whatsoever. She spent a while rolling around on the pitch, was stretchered off, and then promptly ran back on to boos. She managed to waste time for her team, but unfortunately for Erika, Abby Wambach pulled the USA level and they went on to win the game in penalties.
Sometimes the dives aren’t the best bit of the game. Sometimes it’s the complaints from the opposition. In an Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals game earlier this year, Kelly O’Hara went down with very little assistance from Marta. Marta made it very clear what she thought of the moment with a rather excellent (and extended) diving mime.
And then there’s the folly of youth: the U20 World Cup game where USA took on Germany saw the Germans score two goals and Mallory Pugh go down in the penalty box. It did not help the USA. The Germans, just to rub further injury into the wound, went on to win the entire tournament.
Of course, we also have moments that you have to watch and rewatch to enjoy the sheer audacity. The Germany vs. France quarter-final in 2015 went to penalties, but the highlight of the game was definitely Claire Lavogez’ dive in the final minutes of the game. She was not booked for it, presumably because the ref was as amazed by the audacity as the rest of us.
It’s not just dives, though. The Women’s World Cup generally sees half as many yellow cards per game as the men’s (the last four Women’s World Cups have provided roughly 2.2 yellow cards per game, while there have been roughly 4 per game in the last four Men’s World Cups), but the fouls committed are nothing to be sneezed at. Take Tancredi’s stomp on Lloyd’s face; or Lady Andrade punching Abby Wambach in the face; or Klingenburg chesting players to the ground; or Zerboni stepping on Groom’s back and then claiming it was an accident on Twitter; or Foord slamming De Vanna to the ground.
Women’s football is still football and as football, it contains shithousery. Let the women shithouse in peace.
1 More commonly referred to as ‘football’.
2 Almost exclusively referred to as ‘women’s football’.
3 Or frustration, if you spend more than a minute thinking about how much the narrative focuses on players from specific countries.
4 Or worse yet, incorrectly identifying the rugby player as a football player. Accuracy is your friend, folks.
5 Concussions, anyone?
6 Please, can we have some money?