Faking injury and diving in the penalty area have been identified as the forms of cheating on the football pitch that are most disliked by fans, according to a new study by academics at the University of Sheffield.
The study, which has surveyed over 500 supporters of those nations competing in the forthcoming World Cup, has also found that Argentina and Italy are considered by fans to be the worst culprits for cheating in the international game.
The survey, devised by academics in the University´s Institute of Work Psychology, investigates fans´ commitment to football, their attitudes towards a number of different types of behaviour often considered as gamesmanship, and whether they would disapprove of these actions by players from their team or from the opposition. It also asked respondents which nation they considered their country´s biggest rivals on the pitch.
Just under 80% of respondents disapproved of pretending to have been assaulted by an opposition player. This was closely followed by footballers diving in an attempt to win a penalty (75%), hand ball to score a goal (74%) and exaggerating an injury received in a tackle (70%). However, perceptions varied by nationality, with Italian and Spanish respondents the least likely to consider diving in the penalty area as cheating.
Unsurprisingly the findings suggested that fans look more favourably on certain behaviours when performed by their own team rather than the opposition, particularly `professional fouls´ or handball to stop a goal being conceded. Results also indicated that behaviours such as time-wasting, and arguing with the referee to influence his decision, were least likely to be considered as cheating.
Over 75% of respondents believed certain countries were more likely to cheat than others. Among these fans, Italy were rated as the team most likely to contain cheating players, followed by Argentina. Local rivalry and past conflict played a part in such views, with many supporters selecting a neighbouring country or historic sporting rival as the team most likely to contain cheating players. A notable exception to this pattern were England fans, with almost 60% naming Germany as the team they would most like to beat, but very few (1%) considering them as the team most likely to cheat. Likewise, Australian fans would typically most like to see their team beat England, but none believed England were the team most likely to cheat.
The survey is part of a wider study, which will record instances of cheating throughout the forthcoming World Cup and determine the extent to which the tendency to cheat is a result of personal attitudes, team traits or a consequence of a specific match situation. It will also look at whether any variation in cheating by country corresponds with the findings from the fan survey, and which characteristics of players, teams or match situations most strongly affect the amount of cheating that occurs.
Dr Chris Stride, from the University´s Institute of Work Psychology, said: "The way in which fans´ disapproval of cheating varies according to the perpetrator and the offence is fascinating, and we look forward to seeing if supporters´ moral judgment and prejudice are shared by their nation´s players, and borne out during the tournament."