I’ve written previously about players faking injuries in soccer. I have even discussed a study showing that male players tend to fake injuries more than females. While fans tend to criticize players for rolling on the ground in apparent agony after little or no contact, there is a real danger to these theatrics. World Cup referee Howard Webb argues that a player could potentially die.

Faking soccer injuryWebb recently spoke at a FIFA conference of medical professionals involved with the sport to study cardiac arrests in the sport and make recommendations. The referee, whose quick action might have helped save the life of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, said that players faking injuries could impair the instantaneous decisions of referees and delay immediate treatments for cardiac arrest and other life threatening conditions.

“If players and if people cry wolf too many times, then there is a possibility that maybe we will not react in the way we need to,” Webb said. “If we come under criticism for stopping the games too many times for doctors or physiotherapists to enter the field of play, then referees might be inclined not to stop the game.”

The topic is especially relevant in light of not only the events with Muamba but also the death of Livorno midfielder Piermario Morosini. Muamba fell to the pitch with no contact from another player, but medical personnel rushed to his aid. Despite the use of a defibrillator, Muamba’s heart reportedly was not beating for 78 minutes. He ultimately survived and was recently discharged from the hospital.

Soccer concussionLike Webb, I can imagine a scenario where a player known for faking injuries falls to the ground after little contact. With referees studying players rigorously before matches, a referee might ignore the fallen player and follow the action. Twenty or thirty seconds might pass before other players or officials notice the player isn’t moving or responding. Those seconds don’t seem like much time at all, but it could be enough time without the heart pumping blood and oxygen to the rest of the body and to the brain that the player doesn’t survive or suffers a critical injury.

With the speed of today’s game, it can be very difficult for officials to recognize instantly that a player is truly hurt or is just acting like his opponent broke his leg. While truly emergent medical conditions and orthopaedic injuries are very rare, quick attention and treatment are critical when they do occur. Players shouldn’t place officials in the precarious position of having to decide whether to stop the game for an athletic trainer to run on the field versus allowing play and risking harm to that player.

What do you think? Is Webb correct that faking injuries risks players’ safety? What can officials do to make better decisions or eliminate these tactics? Share your thoughts!