There has arguably been no greater example of what offends and angers the general sports fan and public more than the phenomenon of feigning injury. The question is, why does it evoke so much emotion and condemnation?

Feigning or simulation is a subset of a greater practice, namely cheating. Cheating is the deliberate action of falsehood that seeks to exploit a situation rendering a decision to one’s own benefit. The benefit may take a multitude of forms, depending on the circumstance and situation. It is related to lying, which is more the cognitive than behavioural aspect. Simulation in sport is part of a complex process, leading to a specific event that needs to be understood before it can be changed.  It is a decision a player makes to gain an advantage for primarily themselves or on behalf of the team, to exploit the existing rules of the game, so that a decision by officialdom is made in their favour. It is about the manipulation of authority, to fabricate in order to convince the authority figure that they have been hurt and injured to garner sympathy and with it, the entitlement of the reward.  In that sense, it is theoretically no different to any other examples of manipulation and simulation seen in all other areas of societal relationships. Why some people do this and not others is a complicated question. It needs to appreciate the attributes of all the factors involved, their respective histories and then the precipitating event itself for it to be understood properly. The actual event is better viewed as a catalyst bringing together a number of elements, where feigning is the culmination.

Yet somehow, the sporting arena is supposed to be different. A hallowed place, devoid of practices that are meant to be morally reprehensible as defined and demanded by the sporting public and the society it represents. The sportsperson, the umpires, the team, indeed the game itself, is expected to adhere to values that are emotive: nobility, valour, honour, respect, courage, trust and honesty. It is not surprising then, that feigning is quickly judged and condemned against such a moral backdrop.

Feigning is part of a spectrum of sporting behaviour. At the ends of the spectrum reside our emotional reactions: Disgust versus Admiration. We will limit our discussion to contact sport, otherwise we venture into the realm of cheating, which will be addressed elsewhere as a broader phenomenon. Given this caveat, at one extreme end the feigning would involve absolutely no contact between player and opponent. The resultant demonstration of injury and its quantitative and qualitative aspects will determine the degree of condemnation. At the other end of the spectrum, is the athlete who is deliberately and severely injured, who plays on regardless. We call this bravery. It may not be rewarded by the umpire, but they are rewarded with our admiration. What is more important? The advantage to the team if it means winning, or our eternal respect, at least until proven otherwise?

The problem as it stands is that the decision is an incorrect one. That is, from the perspective of the public. From the perspective of the umpire, they have made the correct decision. It is only in retrospect that the “truth” is revealed. When emotion is involved, we use terms such as undeserving, cowardly, and from the masculine audience, reference to the “weaker” sex. Why simulation is attributed to the feminine presumably extends from a comparative demonstration of physical weakness and its association, and some hitherto forgotten primitive instinct. The same can be said with reference to gender. Attempts to denigrate, if not castrate, the male. Presumably, these stereotypes are no longer used as often as the archetypal definition of athleticism begins to erode social boundaries.


In order to understand the phenomenon, the process needs to be broken down into its constituent elements:



The player is a human being. They have a history, a personality, character and cultural background. All of these factors, including their family of origin and social status, ultimately form part of a belief system integrated into the psyche. Remember, the player in question must decide at the time whether to feign or not. They have a choice and are responsible for their decision making. No-one else. Consider this then. A player comes from a poor background. The only thing they are good at is their chosen sport. The entire family, community, town depends on their success as part of a successful team. Even more, they are from a culture where exaggeration is part of the culture, tradition, expectation, so as to maximise a sympathetic reaction. It is a matter of survival. Is simulation to be condemned against this backdrop of poverty or social injustice? Clearly, a player with a different background may have different value systems except they may still decide to feign. Ultimately, in spite of the variability in adversity, it still becomes a moral question that is held by the individual in spite of mitigating circumstances: is it right or wrong? Will I or won’t I? What will happen if I do, or I don’t? How will I be perceived by others? What if the player is directed by the other authority figure, the coach, to exploit the rules where possible in order for the team to achieve its ultimate goal: winning. The coach is driven by their own authority figure, the owner, to achieve results. Does it really matter how it is done, so long as it is done successfully? Does it make any difference if it is a match played in the schoolyard or a world cup final?


The opposing player is the one making the apparent contact. They are responsible for their own behaviour, in this regard. Some players have a “reputation” for being tough, aggressive, uncompromising. This is known by the opposition and the authorities. It sets an unconscious precedent. A player who decides to feign is more likely to be believed if contact is made by a player who has a history of violence and has been sanctioned previously. Indeed, this will be exploited by the simulating player who may well exaggerate even more to seek greater reward: the perpetrator’s sanctioning and possible expulsion.

It is clearly important for the tackling player to attempt to tackle “within the rules”. Where minimal or no contact is made, it is often accompanied by a protest of innocence. On occasion, even an accusation of the fallen player of simulation. Whether they themselves are believed depends on their own belief systems, skill set, character, and reputation. As well as the quality or sophistication of their sporting prowess and its execution.

So the scene is set: one adversary verses another. Action and reaction. The arena becomes a theatre.


The umpire or referee represents the judiciary on the sporting arena. They represent the laws of the game. But unlike the legal system, they are also judge, jury and executioner. The role is a difficult one, as the expectation of themselves, the players and the public is that every decision must be the correct one. An unrealistic ideal. However, in the realm of simulation, they are often afforded some sympathy that is otherwise rare.

The difference with an umpire is that they are representing the rules of the sport and its body. Therefore, they should be immune to the influences of their own backgrounds and culture, although this is not always the case. However, in principle they are not there to win the game, unlike the players. There is no reward for simulation, unless we are talking about corruption. Again, that is a topic for another time. The umpire is responsible for their own interpretation of the infringement and its reward/punishment. Which way the decision goes will depend on the perception of the two previous ingredients: the player that tackles verses the player that is tackled, the quality of the tackle or contact and the subsequent behaviour of all concerned. Including the pressure brought to bear by the rest of the players on each team. The decision seems to be easy when simulation is obvious; no contact is made, the player’s behavioural reaction deemed excessive. The problem is when there has been minimal contact and the reaction is excessive. In this regard, perhaps the severest reward or punishment is suspended and only warnings given.

However, the umpire can only make a decision based on what their senses are telling them. “Extra” senses are available. The assistant umpires are there specifically for that purpose, to provide a different perception and interpretation. Another obvious source are television replays, but these are not absolutely conclusive either. But they should be able to detect when absolutely no contact has been made and the reaction by the player is deemed blatant by a review panel.


Each sport has its own uniqueness, but all share common traits. There are competitors, rivals, in opposition. There is a concept of winning and losing. This usually involves a system of scoring or tallying. Usually, the one with the greatest score is deemed the winner. There is a competition with a sporting object that is indeed the object of the competition: usually to control the said object and do something with it that is defined by the sport itself, which is then rewarded with a score. Those who execute this best, either individually or in a team, in a set time triumph. To minimise the chaos and potential for violence and abuse, rules are introduced. The Laws of The Game.

Some sports have contact between competitors, some do not. If there is no contact, the laws regarding contact are easier to uphold. When there is contact, the rules try to be absolute for simplicity, but the reality is that some instances are not simple to adjudicate. Such is the issue with simulation, where this “grey area” is exploited.

Each sport and its ruling body have a responsibility as to how their game is to be played. This is an idealistic and often moral representation. In sport, there again is the usual agreement as to what it should embody: social and moral concepts such as nobility, honour, fairness, respect, passion and controlled aggression. There is no room for feigning or simulation in the ideal sporting world, and the laws are adjusted to reflect this. It is only a recent shift that has been adopted in the world of football to punish the simulator with a yellow card. It is not deemed worthy of expulsion, but perhaps it should be. Perhaps each sport needs to decide how they are going to adjudicate on such matters using a prevention model. Education and liaison with all clubs and their administrators, the role of umpires, how the decision is made, the consequences of simulation during a game, the possibility of retrospective review by a panel and subsequent punishment administered in the form of fines or suspension.


The sporting public is a microcosmic representation of its parent society. It also has a belief system, and this is no more obvious than at a game. The sporting patron also has some understanding of the rules, and is not impartial to expressing said opinion during the game. As is peculiar of the human psyche, mistakes are seized upon but achievements taken for granted. Acts of extreme bravery exalted.

Simulation is somehow different. Except in cultures where it is accepted. However, in general it is usually condemned by the patron. The rewarding of simulation is met with abhorrence of biblical proportions. The offender should be punished, shamed, vilified, and the reputation tarnished.  This is where the umpire who recognises this act and metes out the punishment is for once elevated to a position not offered with other decisions. Such is the emotion and demand by the sporting public. Furthermore, it should be communicated to all and sundry via the print media and now social media.

Simulation, feigning or pretending to be injured to seek reward is not limited to sport. It can be used to seek a reaction from others that is rewarding, or to avoid uncomfortable situations, or simply as an act of entitlement. Such behaviour is often seen in children. Cognitive-behavioural and learning models explain this through reinforcement. Entitlement is different. This is often seen in compensation cases where often the symptoms on display are either a conscious or unconscious manifestation of all that has previously gone wrong in an individual’s existence. The sportsperson is no exception.


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