Female Soccer Players Don't Fake It Like The Men, Science Says

Science has provided another reason to give the Women's World Cup a chance as it winds down this week: female soccer players don't flop. Not as much, at least, as their male counterparts (although we'll allow that the same could be said of toddlers learning to walk). Researchers at Wake Forest University have concluded, after watching 47 games from the 2003 and 2007 women's Cups, that female soccer players are half as likely as men to flop and fake an injury in a game:

Apparent injuries were divided into two categories. They were considered "definite" if a player was replaced within five minutes or was visibly bleeding. Otherwise, the injuries were considered "questionable."

Researchers found that an average of 11.26 apparent injuries occurred in men's matches, compared with 5.74 in women's matches. Those considered "definite" involved 13.7 percent of injuries for women and 7.2 percent for men.

"We can say that men writhe on the ground looking like they're injured more than women, almost twice as often," said Dr. Daryl Rosenbaum, the lead author of the study, which was published in the July issue of the journal Research in Sports Medicine. "And when players are apparently injured, the percentage when it was authentic by our criteria was twice as high with women. You could trust more that they were injured."

The study results come to us just after last Sunday's U.S.-Brazil game, which featured a controversial flop. Brazil's Erika was rightfully presented with a yellow card for stalling after she collapsed to the ground with no one but her goalie nearby and was taken off the field in a stretcher after several minutes of delay. She returned to the game just a few moments later. (Her card and the stoppage time granted for her dramatics are what ultimately lead to the karmic, game-tying U.S. goal, so we'll let that one go.) But aside from an egregious example like that, and just from a viewer's perspective, the results seem accurate: there's much less of a case for complaining against flops in Germany than there was in South Africa last year.

The New York Times offers a few theories for the discrepancy. Dr. Rosenbaum suggests that it might have to do with a correlation between visibility and gamesmanship on the men's side, and that in a faster-paced game with bigger players, more contact — and thus more opportunities for show — is inevitable. Julie Foudy, a former women's national team player who now announces for ESPN, said that men are simply more practiced at the skill of drawing a foul, and that women would eventually catch up with the style. Her former teammate Brandi Chastain agreed that the women's game would adapt to the flop and the benefits and heartbreak it brings, but said that for now, female players just have more integrity than the men.

But like any young sport (comparatively, at least — the WWC began in 1991, and the men have had a World Cup since 1930), the women's game will change. We may even see a shift in the semifinals tomorrow, when the stakes are much higher. In sports, after all, cheating is just a natural component of evolution.

Routine Ruse in Men's Soccer Tumbles Into Women's World Cup
[New York Times]
Flop or Not? Female Soccer Players Fake Fewer Injuries [Wired Playbook]