Faking injuries is a time-honored — albeit widely frowned-upon — way to slow down an athletic event, catch a breather or disrupt an opponent’s rhythm. A new study issued Thursday hints that the practice may be somewhat testosterone-driven. Women soccer players, the study finds, are significantly less likely than men to fake an injury on the field, researchers from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., reported.
“Injuries are common in women’s soccer and seem to be on the rise at the international level,” said Dr. Daryl A. Rosenbaum, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest. Faked injuries also seem to be on the rise, to the point that the International Federation of Assn. Football (FIFA), soccer’s governing body, issued a directive calling for “the football family to unite in denouncing injury simulation and working to eradicate this scourge from the game.” FIFA’s concern may be justified, he said.
In 2010, Rosenbaum and his colleagues studied videotapes of international men’s soccer matches and concluded that there were an average of 11.26 apparent injuries per match, in which players were writhing or rolling on the ground, grabbing a body part, yelling, having an anguished facial expression or hiding their face. They concluded that only 7.2% of the apparent injuries were “definite” injuries — that is, the player withdrew from the contest within five minutes or blood was apparent.
Now Rosenbaum’s team has performed the same analysis for women’s soccer. The researchers analyzed 47 televised games from two international women’s tournaments. They reported in the journal Research in Sports Medicine that they observed only half as many apparent injuries as they previously saw in men’s games, an average of 5.74 per game. And they concluded that 13.7% of those apparent injuries were definite injuries, twice the proportion as in men’s soccer. As corroboration of their findings, they noted that they observed an average of six apparent injuries per match in the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but that team physicians reported only 2.3 injuries per match.
The researchers speculated about possible causes for the higher apparent injury rate in the men’s game. “Perhaps the higher visibility or financial stakes of the men’s game creates greater incentives for gamesmanship,” they wrote. “Another theory could be that the men’s game may have greater frequency and force of physical contact as it involves larger, faster players. Collisions could lead to initially painful injuries like contusions that do not require a player to withdraw, or more frequent contact situations could mean that there are more opportunities to try and influence the referee through simulation.”
One piece of good news, they concluded: There was no evidence that injuries, either faked or real, affected the outcome of the games.