Two professional soccer players run side by side, fighting for control of the ball. One kicks and the other falls to the ground, face contorted in pain. Is the seeming injury real or feigned? According to a study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, one way to get an idea is to look at the gender of the players.
In the 2011 study “Estimation of Injury Simulation in International Women’s Football,” published in Research in Sports Medicine, university researchers watched 47 games from two televised women’s tournaments. All seeming injuries were graded by apparent severity. If the player was bleeding or left the competition in five or fewer minutes, the injury was considered “definite”; other injury events were deemed “questionable.”
The study’s results include:
- Over the 47 games, a total of 270 injury-like events were noted, an average of 5.74 per game. This is 51% of the rate reported earlier in men’s football, which showed an average of 11.26 apparent injuries per game.
- The “definite” injury rate in women’s games was 0.78 per contest compared to 4.96 per game for “questionable” injuries. “Definite” injuries thus constituted 13.7% of all incidents, nearly twice the men’s rate of 7.2%.
- “Definite” injuries were associated with on-field treatment and stretchers, and tended to occur in the second half of matches.
- “Questionable” injuries were associated with contact between players, tackles and fouls. They were not associated with teams winning matches.
The researchers noted that there are several possible explanations for the significantly higher rate of injuries, both “definite” and “questionable,” in the men’s game. Because male players are larger and faster and collisions more likely, there can be more “initially painful injuries like contusions that do not require a player to withdraw.” At the same time, more frequent contact “could mean that there are more opportunities to try and influence the referee through simulation,” something potentially increased by the higher financial stakes.