DIVING is the scourge of football at all levels, both here and around the world.

It is the one form of cheating — that and feigning injury — that tarnishes the name of the game.

So endemic is it within the sport that hardly a week goes by without a player throwing himself to the ground in a bid to gain an advantage.

It’s pathetic and there appears no sign of it stopping.

But the situation is not helped when the offence is not punished by referees or, worse still, innocent players are penalised.

Which is what happened with Sergio Aguero when referee Mike Jones booked him for ‘simulation’ — which, incidentally, is a dreadful word, it’s cheating — against Southampton on Sunday.

The Argentine striker was clearly hacked to the floor by Jose Fonte on the edge of the penalty box but his appeals to Jones fell on deaf ears.

Yet, just last month, Everton starlet Ross Barkley laughably fell to the turf without a West Ham opponent anywhere near him and earned a free-kick from referee Mark Clattenburg.

So embarrassing were the theatrics, England international Barkley was back on his feet almost as quickly as he had fallen.

Almost as comical was Toffees’ teammate Leon Osman’s claims that Barkley was taking evasive action to avoid getting hurt.

The classic “he’s not a diver” defence from the 33-year-old.

Is it any wonder the game has a problem with diving when those charged with enforcing punishment make such a hash of it?

Footballers have put referees in a tough position when diving, but the officials certainly don’t help themselves with such blatant clangers at times.