Saturday, July 03, 2010

For All The Spectacle of the World Cup,

... soccer really is a stupid sport.
I ran into this rant, and I assume the author has a point; I do wonder myself at times whether players raising their arms are taking responsibility or trying to blame someone else, but the author here seems pretty sure.
My friend Colin comes from a rugby background, a sport which still has values. And I think it's important for people reading this to appreciate that if you are from a rugby background, the notion that a player will charge up to a referee and insist on a yellow or red card is completely foreign. In fact, the notion that players will even challenge a refereeing decision is unheard of in rugby.
A player who goes down and exaggerates the extent of an injury to gain an advantage would be ridiculed in rugby. In football, he is celebrated. In football, referees command absolutely no respect from players. They are tools to be deceived rather than officials to be respected. And before you point out that basketball shares this trait, do yourself a favour and watch 58 games of World Cup Football, and you will see the difference.
Football is a disgraceful fiasco which rewards cheating, even glorifying it. And I enjoy watching football, but I cannot bring myself to respect it. The fervor of the fans, the passion, the colour and the celebration of skill make the sport worthy of watching. However, the shenanigans around cheating, and the glorification of that cheating, destroy my respect for the sport and its players.
Now my guess is that rugby referees have roughly similar problems to soccer referees adjudicating the rules; though in a sport where scores of 21-18 are possible, decisions can likely be less crucial and mistakes more tolerable. Still, there is an issue of character, or the players and the game here (consider golf, where players call penalties on themselves!).
If a player is tackled, he will go to ground. Guaranteed. And the referee will react, also guaranteed. Today, in the Brazil v Netherlands match, Arjen Robben launched himself over the tackler with a clearance that the Olympic high-jump champion would be proud of. The referee bought it, awarded the free-kick, and the game changed from that point. This is not an isolated incident. Penalties are won by dives, players are sent off thanks to play-acting (just ask the Ivory Coast for their diabolical cheat against Brazil), and generally, matches resemble the WWE more than they do a competitive sports event.
Even a naif like me can see the degree of diving and faking and it actually does appall me.
By the way this is a blogger who is disgusted by bicycle race doping and still finds soccer a far worse sport.
In football, there is no redeeming value. The most celebrated footballers of the current World Cup are its most celebrated primadonnas. Ronaldo dived more two in three times that he ran with the ball. Didier Drogba collapses like a matchstick man when he feels the breath of an opponent on him. Arjen Robben exerted himself more rolling on the floor than he did running. Yet these men are superstars. They should be jeered off the field in disgrace.
Now I rather agree with all this, not really watching enough soccer to know how completely accurate it is. But each four years I see the performance art and it does not impress.
But my real concern starting this post was time inconsistency in the rules, or perhaps just rule inconsistency.
Now to be honest, I regard the rule that Suarez broke in Uruguay-versus-Ghana, rather nutty, since the tradeoff between immediately losing the match and being eliminated from the World Cup and taking a bit of a chance (Ghana penalty shot they might miss and sitting out one game) on a deliberate handball that Suarez faced seems silly to me. After all, should Ghana miss the penalty, the sitting out of Suarez in the semis would not have been a penalty that mattered much to Uruguay, having gone home.
But to discover now that the FIFA authorities are having difficulty struggling with their own brain-dead rules and want to change them after the fact with retroactive effect in this World Cup tells me this is REALLY a dumbass sport!
Yet after Asamoah Gyan smacked the ball off the bar in the ensuing pen and Uruguay won on penalties, FIFA faced the prospect of a World Cup final featuring a player who is considered a hero by some, a criminal by others, for violating one of the elemental laws of the game in a long-shot effort to win. So now FIFA is considering extending the Suarez match-ban to include the final, should Uruguay reach it. However, FIFA spokesman Pekka Odriozola said on Saturday that as a matter of routine the disciplinary commission would review any offense that receives a straight red card to decide whether it merited a harsher punishment.
Now note the qualification in that last sentence! So soccer actually does not have rules; Suarez had to consider standing in the goal crease and deciding whether to take the handball red card whether some committee of sports luminaries might assess any penalty whatever (can they impose a life ban?)! As a matter of routine, FIFA bureaucrats arrogate to themselves the determination of the actual penalty for a red card offence; it must be one great job being one of those FIFA guys! Think of the opportunities for corruption.
No wonder this sport constantly runs into embarrassing corruption problems. The leaders love a framework that leads to it.
I plan to watch through to the final but there is no way right now I have any respect for this joke of a sport.
(Disclosure: I buy NOTHING that I am aware of from any of the World Cup sponsors here, except perhaps from Coca-Cola (and that is only Minute Maid Frozen Orange Juice when it is available at a REALLY good price).


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