Monday, June 21, 2010

Soccer Musings

This has been a bad week for soccer snots. In addition to the scoreless ties and euro-flopping, we have stupid toy horns and the outright theft of a game by a referee.

That last bit, I think, is going to be an insurmountable hurdle.

Americans experience sporting events in a very different way from our brethren across the pond. We view sports as a meritocracy, where the best athletes typically prevail. We root for superstars who can carry their team to victory, but also for inspirational underdogs who overcome the odds. We root for the home team because their success can we worn as a badge of pride.

Elsewhere, sports are celebrated as a social gathering, a reason to get drunk with friends and enemies. In England, gangs representing each team will literally brawl in the stands. In the Middle East, local leaders behead rape victims during halftime. In South Africa, the fans incessantly blow toy horns for some damn reason. At best, soccer is but one act in a protracted social ritual.

In America, regardless of the extant distractions (dunking gorillas, touchdown celebrations, zambonis), the outcome is of primary importance. For proof, look no further than the stream of fans exiting a stadium during any blowout.

As such, we outcome-driven Americans are often lamenting poor officiating. Each of the four major team sports has a rigorous program for ensuring fairness and quality in this regard. To the degree that poor officiating affects outcomes, it can at least be said that the impact distributes evenly.

In soccer? Not so much. Refs throughout Europe are often on the take from the mafia. Bigotry and national fealty regularly result in flagrantly biased calls. Guess what? Most countries resent America.

Bias aside, teams have made an art form out of manipulating pliable officials and nebulous rules. Slide tackles have replaced defense, since there is no real penalty for the act, thus negating any advantage superior athletes might have on offense. Then there's the Euro-flopping.

FIFA, the sport's worldwide international governing body, is aware of the problem. The 2006 world cup is widely considered to have been an officiating disgrace. They responded to these criticisms by... Finding some unknown from Mali with limited international experience? Great.

And so the United States was robbed of a goal (and a corresponding win) by a ref who either dislikes our country, or was paid to take away the goal. This isn't conspiracy talk. Again, it's taken as a given that international referees are corrupt. To make matters worse, FIFA does not require referees to advise the nature of a penalty.

Perhaps they realize, as Americans are coming to learn, that it doesn't really matter.

Americans can deal with low scoring. Given the quality of our athletes, our professional players would make that a moot point, anyway. We can deal with the flopping - basketball fans are already accustomed to it from South American players.

But international play is essential to soccer's identity. If Americans feel as though the sport is rigged against the U.S., as it is presently, fans will simply tune out. Soccer will be relegated to the second-tier dustbin with MMA, cheerleading and greyhound racing, other sports where outcomes take a back seat to other considerations.

The soccer snots will continue to chalk it up to American ignorance. But they'll have only their beloved sport to blame.


Blogger Memphis Evans said...

Right on. Exactly.

I happened to be in a hotel with a nice tv this weekend and I actually became interested in soccer for about twenty minutes until that call. I basically realized all the things you just said in this article. That call was unbelievable and there would seem to be zero accountability.

At least MLB's Jim Joyce was brave enough to admit his mistake and say, "I just cost that kid a perfect game." Even though Selig wouldn't overturn it.

3:58 PM  

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