SportsProf

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Sidd Finch of World Soccer

Some pranksters put one over on the entire soccer world, including the Times of London. Talk had spread on the internet that there was a Moldovan soccer prodigy named Masal Bugduv, in whom, among others, Arsenal was interested. The hype got so pronounced that the Times had listed the Moldovan prodigy as one of the top prospects in the world. Read here for a recap as to how the hoax unfolded.

So, the world's still the same, isn't it? People fall for Ponzi schemes, schemes deriving from the days after Sir Francis Drake passed away (you might get an occasional e-mail from places like Ghana or Nigeria telling a tale of woe and, if only you would help front some money to help get access to a bigger pot of money, you'll share in extraordinary riches), for investment markets built on foundations of Silly Putty and quicksand, and, yes, for the next "new" prospect who's guaranteed to be a savior in some league, somewhere. Many are looking to discover the next transcendant talent or, worse, get a piece of him.

Delightful.

Whatever happened to enjoying the everyday, to watching your high school team beat a rival through good execution, to watching your youth team actually pass the ball to one another instead of act like an amorphous swarm of kids who hadn't seen recess for three weeks? Whatever happened to taking satisfaction in enjoying the here and now?

Put different, how could a hoax get so much traction and fool the venerable Times, which, to my recollection, used to have some standards when it came to fact-checking and reporting? Masal Bugduv? Pretty hilarous, when you think about it, because given the instant access to facts the internet provides, we're all quick to assume that if someone's from a place the internet doesn't report on as much, such as Moldova (or Tajikistan), something like this seems plausible and gets a pass precisely because you're not going to send anyone to the blessed place to report on a phenom. It's just not cost-effective, and you let your standards down because, well, you don't want to come across like a socioeconomically and perhaps racially insensitive lout by suggesting that without further proof, the guy doesn't exist. Why? Because perhaps you don't want to be accused of thinking that Moldova of all places could source the next soccer wunderkind.

And that's where reporters and readers get trapped. And, of course, investors, too.

Thankfully, those who got the Bugduv bug only suffered minor ignominy in that pranksters fooled them. But that same susceptibility could hurt those believers in other areas, so they should reactivate their skepticism and ask legitimate questions about the Masal Bugduvs of the world. And the experts, well, they should be held to the minimal standard of just doing their standard homework.

Which, clearly, they did not do in this case.

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