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Sunday, June 27, 2010

U.S. Perspective: Is the World Cup a Microcosm for How the World Works?

How many bad calls can the premier international sporting event endure? Today, a missed goal call that went against England caused the English to change their tactics and lose to Germany 4-1. Had the referee and two linesmen had their eyes open, they would have allowed a beautiful shot by Frank Lampard that would have tied the score at 2. Instead, it was 2-1, and the English had to press the action, risking counterattacks, which is how Germany scored two more goals. In the Mexico-Argentina game, officiating blunders turned what could have been a thriller into a route.

Add these onto spurious yellow and red card calls and dubious off-side calls against the U.S. that might have cost the Yanks the opportunity to lose to Ghana in the elimination round, and you have to wonder -- is this the best the world has to offer? Is the world incompetent? Unable to get out of its way? Corrupt?

Sure, American sports are not perfect, but there's an increasing reliance on instant replay in the major sports leagues. An umpire recently apologized for erring in calling a runner safe, costing a pitcher a very rare perfect game. Today, an umpire apologized (in essence) for blowing a called third strike against the Tigers' Johnny Damon with the Tigers' down one with the bases loaded in the last inning. Both of those admissions and expressions of remorse add to the integrity of the game. Leagues take pains to train officials, evaluate them and then move them around to avoid attempts to extort or bribe officials. You hardly hear any grumbling about suspect calls in the United States, where you hear adages such as "the best officials are the ones you don't notice," "that call, however bad, didn't affect the outcome," or "they were making the same calls against or for both teams, so they were consistent if not perfect."

The United States probably has more prosecutors, policemen and people in jail per capita than any other country in the world. We hold our people and businesses to such high standards in an increasingly complex legal system that, with the exception of countries in Western Europe, go far beyond those of the rest of the world. We go to great lengths to make sure our businesses do not bribe foreign officials, and we hold public and private officials accountable in the court of public opinion, sometimes harshly and without the benefit of the passage of time to flesh out all of the facts. Sometimes, yes, we cannot get over ourselves, and our standards can be too high or even self-righteous. Many Americans get all of that, but they'll still strive for their ideals, however highly set, however flawed, but not corrupt or tolerant of incompetence. Okay, I've just written a mouthful, but my point is this -- we wouldn't tolerate -- as our showcase event -- a spectacle like this. Or would we?

FIFA cannot be happy with what's gone on so far. I've heard some commentators say that this is what goes on in the world of soccer, so new fans had better get used to it.

The question, though, is -- is it worth getting used to?


Blogger Bomber Girl said...

Interesting post. Also brings to mind the "back in the day" state-supported use of steroids by athletes from eastern bloc countries. I guess we could have gone that way too if winning at any price was the preferred option. Glad we didn't. Granted, in some sports we have seen abuse but - in keeping with the theme of your post - we have been moving on it, eventually, for the better.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Escort81 said...

If the issue is the basic competence of the FIFA refs, it is probably too late to do anything about it for the current World Cup. I haven't read a good article describing the method by which the refs are selected. I believe that changes in training, selection and the use of instant replay in soccer will be determined by whether FIFA officers believe it is hitting them in the pocketbook. That is, that enough fans turn off on the sport because of the difficulties encountered with blown calls. Heck, in the NFL, a video review can be another opportunity to break for a Viagra or beer ad. So, would the U.S. tolerate it? Maybe, if, in the words of Hyman Roth, "It had nothing to do with business."

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite is tennis, where the computer replay now shows how often lines calls are wrong. I'm not saying the McEnroe was RIGHT every time he challenged a call, but it sure does give one pause!

9:07 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for everyone's comments. Do we eliminate home plate umpires? Do we eliminate linesmen in tennis? Do we create goal judges in soccer? Should we add a second referee who can call penalties in soccer (especially to deal with off-ball shenanigans), the way the NHL added a second referee several years ago (heck, it could be a decade by now)?

Those questions differ from my basic inquiry regarding the World Cup, but since that time FIFA president Sepp Blatter has apologized to England and Mexico, the refs who made bad calls aren't eligible to officiate again in this World Cup, and Blatter said that FIFA needs to consider replays in some format. We'll see if FIFA evolves, but it seems like a selected use of instant replay is inevitable.

8:14 PM  

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