Smiting the FIFA gods with a bit of technology

June 29, 2010

 

United States' Michael Bradley, left, argues with Mali's referee Koman Coulibaly during the World Cup group C soccer match between Slovenia and the United States at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, June 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

“I’m so glad the World Cup is here!” I exclaim in front of my colleagues out here in WVU’s Coliseum. I’m surrounded by true sports aficionados—men and women who research all manners of sport, sport management, sport psychology, kinesiology, fitness, physical therapy—and my exclamation is met with a sound rebuke:

“Ah, I’m not a soccer fan.” “Soccer is boring.” “What a ridiculous set of rules they have!”

And the tirades go on and on as I try to get people to join in a World Cup bracket pool. “What’s wrong with soccer?” I say. “It’s a beautiful, global sport!”

One peer looks at me dryly, “For one thing, everybody falls down like they’ve been shot,” referring to the players that take dramatic dives in order to draw fouls from the ref. “And another thing, I really hate how the refs are treated as gods.”

Boom. He got me there. And I began to think—mind you this was before the first game kicked off this summer in South Africa—why are the refs treated like gods? And before my train of thought left the station, I was witness to the first hideous call by a ref: a disallowed goal called on USA vs. Slovenia. Malian native Koman Coulibaly took away a good goal from American Maurice Edu. No one was offside, and the multitude of high-definition cameras, placed at every conceivable angle (inside the goal, from the sky, close-up on the feet, above the goal, from the sidelines, etc.), and shown at super slow motion, recorded the fact that there wasn’t one thing that should have disallowed the goal. In fact, the Slovenians had three different Americans in headlocks or bear hugs. An Announcer proclaimed, “That’s one of the worst calls I’ve every seen in World Cup history.” What’s even better? Coulibaly didn’t have to explain anything—to anyone. He was certainly playing the part of a god. The goal was taken away, and thus the U.S. was forced to a draw, stopping an improbable comeback from a 2-0 Slovenian run in the first half.

But I’m not a huge USA fan. Honest. I also used to defend the archaic system of World Cup rules and gods to my NFL, MLB, and NHL-loving friends. “It’s a global sport, guys,” I’d say. “You can’t have instant replay in a lot of cities in third world countries.” And then I’d say something about how we should look outside our country’s mindset, or something similarly pithy.

Additionally, I don’t like how instant replay can bog down a game. I can understand why the NFL uses it, because the rules are vast and complicated, the game is fast and frenetic, and a lot of speed and bulk are crammed on a field much smaller than soccer. Having “video refs” takes away part of the game; it can stop the ebb and flow of a game’s twists and turns.

My turning point was, however, once FIFA started using their dozens of beautiful camera shots, replaying to the world all of the referees’ major blunders over and over again. And in HD, too. I think once you start negating the officials with television, it’s time to make a change, or you’re forever going to face scrutiny.

But don’t take my word for it. Look at the camera shots. What have they captured so far? Read the rest of this entry »

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A World Cup primer for South Africa

June 9, 2010

Ah, the World Cup.

This is the point where I’m supposed to write something like, “Every four years the world comes together in an event that stops global production, and unifies cultures like never before,” or something similarly trite. But anyone who watches the World Cup—which is most of the world excluding vast swathes of the United States and Canada—knows that it is a beast that starts and stops wars, ruins careers, makes Christ-like heroes, enthralls criminals and entrepreneurs, and ignites the flame of desire in millions of children and young adults.

And, every four years, the beast morphs into some new type of creature, dependent upon where it calls “home”—United States, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Japan/Korea, France . . . and now South Africa. In the bidding for 2010, eventual winner South Africa was still considered a real gamble: rife with racial tension, possessing a high crime and murder rate (Johannesburg is one of the murder capitals of the world), economically unstable with a disparate proportion of the poor, and largely inaccessible to the middle classes of the world that want to fly and participate in the festivities.

But, in all honesty, that type of thinking is largely what put African Union countries in the back seat of world politics, and, dare I say it, racist tendencies from Euro- and Latin-centered soccer (or football, if you will). South Africa, it can be argued, has been defying conventional wisdom and naysayers. Even though 70,000 construction workers went on strike one year ago, the host cities of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Polokwane, Rustenburg, and Nelspruit still completed or upgraded their stadiums that seat anywhere from 43,500 in Mbombela Stadium, to more than 91,000 in Soccer City, which will be filled to capacity in the first and final matches. The ticketing glitches have been fixed—originally most of the local populace didn’t have access to tickets, since they were sold exclusively online, and Internet access is not commonplace. Instead of seeing racial tensions rise, the country has been experiencing a racial and cultural renaissance of sorts. Although there are several problems on the horizon, we have several unique moments in history to look forward to. Here is a list of some things to look for, good or bad, that may define this World Cup and make it unique to South Africa:

1. Sex trafficking and AIDS – Prostitution exists at all World Cups, no matter the venue, but this year the world has made an unprecedented push to curb sex trafficking, since there is already a problem endemic to urban areas of South Africa like Cape Town. According to one report, an estimated 38,000 children each year are forced into prostitution in South Africa, and the World Cup is supposed to make that number grow exponentially. Additionally, AIDS rates are reported to be higher in South Africa than anywhere else in the continent—12% or 5.7 million out of 48 million people. Additionally, only 28% of AIDS patients were receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

2. The Vuvuzela – If you get annoyed at Korea’s “thundersticks,” England’s bawdy chants and songs, or Brazil’s drums, you may as well avoid the South African venues entirely, thanks to a relatively new invention called the vuvuzela, a plastic horn that, when played en masse, sounds like a deafening buzz. Collectively played, it has been measured at 140 decibels—louder than a jet engine. As reported on Smithsonianmag.com, “You can walk around with a pretty massive headache if you’re not wearing earplugs,” said John Nauright, professor of sports management at George Mason University. There are currently 600,000 more on order from the traditional maker of the horns. Read the rest of this entry »