Why the World Cup is un-American

Posted By BrokenClaw on June 27, 2010

The FIFA World Cup is just a plain un-American sporting event. I’m not talking about it being anti-American, and I’m not talking about it’s participants having an anti-American sentiment. I just mean that there are so many aspects of the tournament that are antithetical to what we as Americans expect of our professional sports. I actually watched quite a few games this time around, and here’s what I found.

1. Not enough scoring. This aspect of the game has been discussed ad infinitum, including my own rant a few years ago. It’s a part of soccer in general, but it seems even more evident in the World Cup. A lot of the teams seem much more concerned with not losing than with winning. So both teams play hard defense and don’t attack the goal. I guess they just hope that the one shot on goal they take each half happens to go in.

2. The Group Stage allows ties. Teams can advance out of their group without ever winning a game! As a result, teams play for a tie. Seriously. In other words, as long as the game is tied, they exclusively play defense. And since the game is tied nil-nil to start, they actually hope to end the game nil-nil. These are the top 32 teams that qualified out of the 200+ FIFA national teams, and all they want to do is tie?  Can you imagine that in an American sport… to have a team play to not score?

3. Flops. Need I say more? Replay after replay shows players pretending to be pushed down, grabbed, or tripped, when there was virtually no contact. And after acting like their legs were broken, after they get the call, they make a miraculous recovery and play on. The most egregious use of the flop is to get the offending player to be given a yellow card. Oh, yes, let’s talk about that card.

4. The Yellow Card. The referee pulls the little yellow card out of his pocket to indicate “unsporting behavior”, which, as far as I can tell, is equivalent to “unsportsmanlike conduct” or a “personal foul” in NFL football. But really, a little yellow card pushed in the face of the player? What is this, middle school gym class? And of course, two yellow cards leads to a red card, which apparently means you have to go to the principal’s office and can’t play anymore.

5. Stoppage time. What is up with that? There is some nebulous amount of time added to the end of the game, to allow for the time the game was stopped for injury during the game. So why don’t they just stop the clock during the game? Instead, they just let the official on the field blow his whistle when he decides it’s time to end the game. Is this a legacy rule from when they used a pocket watch to time the games?

6. Unexplained fouls. Apparently, officials are not required to specify which player committed the foul, or even what the foul was! All they have to do is blow their whistle and point in the opposite direction. In the NFL, it wasn’t until the last quarter century that officials were required to name the player committing the foul, but they’ve always had to call the actual foul. Can you imagine an official in an American pro sport calling a foul, without saying what it was? If you watched the US vs England game this year, you know what I’m talking about. The official blew off a late goal by the US team, but FIFA did not, and said they would not, require the official to tell us what he thought he saw.

7. Obvious bad calls. Okay, so there’s no explanation of why the US was called for a foul which disallowed their goal against England. But remarkably, that wasn’t even the worst of the calls in this year’s World Cup, and it’s not even the quarter finals yet. In the Argentina vs Mexico game, the Argentine player was clearly standing by himself in front of the goalkeeper when the ball came to him and he headed it in for a goal. But no offside foul was called by the official on the field nor either of the sideline officials. To their credit, they huddled on the sideline to discuss it, but I guess they pulled a Sgt. Shultz and declared, “I see nothing.” In the England vs Germany game, the English player banged a shot off of the crossbar, which bounced down and into the goal behind the goalie. Replay showed the ball a foot or more across the goal line. Apparently, all the official saw was the ball bounce back up to the goalie, who caught it, so no goal was awarded. Seriously.

8. Not enough officials. This deficiency is probably the worst part of it all, and helps explain several of the other curiosites of FIFA World Cup play. They have one official on the field, who ostensibly makes all the calls and keeps the time. There are assistant referees on either sideline who mostly just points their flag when the ball goes out of bounds. One of the main reasons that flops work is because the referee may be on the other side of the field and can’t see what actually happens. The same goes for those other bad calls.

Next to the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup is the largest sports event in the world. Part of soccer’s world appeal is it’s simplicity — a team, a ball, and a field, where nothing changes. Apparently, they have no desire to embrace modern times, because the members seem to accept these shortcomings. I’m not talking about changing the rules of soccer, or mandating changes to all amateur and professional contests. But this is the World Cup! Would it be so bad if they added an official to keep the time on the scoreboard, or had extra officials on the end lines who can actually see what happens when a shot on goal occurs, or had two officials on the field so they can have two different viewing angles, or use replay to confirm or deny a goal? Really.

Join us in the 21st century, FIFA.

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