What is happening to our beloved World Cup?
Typical second game behavior. Teams are past the lid-lifter, and teams that lost know they must win the second game. Fair Play goes out the window as teams are playing for their lives. Ivory Coast will hack, Italy will dive, Slovenia will wrestle.
I think there’s a fundamental problem with sports competition that begins when a
referee is introduced. By giving responsibility for deciding who has broken the rules to a third party, the players possess no true accountability for observing the laws.
They can wear the Fair Play patch but too often, that’s where their role ends.
We hear a lot about how football has an excess of diving, flopping and “simulation.” Detractors say all the acting puts the game in disrepute. While this is clearly true, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t happen only in football. The NFL has diving to get a flag for pass interference and punters regularly exaggerate to get a call for roughing the kicker. In baseball, catchers constantly try to manipulate the strike zone, and in the NBA guys who can press 400 lbs. crumple to the ground when nudged by an opponent. It’s not a football problem — it’s a sport problem.
Why do we cheat? The simple answer is, in order to win. But the bigger question is, what have we won when we cheat? And more importantly, what have we lost?
Misguidedly and inevitably, pundits put their focus in the wrong direction. A blown goal-line call or a red card given in error incites calls for more cameras, video surveillance, computer chips in the balls, or better refs; all measures designed to reduce officiating error. I ask, why? Why doesn’t football do like Ultimate Frisbee and have players call their own fouls? What would it matter if the wrong team is given the trophy because an official made a bad call? Why do we care?
As coaches, we know that a game never turns on one incident. Opportunities came and go throughout the game. If we play well, one bad call will almost never affect the outcome of the game, the USA – Slovenia game was no exception. Altidore had a good chance, and the goals conceded were avoidable. Even that horrendous cancellation of Edu’s goal was not the sole determinant of the game.
The only reason why the outcomes matter? Money. The players, coaches and
federations get more money if they win. Fabio Capello is on a £2 million bonus should England win the World Cup, for example. And for another one thing, there’s the bookies. Experts anticipate World Cup betting to total over £3 billion in the U.K. alone, and that’s only the legal stuff. These are the people who care the most about the outcomes, and they aren’t bothered if they have to cheat to get the money.
So here’s an idea: decimate the prize money and open up the television rights. FIFA should agree to make less profit and financially take the air out of the ball by compensating all teams equally, so a bad call doesn’t take money out of player’s pockets. It would be the equivalent of playing poker for matchsticks. And if the bettors knew the players weren’t financially motivated to win at all costs, would they risk their own money trying to predict the outcome?
Because with the status quo, the games become a test of ethics. Would you exaggerate a kick in the leg for a hundred dollars? How about a thousand? Maybe $100k? The following exchange is (probably incorrectly) attributed to Winston Churchill:
Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.
By making sport about money, we drain it of its joy. And we know what kind of people the participants are. We are only haggling about the price.