June 24, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.
I know most of the best players in the world, and have seen their highlights numerous times. Back when Ronaldo and David Beckham were on top of their games through Ronaldinho and Kaka to the new generation of strikers Dider Drogba and Lionel Messi.
I'll catch some Euroleague games on ESPN once in a while, but I don't watch soccer regularly until the World Cup comes every four years.
The World Cup prides itself on being the biggest sporting event in the world. Thirty two teams from all over converge on one nation to determine which country has the best soccer squad. Although still not wildly popular in America, soccer is the most popular sport throughout the world, hence the biggest sporting event in the world moniker.
But, things get embarrassing for FIFA and the World Cup when the referees can't even get basic calls right. The most notable being a phantom foul call on the USA in what would've been their go-ahead goal over Slovenia last week. The referee made the call on Thursday, and FIFA would rather shelter him and not ask for an explanation on his call.
They say it protects the purity of the game. They say us Americans don't understand the beauty of a free-flowing soccer game. We shouldn't need to know the exact rules or why a call was made. We shouldn't need to know exactly how much time is left in the match. Just sit back and enjoy the mysteries.
The real problem isn't the actual referees. Who knows if Koman Coulibaly, the referee from Mali who made the call, saw something that wasn't there on the play. He may have been influenced to make a call, but I doubt it was right there. He would've made his move earlier.
The fundamental problem is FIFA's stubborness to add any more referees to the pitch.
In professional football, there is seven different officials for 22 players. In basketball, there is three refs for 10 players. Baseball has four umps for at most 14 players on the field at once.
Soccer boasts exactly one referee for 22 players on a field of play that is bigger than that of hockey, baseball, football or basketball.
With all the jumping, kicking, jockeying, tripping, elbowing, headlocking and general rough play going on in soccer, how in the world can FIFA justify using only one referee for the whole field?
They have two linesman to strictly make offsides calls and nothing else. They have no power on the field except to make those calls, and even they aren't getting them right often.
In the France-South Africa game earlier this week, France had a man offsides by nearly five yards, but he received the ball with no whistle blown and scored a goal.
If this happened even a few times in any Amercian professional sport, there would be an outrage over a scandal or a fixed match. In 'the biggest sporting event in the world' it's simply chalked up as part of the game.
Even the announcers during the games make note of how bad a call was and quickly move on as if it didn't happen.
It's like everyone knows the bad calls are happening. Even FIFA knows, but they don't care. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and some casual American fans don't matter to them. But, if they continue to have a run of bad officiating throughout the rest of the World Cup, and it doesn't go away, fans are going to become increasingly disenchanted with the event. How can they bill it the greatest sporting event in the world if they can't even make the right calls or explain rules?
There's already one nation that has a beef with FIFA over their refusal to review plays. I can assure you that Irish fans are still fuming over their omission from the Cup. Ireland was on the verge of qualifying last year when Thierry Henry of France used a blatant hand ball to corral a loose ball and put it in the back of the net for a French win over the Irish. Without that goal and a tie, Ireland would be in the World Cup right now.
FIFA refused to review the play, and although the referee in that instance admitted later that he made a mistake, it did nothing for the Irish national squad, which missed out on a trip to South Africa because of that play.
The disappointment with FIFA and their stubborness isn't anything new, but if nations keep getting the short end of the stick because of it, things will go south for FIFA faster than they expect.
If the rules and referees weren't enough to turn casual viewers away from the World Cup, then those annoying vuvuzelas are doing the trick. Announces can barely be heard above the steady buzz of the annoying plastic horns.
Again, FIFA took their own stubborn road in making something up to defend the horns. They said they would not outlaw the instruments, despite complaints from some players that they could not communicate with their teammates, because it's a South African tradition to make the 'beautiful music'.
Give me a break. How traditional can a plastic horn made in China be? I don't think the South African's were using vuvuzelas as a war cry. And that's far from music that they create. It's simple and annoying noise. Noise that won't stop. Noise that even the referees could probably make the right call about: get rid of them immediately.
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