Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Ugly Truth about The Beautiful Game

Let's gone one thing straight.
Football is corrupt.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is either pitifully deluded or monumentally naive.

We've seen two examples of the superficial corruption of football in the last few days.
Firstly, there is the ongoing saga of the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the alleged greasing of a number of FIFA palms by one Mohamed Bin Hamman. Of course, Sepp Blatter and his cronies will no doubt continue to argue that a desert state, where summer temperatures are in the high 40s, which has no footballing pedigree and, at the time the world cup was awarded (before they shipped in a load of migrants and put them to work in conditions not unlike the Pharaohs used to consider best practice) no stadia, was the right and proper choice for the greatest footballing event in the world. And we won't even go into whether it should have gone to Russia in 2018!
Secondly, there was the decision by referee Nishimura to award a penalty to Brazil after 70 minutes of the opening match and, in so doing, go a long way to ensuring a much needed, morale-boosting victory for the host nation. Now everyone will have a view on whether there was sufficient contact for the amusingly named Brazilian striker Fred to go down as theatrically as he did, and everyone will have a view on whether the referee should have considered that to be worthy of a penalty or perhaps, more appropriately, a booking for the Brazilian for 'simulation' (or, as we Up North would call it, cheating). Conspiracy theorists will be able to argue long into the night about whether the referee had been 'nobbled', or whether he was looking to 'make his mark' on the game, or whether he was just too weak to pass up the chance to ingratiate himself with thousands of baying onlookers…who knows? But the fact remains that the instantaneous decision of one man, taken in the heat of the moment, more or less dictated the result of that game, a situation which, with all the technology now at the disposal of world sport, is simply unforgivable (and is, again, another example of the 'corruption' in football). In tennis, it is now possible to review where a ball travelling at 150 mph landed in relation to a painted line to an accuracy of a couple of millimetres - and yet in football they can't even determine with any certainty whether a player is offside (maybe because they're not even sure what the offside rule really is!!). For the last decade in rugby, it has been possible to review whether the ball has touched the ground and a try should be awarded - but in football, they've only just introduced the technology to figure out whether the ball has crossed the goal-line (four years too late for Frank Lampard and England!). And why, when it comes to critical decisions like penalty awards and goals being scored, why is it still beyond the wit of those who run football to pause the game, refer it to someone upstairs who has all this technology at their disposal, and take the time to get the decision right (like they do in cricket, for example…and please, spare me the argument about the third umpire still getting it wrong…it doesn't wash)?
Perhaps it's because the powers that be in 'the beautiful game' want the ambiguity and the uncertainty, because it makes the game easier to manipulate…

But there's one form of corruption of football that is, in my humble opinion, more insidious than either the grubby money grabbers at FIFA or the technological luddites…at FIFA. And this is becoming ingrained in the sport from the ridiculously paid 'professionals' right down the kids have a kick-about with jumpers for goalposts.
You see, my simplistic idea of sport is that it's about individuals, or a group of individuals, seeking acclaim and reward from their peers through the demonstration of natural talent, hard-earned skills, mental and physical toughness, and the strength of their determination to succeed. And all that is good, and should be encouraged, because these are the facets of mankind that push us all forward and make us all better.
But something has crept into sport in general, and into football most particularly, that has 'corrupted' this purist ideal.
The 'art' of deception.
It is no longer certain that a football team that has the most talented players, who have reached the peak of fitness, and who are managed by the most able football strategist, will be triumphant.
Because as Fred so ably demonstrated, even the best team can be defeated by those who have mastered the art of deception, have honed to perfection the ability to fool a gullible or corrupt official into awarding a penalty in the way that Fred managed to do, or getting another player sent-off by feigning a football hitting you in the face and rolling around as if you've been shot by a sniper (yes, I mean you, Rivaldo!!).
In other words, if you cheat better than everyone else, you'll probably win, and that, as a message to the wider world, is simply wrong.
And what's worse is the fact that when such blatant cheating takes place, no-one stands up and says 'Hey, that Fred who plays for Brazil, he's just a fucking cheat!!' Instead, pundits on television and in the newspapers and online use derisible euphemisms like 'he earned the penalty' or 'he drew the contact'. No, morons, what he did was gain an advantage by deceiving the referee and that, in anyone's book, is simply cheating…and I was always taught that Cheaters Never Prosper.
So if we fail to decry cheating when we see it, and if we begin to consider the ability to earn a free kick by throwing oneself on the floor and rolling around whilst screaming in agony, to be as important to success as dribbling or shooting or tackling, then the sport of football has succumb to the worst kind of corruption and I, for one, will simply stop watching it, because I prefer to watch something where the best of us is what counts, not the worst.