By Tiger Fan
Since we’re in the midst of the summer lull for Mizzou sports, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about the World Cup – an event I was truly excited about a month ago, but now I find depressing. No, it’s not the pathetic showing put forth by Team
I’m not talking about the ignorant meatheads who argue that soccer is boring or claim that soccer players aren’t real athletes. These assertions will always be foolish. Anyone who thinks soccer is boring doesn’t understand it and anyone who thinks soccer players aren’t real athletes have never tried to play. I actually heard a radio commentator say recently that the only people who play soccer are those who can’t excel in football, baseball or basketball. Really? I’d like to see great “athletes” like Cecil Fielder or David Wells try to stop a shot from David Beckham or watch even the best DBs in the NFL try to keep up with DeMarcus Beasley or Ronaldinho… for an entire 90 minutes… without a 35 second break between each play.
But this year’s World Cup has proven the other two most popular criticisms of soccer: 1) The refs have too much power and discretion, and 2) The players act like wimps because they are constantly taking dives. In all my seasons of soccer, I never thought these were legitimate knocks. Now I’m finding that I agree.
Growing up, I played soccer two seasons a year for 13 years, starting at the tender age of five. I also was a referee for several seasons. In all that time, I never received a yellow card… and I only issued one as a ref. More importantly, I’m happy to say that I can’t think of a single game that was decided almost entirely by the refs. Sure, there were games where we thought the officiating was pretty bad, but it was usually bad all the way around and could be chalked up to the fact that the guys reffing a bunch of 10-year-olds didn’t have a whole lot of experience.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the referees at this year’s World Cup. They seem to think that fans have traveled thousands of miles and paid thousands of dollars to see the referees decide the outcome of games. It’s been ridiculous and disgraceful. The most blatant problem has been the record number of yellow and red cards, which has been well documented. After the first round of play, more cards had been issued than in any previous World Cup. That meant some of the world’s best players were watching games from the sideline. If the cards were justified, that would be one thing… but most of them have not been. To me, cards are only warranted when a) the player committing the foul did so out of bad sportsmanship or b) the player committing the foul put the other player at a serious risk of injury. That’s it.
The other problem has been penalty kicks. When I was a ref, I never wanted to call a PK that would decide the game. The closer a game was, the less likely I was to call one. In other words, if it is a tie game late in the second half, it will need to be a blatant foul in the box to get the call. It’s like the way refs used to call basketball: No autopsy, no foul in the final 10 seconds or so (of course, they seem to moving away from that in the NBA… just ask the Mavericks).
The World Cup refs apparently don’t share my philosophies, as we have seen countless games decided by cards and penalty kicks. Here are some examples:
Other countries apparently don’t share this attitude and I think that’s what turns Americans off to soccer. We enjoy stories about guys like Willis Reed or Kirk Gibson who were seriously injured but played through the pain. That’s why we hate it when we see an Italian player get clipped on the ankle and roll around on the ground for five minutes like he’s going to die… only to get carried off on a stretcher, spray some icy hot on it and check back into the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love soccer and I’m still watching every possible minute of the World Cup. But what depresses me is that these problems with the game are overshadowing the aspects of the game that make it fun. Lots of people are asking whether soccer can ever catch on in this country on a professional level. Until we get the reffing and the diving under control, the answer is no.