tip off

I despise the World Cup, and I’m not ashamed to say it

Soccer is ludicrously corrupt and fundamentally silly. And that’s why I not ashamed of admitting I hate the World Cup, writes Bernard Keane.

As events in Brazil draw to their close and the departure of most of the teams involved removes what personal stake people feel about it, I now feel able to give vent to the white-hot rage that has been dammed up inside me for so long.

I despise the World Cup. Not dislike it. Not hate it. But viscerally loathe it.

Yes, yes, I know, I’m a grump, and I hate pretty much everything, but I actually have good reasons for my reflexive fury.

First, there’s the nature of soccer. Really, this is the least of my reasons for disliking the World Cup, because there’s undoubted skill and grace involved in the sport. I played it myself, proud captain of my under-9s team, and my own kids played it. But fundamentally, let’s be blunt, it’s a silly sport. Human beings have four limbs, but this match, 10/11s of the time, pretends we only have legs. The moment when William Webb Ellis famously, and no doubt apocryphally, picked up the ball at Rugby in 1823 is a sporting moment comparable to the ape-men touching the monolith, or Dave Bowman entering the stargate, in 2001  — a huge sporting evolutionary leap for humankind.

Then there’s the accompanying silliness, like the flares. Soccer fans are always letting the flares off in the stands. What on earth is it with flares and soccer? Are they so bored with the lack of scoring they want planes overhead to send rescue teams? Is there some weird historical connection between yachting and soccer that I don’t know about? Where do you even buy flares from? Who started with the flares? Was there a William Webb Ellis of the flare? WHAT IS WITH THE FLARES?!

And the dives. Even ardent soccer fans will agree the whole diving thing materially degrades the sport. Although I do like the dives where the diver doesn’t just theatrically hit the turf, but then proceeds to writhe in unspeakable agony, perhaps with the occasional glance to see if he’s successfully milked the penalty. Such amateur dramatics can be entertaining, of course, but the problem is they appear to decide the whole outcome of even the most important matches.

But hey, look, all sports have their ridiculous aspects. At least soccer doesn’t have scrums — 12 people (or, in rugby, 16!) bend over and shove their heads between each other. Ugh. It’s just … so buttocky.

No, I really despise the World Cup because FIFA is probably the world’s most corrupt organisation. OK, I know, I know, the Los Zetas drug cartel, the Calabrian ‛Ndrangheta and the Olympic movement might demand a recount, but it’s hard to go past an organisation that impoverishes whole countries as the price for the honour of hosting its quadrennial revenue-spinner. The current World Cup is reaping US$4 billion, tax-free, for the Blattercrats of FIFA, while Brazil is blowing $14 billion hosting the thing. Even just bidding for the thing costs serious money as well, as Australia discovered when it wasted nearly $50 million bidding for a World Cup that Qatar secured through bribery. The soccer World Cup is the ultimate repository — or probably suppository — of what I call Major Event Mathematics, that branch of applied maths beloved of consultants and sporting administrators, in which hosting large events produces double-digit economics multipliers and magically erases negative signs in front of numbers. FIFA, like the Olympics, is so corrupt it taints mathematics itself.

OK, I can hear you say, sure, FIFA’s a bunch of crooks, whatever, but can’t you just enjoy a game that brings pleasure to so many billions of people? That’s a bit like saying “look, the cocaine trade is one riddled with violence, corruption and exploitation, but can’t you just enjoy this snort?” And, yes, I take the point about how billions of people around the world enjoy the World Cup. As an economic liberal, I can’t laud market outcomes everywhere else and then complain that soccer is so successful (OK, I could, but then I’d be the sort of half-arsed selective economic liberal I’m always complaining about). But it doesn’t mean I have to overlook the profoundly toxic global phenomenon that lies behind it.

And it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t offer the one piece of advice that every soccer player should be told: “Pick the bloody thing up and run with it.”

OK. Fire away.

  • 1
    Margaret Morgan
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    And you know what else? Tennis. Why can’t the players kick that little yellow ball. Absurd.

  • 2
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, is Salman Rushdie wanting to retire?

  • 3
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Not a good analogy, Margaret. At least tennis players run on their legs and use their hands/arms to hold a racket and hit the ball!
    Tennis is far more entertaining to watch than soccer, where in the latter nothing much seems to happen in most games. I have often wondered if that last point is the reason for all the violence between competing soccer fan hordes.
    Whatever the reason, it is not acceptable.

  • 4
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Hear, hear.

  • 5
    Courtney Carthy
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Equal rights for limbs in sports!!!

    UFC can really wave the flag for this one…

  • 6
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    a huge sporting evolutionary leap for humankind” surely a step backwards to play Football with your hands.

  • 7
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty much over all televised sport. I can’t stand ads; can’t stand the commentators.

    I much prefer to go to the gym for an hour or so then come home and read a good book or listen to music or play a computer game or talk to friends and family - or maybe work out in the garden for a while and grow some vegies: all of which activities are much more personally rewarding and engaging.

  • 8
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Is this an attempt to reduce your audience? That will be the effect. There is nothing to say about FIFA because it sucks like every other sporting organisation in existence but the comments about the sport are too childish to engage with. Football fans have been listening to that crap all their lives and we just don’t care what you think any more.

  • 9
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    With ya, Bernard! I loathe the sport and loathe FIFA even more. Corrupt, with excessively remunerated management, and to top it off, I believe it’s tax exempt!

    For a great expose, please refer to John Oliver’s report from his new show, Last Week Tonight. The clip is available on YouTube. Being a Pom, JO’s, a great fan of the game, but don’t hold it against him, and it didn’t seem to compromise his reporting.

  • 10
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Anything that is more likely to end in a draw than a real outcome isn’t a sport, its naughts and crosses. Soccer falls nicely into this category. Its boring as bat shit. The movie Troll 2 is more entertaining and has better acting.

  • 11
    Freddy T
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Completely agree!! That said I win $85 in the office sweep if Germany win. FIFA will probably want a cut of this!

  • 12
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I certainly don’t loathe soccer but do find it boring as a spectacle. Fun to play though and easy as well (at a basic level). All you need is a patch of ground and a rolled up newspaper and you’re away. Even the most uncoordinated kid can get a kick which is certainly a good thing. This world cup thing is a real joke however. To be more corrupt than the Olympics is a real statement. As to bringing joy to the people - well don’t ask the Brazilians how they feel about it.

  • 13
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I really couldn’t give two shits what any of you think about football or the World Cup.

  • 14
    Edward Thompson
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Is this an Ann Coulter tribute piece?


  • 15
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Agree about the flares, the dives and FIFA, but I still like it as a sport. As mikeb says, it’s easy to put a game together on a social level.

  • 16
    Di Keller
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree with all this !! How many South Americans could afford to go ???

  • 17
    Peter Evans
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Ripping stuff. But the only sport not riven with arbitrary nonsense is drinking, so best confine yourself to that. Leave the venturing past the bottle to the market illiberals.

  • 18
    Gerry Hatrick, OAP
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Well, if it’s an anti-FIFA rant you want, here’s John Oliver:

    Surely, the real question is which one is worse, FIFA or the IOC?

    Is the capitalist open-market wet dream that is European football going to ruin the sport? Nope.

  • 19
    michael r james
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Mike Carlton used fewer words: (precis, June 12, 2014)

    OVER the years, by trial and error, I have learnt that an iron law of the column-writing business is never to say anything even faintly critical of soccer.
    But this time I shall be careful. With the Soccer World Cup upon us – in Brazil, if I’m not wrong – I won’t say that the game is a crashing bore played by overpaid nancy boys. No mention that a mere tap on the ankle can send these six-packed superstars howling to the ground, writhing as if they’d been bayoneted. Not a word about the cliffhanger thrills of a nil-all draw. If it’s your sport, I hope you enjoy it.
    What I really don’t understand is how you tolerate the corruption rampant at the heights of the game. … It’s been rotten to the bone for years.

    My own take is that, this year being bracketed by Wimbledon and the Tour de France shows up these footballers for the nancyboys they are. The skill level in the top 20 of men’s tennis is about, oh, one thousand the entire world’s cup of footballers. And each match is often 4 hours or longer (as was this year’s final). As for the Tour, one has to admit the cyclists are all nutters, and physical freaks, to endure that kind of punishment for half a day, hundreds of kilometres and for three friggin’ weeks! I suspect that the soocer nancyboys, like most of us, would collapse just from watching the boys in lycra climbing Mont Ventoux!

    Of course the point about soccer is that it is a game for the poor and disenfranchised around the world. Even more than cricket you can play around with a soccer ball anywhere — even standing on one square metre. No expensive gear, or training, or even fields required. But it is for this reason that the game, as lame as it is, needs to be reclaimed from the multinational thieves. Starting with the Blattercrats and Qatar …

  • 20
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    As a kid, I played Rugby. WW Ellis may have picked up the ball for the first time, but the story surely ends with his head buried in the turf and being sat on by a gorilla.

    My own son was duly instructed not to play League or Rugby. He ignored Soccer (“pointless - the goal is too small”) and locally Aussie Rules is a non-event.

    So, sod the lot of them. Have a crack at individual sports, visit the gym, go for a hike, cycle to work or dig the garden. Get as far away as possible from anything remotely akin to a sports administrator or professional coach.

    The only way to beat FIFA and the AOC is to starve them out. Give them nothing and take them nowhere. Walk away from them and their unsporting sports.

  • 21
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Is there absolutely nothing else going on in Australia or the world at the moment which you cannot comment on with any authority, Bernard?

  • 22
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    No argument from me, Bernard. The past weeks have demanded much fancy footwork as I’ve tried to dodge all telecasts or reports of the World Cup.

    Roll on the final and let it be done with.

  • 23
    David Brooks
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    A subject without a troll!

    Let’s get to the facts. The idea of grown up men chasing after a balls of variable descriptions is absurd. Leave the balls alone! They are innocent! They have done nothing to be kicked around like they are. Then there are those games where some instrument is used to beat the ball! Whatever would be the game of choice were there no balls?

    Why do I watch cricket or tennis on occasion? The referee does not have a whistle.

  • 24
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Well that’s some fine trolling there, Bernard.

  • 25
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Well said BK!

  • 26
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Ahh the beautiful game, full of sportsmanship.
    The ball goes out - both sides claim it’s theirs, ditto for corners
    Get a soft challenge - take a dive
    Don’t even get challenged - take a dive
    Took a dive in the previous game changing the result - no sanction or penalty (in fact, congratulated on “playing the game” wtf??)
    Player scores an own goal - gets assassinated
    Ahead with 10 mins to go - start wasting time, falling over, and make three interchanges that take up 3/4 of the remaining game time.
    Bite someone on the shoulder - pretend to be the one that got hurt.
    FIFA - World cup, given to QATAR, in the middle of summer.

  • 27
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree Bernard, I gave up on Soccer long ago as the idea of watching something nearly happening for most of the 90 minutes seemed pretty pointless.
    So now I watch cycling, at least it has changing scenery…

  • 28
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    The rot started with big money in football in the UK and has pretty well spread to the rest of the world - cheating in the form of dives etc.

    There was a time when a player who secured a game by unfair play would go home in disgrace; now they are treated like heros.

    But the other codes shouldn’t get too smug, money corrupts everywhere.

  • 29
    michael dwyer
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Soccer is over-rated. It is popular in Europe and Latin America, but in spite of strenuous efforts by its enthusiasts, it is nowhere near the number one sport in any English-speaking country apart from Britain. South Africa is the exception, as rugby was reserved for the whites. Even playing World Cups in non-soccer countries like Japan and the USA has had no effect on the popularity of soccer compared with other sports.
    Soccer enthusiasts have been telling me that they are on the verge of taking over as number one sport in Australia for over 60 years. I expect my four year old grandson will be hearing this hype in 60 years time, and that they will be just as wrong.

  • 30
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    You’re absolutely right, Michael Dwyer. Those silly non-English speaking countries! What would they know?!!

  • 31
    David Hand
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Soccer is a bigger game in the world than all other sports put together.

    There is a reason for this.

    I’m not going to bother explaining it to league, union and AFL fans.

  • 32
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Obscene financial fiduciary malfeasance”?

  • 33
    sakkal paul
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, I have been an avid follower of your writing, and although your views on sport were never what I followed you for, I will never read a word of yours again. This has to be one of the most mindless pieces I’ve ever come accross. To question the value of a game – and a tournament – that means an incredible amount to several billion people worldwide is ludicrous.

    Just because you don’t understand something, don’t bring it down. I’m actually astounded as I write this comment; shocked that someone of your intellect could be so out of touch. I truly hope you read this comment, Bernard. I used to admire you, now I ‘viscerally loathe’ you.

  • 34
    michael dwyer
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Kristian. My point was that the poms sold soccer to everybody except those who speak the same language. We prefer other sports, in spite of sometimes patronising and often offensive statements from soccer fans

  • 35
    David Duncan
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Wow Bernard, you are in such esteemed company. You, Anne Coulter and Miranda Devine; together forever. A holy trinity of commentators who have resorted to soccer hating rants in place of a real column.

    If I could only remember the name of that dullard who tweets endlessly about the big bash (big bash league FFS!) then I’d ad his name to the list as well. Oh, wait…

  • 36
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    38 million registered players world wide…the reason why FIFA is so powerful and corrupt is they have a product everyone wants.
    But think of the geopolitical significance of the event. There is not a lot in the world that can unite so many disparate countries and cultures. To ignore soccer is to ignore a huge non-political/non-religious source of power in the world.
    Bitch about it if you like, complain about the theatrice but you have to respect it.

  • 37
    David Duncan
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    @michael dwyer, without wanting to patronise or offend, do you have any idea what the biggest sport in Australia is by participation? I’m guessing not. Perhaps you prefer some other definition of popularity, like advertising revenue or club memberships, which are of course about watching sport rather than playing sport.

  • 38
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    If rugby was as big as football it too would be just as corrupt. Football is the world game whether you like it or not. 16000 Aussies were at the Dutch game in a foreign country..that’s more than most nrl matches on any given weekend.

  • 39
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Once the point of playing a sport was for people to develop qualities like initiative, teamwork, sportsmanship and fair play.

    Modern professional sports however are all about greed, self aggrandisement, cheating and a win at any cost mentality. The huge sums of money that are milked from fans and supporters, finance lives of excess for a small number of sports stars who have never had a real job in their lives.

    Once people supported their local club because it was made up of players from their own area, who often worked with them during the week. Now the players are simply mercenaries moving on whenever more money is offered.

    Media Tycoons like Murdoch now make hundreds of millions by securing the rights to broadcast professional sport to the mug punters who eventually pay for the whole damn thing.

  • 40
    michael dwyer
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Basketball probably has as many participants as soccer in Australia. Soccer and both forms of rugby have organised under six games, whereas real football (the only football game that requires the major score to be kicked unimpeded through the goal area by the attacking team) starts at under nine, and match scores are not recognised until under eleven. Basketball also delays junior competition. I challenge the figure of 16,000 Australians at the Dutch game. There may have been 16.000 packages sold to Australians, but they were spread around the venues, with no guarantee that Australia would be participating. TV stations are in it for profit, which explains why Australian networks value football and rugby far more than soccer.

  • 41
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    @michael dwyer 29

    You forgot about soccer being insanely popular throughout the whole African continent, The Middle East,Most of Asia, especially Japan and Korea. In fact, soccer is popular all over the world, even in the USA there are more than 24 million soccer players.

    Soccer isn’t the most popular game in Australia. I get it. However, it isn’t called the “World Game” for nothing.

    I should add that I’m bored with soccer. I even played it as a kid and hated it. Other people love it though and I don’t like to spoil their fun. I’d prefer a Bledisoe Cup clash to any soccer game on Earth.

  • 42
    Daniel B
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Agree on the anti-FIFA sentiment, but the rest of this is utter garbage.

    I assume it’s meant to be a half-troll piece. If not, wow.

  • 43
    David Taft
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Plus. 90 minutes of nothing happening and then the result coming from a penalty shoot out? Give us a break!

  • 44
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    top administration is hopelessly corrupt, criminal, and complicit. inspired by their example and the low wages in their own countries, the umpires are corrupt/ed, and the players openly cheat.

    how could you possibly watch a game riven w corruption and cheating?

  • 45
    Ian Wright
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Ah, the old Aussie / North America anti football whine. Nope I’m not biting. Troll away.

  • 46
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    But isn’t all this armchair sport the same. Big games, big money, big players, big media, blah blah blah. I love to watch really good players at any sport - it’s a joy to watch anyone who is outstanding at what they do.
    But - endlessly watching ain’t doing nothing for us - let’s get out there and play!

  • 47
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Soccer is a poorly designed 19th century sport…and it looks/plays like it.

    Did you know that AFL & it’s State/Territory leagues attract an annual national crowd attendance of just on 8.5 million, compared to a combined annual global attendance of 9.1 million for every National Cup in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK & Europe, the 5 Nations Cup, Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby, the US & Canada etc etc.

    Now that’s what I call a well designed, wildly successful, expanding 21st century sporting spectacle!!!!!

  • 48
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I hate Formula 1 car racing.
    I hate the Sydney to Hobart
    I hate the Americas Cup
    I hate them because they are so boring to watch

    But I really hate Le Tour de France.
    Drug cheats littered in their history, participants smothered in advertising, & it encourages middle aged men to wear lycra here at home & cycle around the place on bikes that are more expensive than air fares to Europe.

  • 49
    michael r james
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    @burninglog at 5:56 pm

    Sacré bleu!

    J’ ♥ le Tour.

    I truly hope your log is burning:-)

  • 50
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    hey bernie! you are awesome………….

    …….but stick to politics;

    the sport of octopi!