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.

  • 51
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    i believe lawn bowls is the largest participation sport here and from memory, it was HG who said ‘you have to watch a game of soccer before you realy understand the meaning of FA’. and was it Ceaser who said ‘let them have circuses’?

  • 52
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Money changes everything - too much money transforms it.

  • 53
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Fire away”

    Not much to shoot at really, Bernard.

    So you don’t like football? Nor do many others. I detest the incessant palaver the NRL and AFL generate here, not to say the bollocks these NSW v QLD tournaments bring (and while I’m on the subject, how does any sensible, sentient being render the word “maroon” as “maroan” without also saying “soan” instead of “soon”?). People ask me who I supposrt and I reply “Portsmouth”, if only to see the look on their faces as they try to compute whether that’s in Qld, NSW or Vic, and AFL or NRL.

    Corruption? Neither the IOC nor the UCI (cylcing’s international body) have covered themselves in glory: the UCI in particular, since it seems it happily abetted rampant drug-taking in direct breach of its own rules and stewardship. Also the nonsense that is the FIM. No, that doesn’t excuse FIFA - what it points out is that there is almost no international sports body that isn’t afflicted by graft, corruption, lies and drugs, and that (periodic, often very public and usually acrimonious rows aside) despite all that there are moments of glorious sporting prowess and skill that defy all the criticism and cronyism.

    And even if football and FIFA are the worst by a long, long way, I defy anyone to watch even 1/3 of the matches in this World Cup tournament and claim they haven’t been right royally entertained. No World Cup, not even 1966, compares, and I say that as an Englishman who’s long forgotten whether Portsmouth ever played Parramatta and who won.

    (7-1 Bernard. 7-bl00dy-1, against the home team and erstwhile favourites to boot. Surely that’s enough to revive a palate as jaded even as yours)

  • 54
    Lubo Gregor
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    This article and discussion have mostly the value of similar exercise in a non-english speaking country discussing rugby or cricket. I grew up in a country where football was no.2 sport after ice-hockey, until I moved to Australia I thought that rugby in it’s all forms and cricket must be the two most boring and dumb sports in the world. In fact all the people I know back in my home country still think so, so here goes:

    1. If you don’t understand the sport, you will find it boring - this goes to all the commenters that whine about the game ending in draw or being boring. You, in fact, don’t know what you are looking at.
    2. There sure are players that cheat. Is football the only sport that has players like that? For all those calling them nancyboys, this only shows how little you know about the strength of football players. Try to take a ball from one of them, and it will be you peeing your pants. What looks like soft touches in slow mo, are very often high impacts at very high speeds - you do the physics. Anyone watching football in the last 30 years will confirm that the players transformed to high performance machines with some incredible physique. Btw. football players cover on average 10km in a match, tennis players usually half of that distance.
    3. I agree that FIFA is the most corrupted and backwards organisation on the planet. What however shows me that Bernard is out of his depth in this ‘analysis’ is the fact, that he does not mention that this is mainly because of the corrupted third world countries’ football associations representatives that are propping up the corrupted FIFA management (which rewards them accordingly) against the wishes of the so called developed world. Calls for Blatter’s resignation were coming for a long time from countries like Germany, UK and Netherlands.
    4. One thing I absolutely loath about NRL and AFL is the structure of the competition. No matter how an NRL team suck, they will be back the next year. I know that a similar setup applies to football in this country, which is why I find it to be just another money making exercise rather than genuine competition on the top level). Comparing to that, in many countries where football has a longer traditions there are several levels of competition and theoretically, even a team from a small village can make it to the top league - this makes the sport much more exciting and less sterile as opposed to the approach taken here.

    Btw. for those who prefer the US point of view, football in this comment = soccer . I’d rather chop my arms off than call it that :)

  • 55
    Lubo Gregor
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, I’d like to recommend this article to your attention, it would fit much better with the edgy analysis I’m used to from you and Crickey in general :)

    Our future, the future of sport and football in particular is in inviting a third team onto the pitch: http://www.lutherblissett.net/archive/175_en.html

    An excerpt: Played on an hexagonal pitch between three sides, each defending one goal, the aim is not to score the most goals, but concede the least. Goals are conceded when the ball “is thrust through a team’s orifice”, so dissolving “the homoerotic/homophobic bipolarity of the two-sided game”. Put simply, three-sided football is, ideally, an exercise in co-operative behaviour, with one side persuading another to join in a campaign against the third - thus breaking down the very basis of capitalist organisation - and all before teatime.

    In fact, I would love to see Helen Razer’s or Guy Randle’s take on this.

  • 56
    Andrew McIntosh
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    All sport is stupid.

  • 57
    Peter Jenner
    Posted Wednesday, 9 July 2014 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to get your thoughts on Irish dancing Bernard.

  • 58
    Dan B
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Well, at least there is something you and I fundamentally agree on, Bernard.

  • 59
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Every four years, without fail, there will be a few journalists/writers here and in the US coming up with a piece almost exactly like this. The arguments will all be the same - they don’t use their hands, the expressions of support are different from what I’m used to, therefore this game that I already don’t like is worse than the ones that I do - and the piece is invariably accompanied by the writer saying they are not ashamed to feel as they do, or, as Keane posted on Twitter yesterday - Hey! I’m about to post something controversial!

    This piece, as with all the others, may be heartfelt, but looks like a pathetic plea for attention. ‘ooh, look at me everyone, I’m being subversive!’

    I never understand what the point is for Keane, or Coulter, or any of the others. Are those of us who like football supposed to say ‘Well, gosh, this person on the internet doesn’t like the sport I do. I should stop liking it and like what they do instead’?

    I won’t defend FIFA. It’s a horrible organisation, led by a disgusting individual. It’s naive to think that corruption is confined to FIFA though, it’s just the sporting organisation with the most members. The World Cup final will probably be watched by more than a billion people. There’s no other event that comes close to its reach, so of course there will be corruption.

    If you don’t like football and prefer other sports, well, bully for you. You can watch AFL or NRL or whatever it is you prefer and enjoy it.

    If you find sport in general, and spectator sport in specific, ridiculous, that’s great too. I actually have a bit more respect for this argument because intellectually I know it is stupid. However, I just don’t care. I went to Brazil for the first two weeks of the cup and it was incredible. The trip of a lifetime, for me, and the kind of experience you won’t get from any other event on the planet.

    Keane is, mostly, a decent writer. When he is investigating privacy, or financial corruption, he’s compelling. When he gets into his preventative health crusades, or now this piece, he comes across as just another embittered old conservative, railing at clouds.

  • 60
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I’m certain Bernard had Eduard Kahil playing in the background while writing this. I know I would have.

  • 61
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Yet another penalty shootup. That sums up what is wrong with the game itself. Goal area needs to be increased or similar to increase the chance of scoring. How many times do you see a side with 80% of the attacking play lose due to a lucky goal?

  • 62
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Time to resume the medication Mr Keane.

  • 63
    Steven McKiernan
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink


  • 64
    John Taylor
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant article Bernard. I grew up with soccer as it was the only sport in our small UK country town - but when I got the opportunity to play tennis, hockey and volleyball - soccer? Meh. It has as much watching and playing appeal as tiddleywinks in mittens (although the latter would have greater skill. Seems to me watching any level of soccer that it is 90 minutes looking for the opportunity to pretend you are hurt.

  • 65
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    The distinctive feature of soccer is that it is the only sport in the world where the players deliberately use their head to hit the ball. Therefore I propose that the from now on its official name be headball.

  • 66
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    It’s not only soccer, but all professional sport that sucks. It’s all full of corrupt commercial interests and I couldn’t give a f#$k about any of it.

  • 67
    Posted Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    I do wish people would stop confusing corporatised entertainment with sport.

  • 68
    Professor Tournesol
    Posted Friday, 11 July 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Shame, the political editor of Crickey reduced to trolling. What a shame I’ve just renewed my subscription.

  • 69
    robert lattanzi
    Posted Friday, 11 July 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    I have just subscribed to Crikey about 10 minutes ago and this is the second article I’ve read.

    I have a right mind to cancel my subscription!!! I do not need to pay $19 per month to read this misinformed, inward looking, island mentality garbage!! I can get this type of populist tripe by reading the News Corp press.

    Bernard, are you by any change related to Rebecca Wilson??

  • 70
    Posted Saturday, 12 July 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Nice trolling Bernie. Just thought I would make it an even 70 for you! ;-)

  • 71
    Posted Sunday, 13 July 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    ….and urinating in ones mouth and gang rapping poor innocent teenage girls is much better behaviour isn’t it???

    Rugby league and AFL players are a disgrace. The people that support this these sports and this type of thuggery are not much better either. I am very disappointed with this very poor piece of journalism. As I stated in a an earlier post, I would expect this agenda loaded trash from Rebecca Wilson and her News Corp mates, not from the supposedly progressive and ‘free thinking’ Crikey mob.

    Time to cancel my subscription guys…. The Guardian is a much better read!!!

  • 72
    Damien McBain
    Posted Sunday, 13 July 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The biggest sporting event in the world is still just a sporting event.
    I’ll be happy when Google goes back to normal.

  • 73
    Roberto Tedesco
    Posted Monday, 14 July 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    This article appears to have been cobbled together out of the usual myopic angry white man meathead troll pieces that turn up in the News Corpse press , as well as, on the weekends, in columns courtesy of thugby lovers Carlton and Fitzsimons. The usual blah blah criticisms are made, coupled with the unwillingness to engage with the sport on anything above a childish level. Why on earth do you bother?

    Here’s a thought: if you cannot stand a sport, don’t write about it. You have less than nothing to add to any thoughts anyone might have on the topic.

  • 74
    Albert Ross
    Posted Tuesday, 15 July 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Yes I am considering cancelling my sub too. This is poor, derivative trash as pointed out by others.

  • 75
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    It’s puerile tripe like this thought-bubble of an article that I discontinued my Crikey subscription long ago.

  • 76
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Note to ianpaul@tpg.com.au: You say

    It’s puerile tripe like this thought-bubble of an article that I discontinued my Crikey subscription long ago”.

    Huh???…if you’ve discontinued your subscription, how did you post your comment?

  • 77
    Kwame Romeo
    Posted Saturday, 19 July 2014 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    The 2014 Football World Cup,ignored the face of poverty in Brazil. The Brazil government spent more than US$14 billion, and FIFA scored with US$4 billion of tax-free revenue. Same analogy with my country, Antigua & Barbuda, the more government expends, the less is received by locals in employment, and controlling the commanding heights of the economy.

    Similar to Brazil, we are subdued in Favelas of lost hope, bitter betrayal, Shanty towns of injustice, drifting away in a trapped slum of grim reality! Where will we be left? Tomorrow will be as grim as yesterday, unless we demand changes! Let’s learn from historical examples, and create the necessary change. This process begins with social and economic infrastructure for the benefit of citizens politically, economically, and socially.