Countering Keane’s hissy fit: why soccer is great
There’s a World Cup going on. You may have heard. It has been a rare feast — goal records shattered, stirring performances from unlikely sources, pantomime villainy, big names and bigger philosophies crashing and burning. And, like some insipid Newtonian ideal, there has been a backlash.
It’s a curious thing, this need to disparage soccer. The best explanation I’ve heard for why the various codes are called football is that they’re played on foot, instead of on horse; but instead of bonhomie, this shared DNA seems to cultivate the most spectacular sibling-oriented hissy fits since Cain rocked Abel’s world. Crikey recently hosted a fine example of the form via Bernard Keane. We shall sift through Keane’s vitriol for portents.
One of his main targets, the diving, or “simulation” in the queasy official parlance, is between annoying and amusing. There’s no defence here; it’s a part of the game, but a part of the game everyone would like to see greatly reduced. Which is why it’s been so refreshing in this World Cup (which finishes on Monday) to see referees waving for play to continue, and for the games to flow like champagne someone else is paying for — even if this has contributed to some remarkable demonstrations of on-field thuggery. There will be complaints no matter which way the pendulum swings. Let us move on.
Soccer is fundamentally and addictively silly in the way that all sports are. The only deadly serious thing about it is FIFA, its posturing at the grassroots level eternally at odds with its unwieldy perch atop piles of money. Have you heard of the inverted pyramid? It started life as a diagram of income distribution in soccer.
Indeed, there is precious little ignorance of the cauldron of ineptitude and illegality that is soccer’s international governing body; this “love-soccer-hate-FIFA” sentiment has been best articulated by the increasingly mighty John Oliver. FIFA is so bad that even Brazil, relentlessly (and mostly accurately) marketed as football’s spiritual home, saw the rise of a social movement grow around the slogan contra a copa — against the cup. It this hadn’t already happened, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would be about as likely as Australia protesting against alcohol.
“I watch because soccer is the great leveller. The best player in the world is built like a hobbit.”
It’s tempting, with FIFA, to explore the same Abbott-forced conundrum now faced by many Australians on either side of the political spectrum — the ensuing battle to prove that a country is not its government, that a sport is not its governing body. There is truth in this, but it’s complicated. If the situation in Brazil has taught us nothing else, it’s that corruption and appreciation go hand-in-hand. Still, I have been there, night after night, unable to tear myself away from the television. I cannot bring myself to boycott the World Cup. But why?
I watch because I have seen money bloat the club game to ludicrous proportions. Sums that would clothe, feed and educate the population of small nations are spent on players of various wattage, or on those with merely the potential to shine. But international soccer, ah, that is a different creature. Sure, there is a correlation between economic and footballing might, but somehow the field is more level — it’s why you see Cristiano Ronaldo struggling to inspire a team of mere mortals, or England unable to translate the popularity and quality of its league to the international stage.
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