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SPORT

Jul 9, 2014

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.

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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.

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