The U.S.A. Out, But Not Down

I listened to the World Cup game between the U.S. and Belgium on my drive back from Cincinnati today and really found myself getting into it.  According to the radio announcers, at least, the U.S. got a stunning performance from goalie Tim Howard that kept them in the game, but the Belgian pressure finally yielded two goals in extra time and the United States was knocked out of the World Cup, 2-1.

I’m not going to pretend that I know all of the rules of soccer — I certainly don’t, and probably never will — and I’m not going to claim that I am as interested in soccer as I am in, say, college football.  I will say, however, that I enjoyed the U.S.A. run in the World Cup this year, and I’ll be hoping that the Americans make another, even deeper, run the next time they get to play on the world stage.  The U.S. may not be one of the elite teams yet, but it looks like the Americans may be getting there.  Good try, U.S.A.!

Now that the Americans are out, I’m not sure I’ll watch another game in this tournament — but maybe I will.  I’ll miss the British accents and the references to “nil” rather than “zero” and the other quirky elements of this global sporting event.  It’s been a fun ride.

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Soccer Bites (Cont.)

The pathetic tale of Luis Suarez, the star Uruguayan player who bit an Italian opponent during a World Cup game, continues to unfold.

After a FIFA disciplinary panel decided that Suarez could not play in any additional World Cup games and would be suspended for four months and nine Uruguay matches, the press learned that Suarez — unbelievably — had made a submission to FIFA in which he flatly denied the bite.  Instead, Suarez claimed, he had lost his balance, fallen into the Italian player, and felt his face make contact.  Given the undisputable video evidence, FIFA rejected that claim, and also noted in issuing its suspension decision that Suarez not only had denied any wrongdoing but “at no moment showed regret or remorse of any type.”

So, guess what?  Now Suarez has finally admitted the bite, apologized on Twitter, and promised that his biting days are behind him.  Gee, what convenient timing!  Having first stonewalled, and then seen that his ludicrous denial was only having the effect of enhancing his punishment, Suarez now recognizes the error of his ways.

In a gracious gesture, the Italian player, Giorgio Chiellini, has accepted the apology and said that he hopes FIFA reduces Suarez’s suspension.  Chiellini’s behavior has been a lot classier than Suarez’s grudging admission.  When the inevitable campaign to reduce Suarez’s suspension begins, I hope FIFA responds:  “Hey, Luis.  Bite me!”

Soccer Bites

Soccer Bites

In Tuesday’s World Cup game between Uruguay and Italy, Uruguay’s star player, Luis Suarez, approached an Italian player from behind and bit him on the shoulder.  The Italian player, not surprisingly, reacted instinctively to the pain of the chomp by swinging his shoulder away and bringing his arm in contact with Suarez’s head.

It being soccer, both players fell to the ground in hopes of getting a penalty.  (Can you imagine how LeBron James would react if a player guarding him bit him on the shoulder?  I don’t think his first instinct would be to fall to the ground.  This is one reason why many Americans find soccer so bizarre.)

There’s no doubt that Suarez was the aggressor, or that he intentionally bit the Italian.  The incident was caught on video; the YouTube clip is below.  Weirdly, this is the third time Suarez has bitten someone in a soccer game.  Other than Mike Tyson, I’ve never before heard of an adult athlete biting another adult athlete during a sporting event.  Suarez has a history of other bad conduct, including making racist comments to an opposing player.

Psychologists consulted by the BBC in response to one of Suarez’s earlier biting incidents say that biting is the product of frustration and primitive, emotional impulses, which is why it is relatively common in children but so rare in adults; tension builds, and the tension is released with a bite.  That’s what psychologists say, but I think adult biting suggests much more deep-seated issues.  A rude gesture, or even a punch, I can understand — but a bite is a more personal and injurious act.  And when you think about how many germs can be found in the human mouth, a bite is far more disgusting and invasive.

They’re talking about whether Suarez should be suspended for the bite, and if so for how long.  That’s a pertinent topic, but I think it’s missing the bigger issue.  After three bites, plus a suspension for racist abuse, this guy clearly needs some serious help.  He’s obviously dangerous to others, and if he can’t control his biting tendencies, how can he be trusted to control whatever other impulses he might be experiencing?

Cup, Yup — And Let The Nationalism Bubble Up

Hey, the World Cup has started!

Yup, they’re playing futbol down in Brazil, in all of those glitzy new stadiums that the Brazilians, desperate for more positive “emerging world leader”-type news coverage, have spent billions to build even though the country is beset by horrible, grinding poverty, terrible crime, and other awful societal afflictions.  Maybe all of those poor people will forget about their empty bellies and cardboard shanty homes while FIFA bigwigs limo around town and futbol fans from around the world show up in their colored wigs and toot their horns and chant their chants while men run around in shorts, kick a ball, and then fake injuries whenever they plausibly can.

I think soccer is boring — in fact, dreadfully, painfully boring — but I don’t begrudge people who think the World Cup is the greatest events in sports, period.  Isn’t it interesting, though, that the prevailing political view that nationalism is dangerous gets thrown out the window come World Cup time?  The ardent boosters of the EU will argue for just about every form of economic and political integration, but even the most suicidal EU bureaucrat wouldn’t dare argue that France, Italy, the Netherlands, et al., shouldn’t field national teams and try to beat the pants off each other when the World Cup rolls around.  Even Ghana is getting into the spirit and guaranteeing they won’t lose to Team USA.

Could the World Cup be exposing that the anti-nationalism one-worlders are, at bottom, a bunch of hypocrites?  If so, it’s doing something worthwhile — even if those guys do look kind of pathetic in their shorts and knee socks.

Simmering Just Below The Surface

For years we’ve been reading about Brazil as a budding economic powerhouse, an emerging alternative voice on the world stage, and a future force in global politics.  When Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, those events seemed like an opportunity to cement Brazil’s new, prominent role.

Brazil’s good press, however, always seemed at odds with the country’s great disparities in income and its grinding poverty.  Recently some of our friends visited Brazil and were shaken by the terrible living conditions of the poor, the aggressive begging, and an outright street theft in which a necklace was snatched from a neck by urchins who sprinted away and were quickly lost in the ever-present crowds.  It’s safe to say that they aren’t recommending it as a tourist destination.

Now some of those economic and class tensions have bubbled to the surface and are shaking Brazil’s political leadership to the core.  Brazil has been rocked by huge demonstrations that show no signs of ending.  They started as a protest about bus fare increases in Sao Paolo but quickly expanded to become a nationwide movement that is protesting political corruption, poor health care and education, and the money being poured into venues for soccer matches and the Olympics rather than being used to help the poor, among other topics of concern.

Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, has held emergency meetings with her Cabinet to address the issues raised by the protests.  She promises to develop a new plan for public transportation, to earmark oil revenues for education, and to hire thousands of doctors from overseas to improve Brazil’s health system.  The protesters no doubt are wondering why it took huge public protests to get the government to focus on these issues — and whether they can trust the government to follow through on its promises if the protests end.

The Horror Of Vuvuzelas

I was out doing some errands on Saturday and listened to part of the World Cup game between the U.S. and England on the radio.  The broadcast seemed to feature the worst sound quality in the world — until I realized that people were intentionally making the infernal buzzing noise using a horn called a vuvuzela.  The noise made even listening to a radio broadcast intolerable; God knows how horrible it must have been listening to the piercing drone live in the stadium!  Now newspapers are running stories in which World Cup athletes and fans are calling for the horns to be banned.

I found myself wondering what would happen if sports fans brought vuvuzelas to, say, a Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers game.  I think it wouldn’t take long before the fans in question were headed to the nearest infirmary for an emergency vuvuzela-removal procedure.  World Cup fans must be pretty tolerant to put up with such a racket; I can’t imagine American football fans doing so.

The World Cup, And Other Yawners

The 2010 World Cup is here.  All over the globe, humans of every race, religion, and creed will watch the unfolding competition in South Africa with the keenest attention, hoping that their favorite can prevail and bring home the most coveted honor in international sport.

So why don’t I give a flying fig?  Obviously, I would like the Americans to do well; I’m as mindlessly nationalistic as any red-blooded American when it comes to competition between the Stars and Stripes and other countries.  But really, the World Cup barely registers on the Webner House interest meter.

Why is this so?  Mainly, it is because soccer is a relentlessly boring spectator sport.  Who wants to watch a bunch of earnest lads sprinting up and down a long field kicking a ball without seemingly accomplishing anything?  Baseball is boring too, of course, but soccer manages to combine the boredom with painfully embarrassing touches.  The players wear shorts and knee socks, for example.  When a goal is actually scored the player takes off his shirt, runs aimlessly, and then falls to his knees like a goal has never happened before.  Even more appalling is that all world-class soccer players practice faking injuries. It is humiliating to even watch these fine athletes squirming on the field like over-tired children, shrieking and blubbering and holding their knee or ankle or head and acting like their limbs are so brittle that a slight bump caused crippling disfigurement.  In Europe or South America cultures might celebrate a guy who is a good injury-faker and can draw an unwarranted penalty; in America we would rather emulate the athlete with the toughness to play through real pain or overcome an actual injury.

So, good luck to the U.S. and the other countries vying for the Cup.  The world will be watching, but don’t expect me to join in.