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    Monday, June 26, 2006

    Why Americans Hate Soccer

    As the world cup plays out many themes appear before our eyes: horrible American play, underdogs, brilliant Argentines, red and yellow cards, and referees in general.

    People ask, every four years, why don't Americans love soccer as much as the rest of the world?? Various reasons are given, and most Americans themselves would say one of two: it's slow or there's not enough scoring.

    (Which, I admit, is very similar to "it's slow")

    We Americans hate the brouhaha stirred up by the imbroglio of referee scandals

    However, I would like to submit that the real reason Americans don't like soccer, despite the scores of youth leagues, YMCA, etc that every young boy and girl play in throughout elementary school, is the referee system. No other game is so racked by controversial calls and allegations of bribery/tampering/corruption as soccer.

    Today the Italians escaped Australia with a 1-0 victory on a last secong penalty kick that was NOT a penalty. Is it a coincidence that half Italy's players and its coach are implicated in the current referee tampering scandal in Serie A?? I'm not so sure...

    Deep down inside, we Americans hate the brouhaha stirred up by the imbroglio of referee scandals. Any scandals. Cheating. Baseball, arguably the most subjective of American sports--and maybe also the slowest (closest in speed and scoring to soccer)--hears complaints by fans but never tampering. Why? First, there are ample referees on the field to cover most plays, and second, the referees are hired and evaluated by MLB in a way that ensures fair play so they can get a paycheck.

    This is what mutes the Seahawks' complaints after the Superbowl, or Mark Cuban's complaints during the NBA finals: No matter how bad the missed call, the system of referees in American sports helps ensure that corruption is minimized via instant replay, where the paycheck comes from, and the number of refs on the field/court.

    Contrast this with Europe. Cycling, a sport predominantly european suffers from huge amounts of substance abuse. BAseball goes into fits over an alleged use by one player. Soccer teams, like mini-kingdoms, make backroom deals to get what refs they want, and what happens if caught? They move down a league. People would be banned in America.

    So it comes as no surprise that FIFA can't, or won't, keep a handle on the referees during this world cup. First, there should be more referees on the field--instead of one and the side judges, give two or three plus judges to accurately call fouls. Second, flops should be penalized harshly. It's not that hard for the ref to have hand-held instant replay piped from the tv coverage and it wouldn't slow the game down that much. Third, referee org structures should mimic the NFL, to minimize corruption.

    Until then, Americans won't tune into soccer that much. They just don't like watching a game and wondering which team paid the ref the most.

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    1 comment:

    Triet said...

    Here's some more fuel. Sports Illustrated reports that most referees have other jobs, and they are picked from various countries, especially Latin America and Europe because "their soccer is considered to be of the highest standard and produces referees capable of handling pressure."

    You know what I see? I see Latin American and European soccer with a history of corruption, played in countries that often have a history of corruption, refereeing the World Cup. And they aren't supposed to be corrupt? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, my friends.

    Having the officiating crews work together from countries is a bonus this time, but it is FIFA's hubris to keep GPS chips out of the balls, forbid instant replay, or use referees that are FULL-TIME referees.