Accepting change means overcoming fear: the beautiful game (Brazil 2014 edition) is a good teacher

I believe it is better to be hopeful rather than hopeless. My French host went for a job interview yesterday, in Paris; the train operators were still on strike. He travelled to Paris for free, because he was unable to buy a ticket. That’s a win-win, because the interview went well.

It’s good to correct mistakes early. I like to think that those who really want to change, look at what has happened and use the information to avoid a repetition. I am less hopeful about FIFA changing, but now and again I feel optimistic. A Jamaican paper reported: ‘FIFA said Friday it has withdrawn Colombian linesman Humberto Clavijo from World Cup match duties after he flagged in error for two offsides in Mexico’s 1-0 victory over Cameroon. Two goals by Mexico’s Giovani Dos Santos were ruled offside in Friday’s Group A game. FIFA did not give details of the incidents ruled errors.’ That is rare corrective action, in terms of speed and decisiveness. It would be nice if FIFA could bring itself to explain what went wrong, but I can imagine the men clutching their jackets and already feeling nausea over what they have done. Let them have some calm.

Small is beautiful in the beautiful game. Admitted, the world is mostly about small countries, but very small ones are kicking butt at this World Cup: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Belgium, Netherlands are riding higher than expected. The ‘superpowers’ have never dominated football, and we will see how the USA and Russia fare in coming matches.

Hairstyles seems to have gone wild. I have to laugh and the way that professional athletes try to get an edge. The shoes? The clothes? The supporters? They all count. But, the hair? It must matter. Why else all the bizarre designs? Read this lovely summary. Some look like they were done in the dark and with less than a steady hand. The French team alone seemed to have gone wilder than most in their match against the Swiss, who also had their share of ‘hair heads’.

People love to watch football. FIFA is ecstatic that during the first week all sorts of TV viewing records were smashed. Read their bumph. Great news for them now and going forward with the sale of future TV rights. The USA market may at last be on board. See that train roll. Most of my American friends are football (soccer) fans of long-standing. But, it’s the only place I know where during big international football events major celebrities seem to fall over themselves to gloat that they don’t get it, or find it boring, etc. I’m not going over the silly arguments with people who will spend hours watching baseball, which I love, too, but please put away the ‘boring’ card.

If FIFA could guarantee lots of goals. Most football fans will take matches without goals, but we all love to see the ball make the net bulge. We know that scoring is very difficult, so when it happens it is a big achievement; Hence, the mad reactions of scorers and supporters. Those dances are justified, though some need much more rehearsal: France, you have time to work on that as much as set piece plays; call the Colombians.

Time was that players focused on their golf and video games in their spare time. On the goals, rather than the celebrations, they are raining in. France and Swizerland served up seven yesterday. The average number per match is just under 2.9, on track to be the highest since the 3.8 in Sweden 1958. Why? Here’s a brief analysis. Robin van Persie’s ‘flying Dutchman’ is still the favourite and has spawned the craze of ‘Persieing’, based on his flying pose. But, Australian Tim Cahill’s volley was special, too. Those two nations served up a festival of good goals, so lap all of them up, here.

Let’s take sports health seriously. The inaction by officials during the match over the concussion of a Uruguayan player has so far been matched by the silence of FIFA on the incident. I wrote on this yesterday. If the player had died or suffered an obvious brain injury, FIFA officials could not find enough distance between themselves and lawyers and media baying for someone’s head. But, it need not get to that stage. Enough experience and expertise exists for FIFA to draw on. The notions that govern football are rooted in the 19th century. The world has moved far from that point. Use the progress. The world’s players’ union has called for an investigation of FIFA’s concussion protocol. Hydration issues are now well-known, but football matches did not take stoppages to ensure this happened. Instead, players use breaks in the action to get bottles thrown at them to suck on quickly; goalkeepers tend to keep some fluids in the goal for themselves, or share with players who come nearby. Americans have rolling substitutions for youth-through-college players, so leaving the game to get a drink is easier. Not so, the pros in most leagues. But, wait. Some have had enough. A court in Brazil has issued an injunction on FIFA for it to have mandatory water breaks during matches played in high temperatures. This is really forcing FIFA to enforce its own norms. They seem to just be dysfunctional as functionaries!The breaks are now mandatory when temperatures reach 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit) in the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index, which takes into account factors such as time of day, cloud cover, wind, humidity and location. Anyway, FIFA must pay 200,000 reals (about US$90,000) for each match in which the ruling isn’t enforced.

We are reaching the point in the matches when caution gets you nowhere. That’s good for excitement. The albatross that is FIFA will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept that many things about football must change. It nearly died before and its revival is better sustained with regular massaging. Is being in Zurich really the reason FIFA is so dull? Maybe, they should move the HQ to Rio.


Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)