The World Cup and the three wise monkeys: the lustre of Brazil 2014 is fading

Football brings out all the passion in players and fans. Often, the level of passion is excessive.

C'mon, ref! Did you see that?
C’mon, ref! Did you see that?

Players conduct themselves violently, verbally and physically. They often get punished for that. Fans go out of control, and fight or verbally assault opposing fans; they, too, sometimes get punished. Not all the crimes are seen, so some of them go unpunished. Technology can help with identifying offences. It often is with regards to fans’ behaviour; it is less often used for players: the governing body, FIFA, prefers to let errors be a core feature of the sport. To my mind, that is a very ignorant stance. It is getting full exposure during this World Cup.

FIFA bent a little by allowing ‘goal line technology’, so that ghost goals would not be allowed, and good goals would be counted. It has not been needed that much, and on one occasion seemed to fail, but it was because the ball approached the line twice; the right decision (goal) was made, eventually. But, it moves with fear and hesitation to use video technology further. It had to, though, because of a horrible-looking incident during the match between Italy and Uruguay. Luis Suarez, Uruguayan, appeared to bite Gustavo Chiellini on the shoulder, then seem to feign that he had been hit. FIFA mounted an investigation. They found Suarez guilty yesterday, and banned him for 9 matches, fined him SwF100,000, and from any football-related activity for four months. For what it’s worth, I think that sentence was ludicrously light. Sure, it will hurt his club and country in many important games, if they wanted to use his services. But, he is a serial and repeat biter of other players on a football pitch. He needs psychological help, clearly, if he feels that biting is a reasonable reaction to either minor provocation or no provocation. Amazingly, his team mates and national association, think that he has been hard done by and will appeal the sentence. But, other pertinent opinion is not wholly against Suarez. Citing a Reuters report:

  • Uruguayan Football Association president Wilmar Valdez: “…to me it really seems like a completely exaggerated and abusive sanction.”
  • Uruguay captain Diego Lugano: “Indignation, impotence, I think that’s what we all feel. We’d all like a fairer world, but that world simply does not exist. Those who rule, rule, and the strong ones are the strong ones… Keep feeling proud of him, he deserves it. Nothing will stop us. We will carry on with humility, union, determination, recognition of mistakes, and with our heads always high.”

Dr Andrew Evans, a performance psychologist at Nottingham Trent University thinks differently: “This punishment won’t serve as much of a deterrent to Suarez in the future as it’s too similar to previously imposed sanctions. What is really needed now is a psychological program capable of promoting long-lasting behavior change.”

We are FIFA. We are FIFA...
We are FIFA. We are FIFA…

Brazilian forward Fred seems supportive of Suarez: “It was unfair because it could end a player’s life. Four months, nine games, everyone on top of you, criticizing his error. He has to be punished, yes, but I’d like to see Suarez still playing in this World Cup.” (Perhaps, he means seeing him on another pitch and far away from him?)

Sports equipment firm Adidas: “Adidas fully supports FIFA’s decision. Adidas certainly does not condone Luis Suarez’s recent behavior and we will again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players. We have no plan to use Suarez for any additional marketing activities during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

Andreas Campomar, author of “Golazo! A history of Latin American football”: “For many Latin Americans the ban will have wider repercussions. It will be construed as the usual high-handedness Europe employs in relation to Latin America. A case of one rule for them and one rule for us.”

We see reactions vary depending on relationships to the player concerned. Facts are not all the same, it appears. This, I know already. I also know that footballers do not see their own actions the same as those who watch them. But, let that confusion roll on.

Say "Please, nicely"
Say “Please, nicely”

A week or so ago, I took issue with a Jamaican organization that supports children, for their apparent willingness to put forward the good behaviour seen during the World Cup as examples for children to follow. I asked why they did that without reference to the very bad behaviour. They said they were stressing positives. I responded that it was as if the bad were invisible. Their CEO contacted me privately and told me that the messages were not clear and they would be withdrawn. I do not know how they would have survived a credibility test with the Suarez offences. Again, however, people seem to see what they want to see.

I don’t want to equate Suarez’s actions to those of a killer, but some the reactions are not far from those of The National Rifle Association, which is challenging proposed legislation that would prohibit stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence from buying guns, arguing that not all stalkers are violent and that the bill violates their Second Amendment rights.

Some stuff happens out of sight to the viewing public. Take the action alleged by the Ghana FA, that Muntari punched a staff member, and Boateng insulted the national team coach; both players were sent home before the team’s final match. Muntari had punched Armah during a meeting over US$3 million of unpaid money as senior players rounded on team officials for not keeping promises. The Ghanaian players’ discontent over the lack of payment, which had been simmering for days, exploded on Tuesday when they refused to train–even threatening to boycott their match against Portugal on Thursday–until they were paid more than $3 million in appearance fees, to be divided among the 23 players (about US$130,000 each). The fragile situation even required an intervention by President John Dramani Mahama, who spoke to the players on Tuesday and assured them the cash would be loaded on a plane and arrive Wednesday afternoon. Ghana played on Thursday, losing 2-1 to Portugal, and a neutral observer could easily say that they looked nothing like value for money, even playing at a level so low it was hard to believe that they almost beat the mighty Germany a few days ago. As I wrote on Facebook: ‘Ghana showing that if any good set of players so desire, they can play with supreme ineptitude.’ If someone levelled another charge of match-fixing against Ghana, I would not be surprised.

Of course, technology is making FIFA and match officials into a laughing-stock. While, they covers their ears and eyes to the many offences that are committed in the name of ‘the beautiful game’, cameras catch most, if not all of them. Some are broadcast immediately, showing officials to be either incompetent, unobservant, capricious, uncaring, or any range of other negative characteristics. I loved the replay last night of a player being held back by his shorts, which just about stayed on: the referee saw nothing, admittedly, because the offending player manhandled his opponent to the referee’s blind side. But, the assistant should cover the other angle. I know the system does not work, but that’s the theory. Other images now get aired almost as quickly and with added flair. They can come as ‘GIFs’ or ‘memes’, repeating the offending action, with some added animation or commentary; take a look at a compilation here. Again, the officials can look foolish.

The Economist published a very good article a week or so ago, arguing that football is a great sport, but it could be so much better if it were run honestly. That dishonesty comes in many forms, some of which I have just touched. Self delusion, denial, lying, cheating, greed, slothfulness, and more can be seen at this World Cup. It’s really a crying shame.

The anger of my Ghanaian friends yesterday was palpable, as they carried the collective shame of ‘Paradise Lost’, seemingly for ’30 pieces of silver’. Contrast that to the image (staged?) of Muntari handing out money on the streets in Brazil a few days ago. I felt it too: I had pinned hopes on Ghana reaching the final and winning it all. They had been ousted in 2010 by a set of controversial circumstances, including a goal-saving handball in the final minute of normal time, by none other than…Luis Suarez! That had left a bitter taste. It still is there. It is more bitter because I saw a team of wonderfully talented players reduced to the level of mediocre 12 year olds. Energy sapped. Imagination gone. Ability to think nil. Ability to execute nil. How do you go from heroes to goats in only a few days? It can’t just be money.

But, the tournament will move on. Little can change in terms of how the games are administered. People are excited that referees can spray white foam on the field and players do not move from where they should be. Now, it’s obvious if cheating is going on. Yet, FIFA resists doing similar things to make games more transparent and officiating easier. They were dragged kicking and screaming to sanction water breaks, while players are wilting in extreme temperatures and humidity. But, the quality of football had been lost on them for a while. Why else give the tournament to Qatar? Why not send it to Greenland in December? Who cares that they are not FIFA/UEFA members?

I’m not going to rant about the way that a simple game can descend into chaos. You read about how referees have performed in each game, and have a laugh while thinking whether they have a hard job or make an easy job look hard. They are the camel on whose back the straws are laid.

The world at our feet...
The world at our feet…

The layers of straw are sitting in their luxury seats and loving the beautiful game and all its flaws. Play on!

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. :)

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