Saturday, June 19, 2010


If you follow the World Cup tournement, currently underway, you'll know that the winning goal in USA vs. Slovenia was taken away from the Americans by a totally inexplicable call. Here's what Jere Longman, writing in the Times, reports:

"In perhaps every other sport, an explanation of such a decisive play would have been provided. But Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, has ignored calls for video replay and has decided against putting additional referees on the end line. He has said that he likes the debate that follows matches, believing that uncertainty and subjectivity boost the sport."

No comment necessary but here are a few personal and gratuitous ones about futball in general.

1. In cases of a tie in a game, an extra period is played; if it's still tied, they have a one-on-one shootout -- this in a game where teamwork is supposedly of prime importance.

2. In a tournement, rank is determined by points, assigned for wins, ties and, eventually, goals scored. If there is still a tie, the winner is decided by lots. That makes a lot of sense.

3. It is impossible for ordinary people to determine when a soccer game is actually over. Sure, they play for two 45-minute periods [corrected], but then time is added -- perhaps rationally (who knows?) -- by the refs to compensate for various on-field things like injuries. Except that one can't seem to find out how much time there really is. During the recent game with Slovenia -- the one with the inexplicable call -- even the expert TV announcers were asking, near the end: "Is it over?" It was only when the players began walking off the field that it became clear to them and to us that yes, indeed, it was over.

Soccer is a lot of fun to play -- I played a bit in college and a bit later -- and it's great exercise. It clearly requires a lot of (esoteric) skills, most involving the feet (as in futball). Also, it is truly democratic, requiring no special equipment except for something that can pass for a "ball" and some way of marking out a goal. As a game, however, it makes no sense. After all, we are the result of millions of years of (literally) digital evolution. Our hands are amazing: we can, with reasonable training, occasionally put a ball through a fairly small hoop from midcourt; we can even pick up things with our toes. With only a few exceptions (goalies and tossing the ball inbounds), soccer disallows use of our digital appendages; you can't even whack the ball with the back of your hand. Makes no sense to me, and it makes the game so hard to play that nearly every play is broken up before hardly anything takes place.

Can you imagine making love with these kinds of restrictions? Can't use your hands or digits (20 or 21 as the case may be), you have to wear shoes, don't know when it's over, and sometimes it's decided by a solo effort. (Please feel free to pursue this analogy if you wish.)

Of course, anything is exciting if you really care who wins: that's why we have soccer hooligans.


  1. Actually I don't think you *have* to wear shoes. (I assume this changes your entire argument.)

    But yes, I agree. I mean, why do basketball players have to dribble instead of just running with the ball? Why can't quarterbacks receive forward passes? Why do gymnasts have to do flips on a balance beam when our bodies are obviously designed to eat nachos and watch TV? Why do hurdles even exist?

    Why do obstacle courses have so many f#$%ing obstacles?

  2. Just some minor comments...It is two 45 minute periods, I think, and tournament is spelled with an "a."

    Due to my relationship with the author, I won't comment on the final analogy.