Saturday, June 19, 2010

The World's Game

Let me throw in my condemnation of Peter King's tweet and article about the USA/Slovenia game. Specifically this:
Putting a ref from a small African country in charge of a vital WC game is like a Mid-American Conference ref doing the Super Bowl.

And this:
But in his first World Cup game, referee Koman Coulibaly, from the landlocked West African country of Mali, ran into the fray and blew off the goal.

Without queston King's misses the mark when he brings up referee Koman Coulibaly's home country. It has absolutely no relevance to his competency and destroys his larger point.

(What's especially odd is that he feels the need to point out that Mali is landlocked. Did I miss the memo that "landlocked" is a codeword for something classist or racist?)

King's point is at best clumsy: he claims later on that his point was that the ref was less qualified than some sitting at home, and is the result of FIFA trying to have referees from each continent. One thing that is missed by King is that _all_ international competitions attempt to get representation of all regions. This isn't professional sports, so using that as an example and/or a standard is misguided.

But more importantly, King puts far too much value on this battle, likely because it involves the USA. When he says that USA/Slovenia was a "vital WC game", I think he shows us his ignorance of the sport. A first round match in the World Cup is no more vital than any other. His analogy to the Super Bowl also belies his mistaken belief. The Super Bowl is the apex of an entire season of play; what football players dream to accomplish. While a futbol player would love to make the World Cup, their dream is to win it. A better analogy would be the regular season of the NFL: a referee error could cost the team from making it to the playoffs, but it might not. There is significance, but it alone will not end up deciding the winner of the World Cup.

I do wonder if this reaction would have occurred if it was to the benefit of the USA. Well, I don't, as it is obvious this isn't the case. King never mentions the elbow that Nathan Dempsey delivered in the early part of the game that went without booking. Many people feel as though Dempsey could have been red carded for the infraction, and yet, King does not mention this as proof of how Coulibaly was over his head and wasn't an appropriate choice of referee for the game. Why he wouldn't, when it only helps his point, is not obvious unless you accept that his narrative isn't that the referee was sub-standard, it's that the US got screwed because the referee was sub-standard.

Which ends up getting to the crux of the issue for King. He isn't upset because an injustice occurred in the World Cup, he's upset that an injustice occurred against the USA. Within that is that King (and Joe Posnanski) will not be able to tell the story that they wanted to tell ("The USA showed grit and never gave up!" - especially with the "No team has ever come back from a 2-0 lead after half time" meme, as though coming back from a 2-0 lead after 50 minutes was less of an accomplishment.) Instead, they have to give their readers another story; in this case they chose to focus on the referee story and how it affects the USA.

Further is the implication that this will prevent the sport from growing in the USA, as though this is a significant worry for FIFA. (Joe Posnanski is another advancing this train of thought.) Fact of the matter is that this is not a worry for FIFA. It is a big deal in the US, and will continue to be so unless the US becomes an also ran. As well, it will continue to be a significant event in the rest of the world. If anything, this brings the USA closer to rest of the world. Everybody, from England to Ireland to many other countries have had a missed or blown call affect thei World Cup in various way. The US is just the latest to be affected.

So congratulations to the USA for joining the rest of the futbol world. Next step, learn to accept missed calls.

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