May 28, 2008

Fast Approaching 95 Theses

This vehement, anti-Fifa editorial has been distilling for years. (F-I-F-A is from the title in French for soccer's world governing body.) Fifa has done some bad, foul, egregious, and completely fucking unacceptable things.

Bad: One of Africa’s best national teams, the “Lions” from Cameroon, were absent from the 2006 World Cup. Why? Fifa deducted Cameroon nine vital qualification points, the equivalent of three wins, for wearing sleeveless kits (jerseys) at a 2002 exhibition match. Cameroon fans liked the kits because they resembled native outfits. Fifa banned them.

Foul: Last week the Iraqi government disbanded the national soccer committee because it was run by too many wealthy Iraqis living abroad. In response Fifa vowed to cancel the national team’s upcoming World Cup qualifier against Australia. That drastic punishment will mean Iraq has no chance at the 2010 World Cup. Keep in mind Iraq is on a roll; they won the 2007 Asian Cup, which was the only cheerful thing to happen to the country since the invasion/occupation.

Egregious: In 2007 Fifa ruled that no international matches could be played above 2500 meters. That means Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia will no longer host games between national teams in their capital cities. Bolivian president Evo Morales has been awesome in fighting this ban, calling it “an aggression, a provocation, and an intimidation from the FIFA president [Sepp Blatter] against our country and against South America.”

Completely fucking unacceptable: In 2005 Maribel Dominguez was signed to a Mexican club in the minor leagues, FC Celaya. The Mexican national soccer authority announced it had no problem with a woman playing for the team. Fifa did. In a curt statement, Fifa halted her career and ended mixed teams forever. Dominguez was even banned from playing in exhibitions. Then Fifa stopped plans by Italian club Perugia to sign two stars who happen to be women, Birgit Prinz and Hannah Ljungberg. Yep, Fifa, based in Zurich, is more chauvinistic than pro sports teams based in Italy and Mexico. That says a lot.

In German literature there are plenty of examples of injustice owing to absolutism, most poignantly in dramas from the Enlightenment and Sturm-und-Drang. But I need to find a real world example that interrelates my problems with Fifa. Weirdly enough, a tract from 1530 by Martin Luther called Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, on the art of translation, does the trick. Luther wasn’t the first to translate the Bible into a modern language, there were plenty of translations of the Bible before his. So why does almost everyone know about the Luther Bible? Because of the idiomatic prose style. He interpreted the meaning, direct and apt, not the lexical vocabulary. Luther’s translations marked the beginning of a new age in the history of printed language.

In Sendbrief Luther explains,
“One shouldn’t look at the letters in Latin and ponder how to say them in German, like an ass would, one should ask the mother at home, the kids in the alley, and the commoner in the market how they’d say it, and interpret according to that.”
Soccer’s world governing body is out of touch, dictating the beautiful game to the world instead of interpreting it with the affections its players and fans feel. Fifa’s ban on mixed play is a case in point. It’s counterproductive. In the United States especially, soccer has a mixed makeup (our word for that is “coed”). The standard proportion in urban, recreational adult leagues is eighty percent men and twenty percent women.

It’s no surprise to most fans if an awesome player, man or woman, seeks out better paying contracts in professional leagues. But to the old, laddish, stubborn douchebageoisie who have never done anything coed in their lives (that’s you, Fifa), it must be verboten. The likes of Sepp Blatter (pictured), Franz Beckenbauer, and 23 other men who sit on Fifa’s executive committee reign from Zurich like Rome in Luther’s time. Today Fifa observes its 104th anniversary. They are a tax-sheltered institution with plans to govern for centuries. Here’s hoping for a Reformation.

Postscript. Instead of me grumbling on, fortunately you can read about two other Fifa issues from better sources. Der Spiegel explains the patronizing way Fifa is behaving in South Africa, even demanding new stadiums be built next to perfectly adequate ones because of steepness - a requirement that some stadiums in Germany’s 2006 World Cup didn’t meet. Lastly, The Economist explains how Fifa’s idiotic response to English league dominance is to limit foreign players and lower standards, rather than fairly distribute windfalls or limit foreign investment.


Anonymous said...

good shit here man, this needs to be read by futbol fans everywhere. I hope your blog flourishes.

Ryan from Rayne said...

Although I'd agree with most of your anti-FIFA comments, I'd just to argue with you on a couple of points:

1) Cameroon WERE allowed to play in the 2006 World Cup. The reason FIFA had a problem with their sleeveless shirts was because there was no place for the mandatory Competition Logo and 'Fair Play' patches normally worn on the sleeves. A compromise was reached whereby Cameroon wore black t-shirts undeneath their sleeveless kit.

The whole thing was a marketing ploy by Cameroon's kit supplier, Puma, who later made them wear an all-in-one leotard for some African Cup games! FIFA banned this too. Cameroon were docked 12 qualifying points, which were reinstated on appeal. The rules are quite clear on what kit is allowed, and Cameroon have now twice broken these rules without censure!

2) I'm of the view that playing at high altitudes give teams an unfair advantage, because opponents struggle to acclimatise to the thin air.

As a result, Ecuador are regular qualifiers for the World Cup purely by virtue of the fact that they are almost unbeatable on their home ground. Even the mighty Brazil and Argentina are regularly beaten away in Quito. This is unfair on those teams such as Columbia who narrowly miss out - not because they are inferior in quality to Ecuador, but because Ecuador have that altitude advantage.

Ryan from Rayne said...

Oops! After writing my previous comment, I just remembered that the sleeveles shirt fiasco happened in the 2002 World Cup - Cameroon did't appear in the 2006 tournament because they just weren't good enough, bested in the qualifying tournament by the likes of Togo and Ghana!

Brains said...

I've gotten a lot of corrections and fact-checking to this article via email (though no one seems to know how to post a comment).

Here's a summary: Some say Cameroon wasn't docked for their kits. Others say they were docked on two different ocassions. I'm confused. Suffice it to say I was wrong about Cameroon's penalty.

Also, big mistake on my part: Peru's capital Lima is coastal, not above 2500 meters. Sorry! Though the ban does affect Cuzco, apparently.

Thanks, all. I should write more opinionated stuff! It gets responses.

Brains said...

Ryan, good points! I posted this elsewhere and also got flak for being imprecise about Cameroon.

Though the premise remains: Why should FIFA regulate uniforms? Why intrude on precisely where the Fair Play patch should be placed? Who minds if it's on the sleeve versus, say, on the thigh? A committee of fat cats in Switzerland shouldn't decide style worldwide, much less in Africa, and then punish fans.

Regarding Ecuador, Colombia is also a high-altitude country, so that doesn't explain their retreat from world football. Different conditions are part of the game. Should we ban Northern Europe from hosting matches in the rain? The soggy pitches sure put home teams at an advantage. Baseball teams visiting San Francisco must face fog, in Denver face high altitude, in Cleveland nasty bugs, in Los Angeles santa ana winds, that's the kind of variety Fifa's intrusion is trying to lessen. It's because of the Mexico City olympics (high altitude) that we now know so much about keeping players hydrated. Home teams will always have an advantage. So what?

Mama V said...

"Here's hoping for a Reformation."

Very funny double entendre.

ryan from rayne said...

Hi, Brains!

I take your point about the conditions - I mean, who'd want to play against Russia in snowy Vladivostock, for example?!

But, saying that, I still believe that football teams should be rewarded for sporting merit, and that FIFA are correct in their attempts to level the playing field, so to speak.

"Why should FIFA regulate uniforms?" Well, that's another very good question! But if there was no set dress code it would start getting silly - imagine a goalkeeper taking to the field with a HUGE Afro wig and giant gloves that covered the entire goalmouth!

On the subject of kit controversy, there's a New Zealand-based manufacturer called Canterbury. They're mostly famous for Rugby kits but in the past year they've branched into Soccer, producing kits for both Portmouth in England and Deportivo La Coruna in Spain.

Now, their kits are highly revolutionary - the Goalkeeper shirts have an adhesive coating to the chest and upper arms, and the outfield kits are covered with some kind of chemical coating which aids the flow of blood using magnetism of all things - I hear FIFA are looking into whether these constitute breaches of the rules, too.... we shall see!

For more info on these crazy shirts, check this out: