Friday, June 23, 2006

A Short Note on the Soccer World Cup

The giving out of red cards is becoming hugely damaging to these games. There are three reasons – they are ‘earned’ too easily; they are too arbitrary; and the penalty is too massive with too unequal an effect.

1. ‘Earned’ too easily: As I understand it, one yellow card is the equivalent of a suspended death sentence – one more and you are out. This on its own would not be too bad, were it not for points 2 and 3 below;

2. Too arbitrary: Anyone who watches a game on TV will see two ‘yellow-cardable’ offences for every one that is actually carded. You will also see plenty of yellow-carding for offences that do not remotely deserve it. This is not the fault of the referees, who are not superhuman. It is just pretty well impossible to see everything all the time, especially without the slow motion TV to assist. But the end result is that the punishment is essentially arbitrary – its just luck, in many cases, whether a player gets a yellow card or does not, or gets away with the soccer equivalent of murder, or does not. Imagine if, in the real world, the death penalty was applied with the same margin of error. Not even its most enthusiastic proponents would accept that. Again, this alone would not matter that much, were it not for point 3 (which relates how a red card is the soccer equivalent of the death penalty).

3. Too massive and too unequal an effect: The penalty is too massive because once the red card is up all hope of a good game of soccer is gone (together with the hopes of tens of millions of the people of that nation). And sometimes this happens in the first half of a match! At the finely tuned World Cup level, one man missing ruins the game – there may still be drama, pathos, excitement, etc, but what there won’t be is a really good game of soccer. And the penalty extends beyond the game in play at the time, but knocks the carded player out of future games. For the smaller soccer-playing nations that is a massive disadvantage – a country like Ghana, a brave and brilliant African side, just does not have the depth of players that countries like Germany, England, or Brazil would have. They need to field their best team every time. But if they lose their best players to this arbitrary punishment they are massively and unequally disadvantaged.

I don’t have the solution to this problem and I understand that it is not easy. But at the very least, there should be three yellow cards before the red makes its appearance.

Just to clarify my position – I blindly and violently support every African side in the World Cup, followed by England and Australia, and then whatever underdog takes my fancy, and then, finally, Brazil. I also have a sentimental attachment to the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, and most South American teams.


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