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Taking a Kick at Soccer

We know little about soccer, having grown up on wholesome American games that allow the use of hands, as God and Abner Doubleday intended, but even we knew that the sport’s international governing body is corrupt. It was therefor no surprise to hear that legal action is being taken against them, but we were a bit startled that it was America’s Department of Justice that is doing it.
The Federation Internationale de Football is not based in America, as the foreign name and its galling misuse of “football” would suggest, and so far as we can gather from numerous press reports none of its alleged crimes took place here. Authorities in Switzerland, where the organization is based, and where the alleged crimes seem to have allegedly occurred, and where the populace presumably cares more about soccer than do Americans, are also taking action, so it’s hard to see why America’s legal system should be bothered. All of the 14 FIFA official indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy are from other other countries, there’s going to be a lot of fuss over extradition, it complicates foreign relations with the numerous countries involved to the point that we have to admit Vladimir Putin has a point when he calls it “another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law,” and none of the bribes they’re said to have accepted for awarding international tournaments seem to have been paid by Americans, who won’t be hosting any FIFA tournaments in the near future in any case, so the only point seems to be cleaning up a sport that few Americans bother to watch.
The smart fellows over at the Powerline web site are avid soccer fans, which strikes us as odd given their usually sound political opinions and excellent taste in music, and they contend that the Department of Justice is still sore that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the long trip to Zurich and personal lobbying of former Attorney General Eric Holder. It won’t be the least bit surprising if it is eventually proved in court that the Qataris prevailed by means of millions of dollars of illegal bribes, as such things are a feature of Arab culture and there is no other plausible explanation for awarding the world’s most-watched sporting event to such a remote and backwards desert hellhole as Qatar. The country’s pledge to air-conditioned stadia large enough to accommodate a soccer field and many thousands of spectators in the 100-plus degree summers has already been reneged on, the tournament has thus been moved to winter during the middle of the seasons of the professional leagues that supply the players, and the Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi laborers who have been imported to build the vast infrastructure that FIFA absurdly requires have died at the rate of one per day. Nor would we be surprised if this is all about Holder holding a grudge, as he always struck as that sort of guy.
Besides, the Obama administration was still smarting from its snub by the International Olympic Committee way back in ’09 when it award its games to Rio de Janeiro over of Chicago. Obama personally flew to Denmark to make the pitch, bringing along Oprah Winfrey, who might or might not be a big deal in Denmark, and giving a speech about how Chicago was his kind of town and recalling how “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the presidential election,” and basically suggested that having the Olympics culminate his eight years in office and welcome the world to his transformed America would give the games new meaning. All the press speculated that of course the deal was already done or no president would put his prestige on the line by making the trip, so when the Olympics went to an even more crime-ridden kleptocracy than Chicago it was the first bad press that the administration got after all the messianic treatment in ’08, and although the loss of the 2022 World Cup went entirely unnoticed we’re sure it still stung.
The blow to Obama’s and Holder’s egos notwithstanding, and despite the lucrative deals that Valerie Jarret’s Chicago buddies would have made preparing for the Olympics, and whatever deals might have been made for a World Cup, these are two games we’re glad America lost. These big international sporting events are lucrative to whatever network makes the sufficient bribes, and they transfix much of the world for a brief time, but they’re usually a severe burden on the communities that get stuck with them and the useless stadia they paid for. Even in soccer-mad Brazil there were riots in response to lavish sums that poverty-stricken country doled out to host the most recent World Cup, and the police are gearing up for more of the same during those ’16 Olympics that Chicago wanted. The only Olympics that we can recall proving profitable for a host was the ’02 winter games in Salt Lake City, and that was due to the organizational skills of Mitt Romney, which the public apparently found less impressive than that soaring “on a clear November night” rhetoric of Obama. The Olympics have lost much of their appeal since the end of the Cold War, not to mention all believable rumors about the IOC’s shenanigans, but they’re still a bigger deal to the real American sports fan than some FIFA contest with a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around a “pitch” — we know that, too, along with with the corruption of the governing body — to a 1-0 score after some incalculable amount of time.
A country such as Qatar might decide that the millions in bribes and billions in soon-to-be-useless stadia and the daily deaths of Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshi is well worth the prestige of hosting a highly-rated sports event, along with all the hooligans that soccer somehow always attracts, no matter how remote the backwards hellhole, but we’d like to think the United States of America can still earn its international prestige elsewhere.

— Bud Norman

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Let the World Keep Its Cup

Some fellow on the radio tells us that the United States’ soccer squad has been eliminated from the World Cup competition by a team from some country called Belgium. Being properly patriotic sports rooters we were disappointed to hear it, especially as Belgians are apparently some sort of Europeans, and it’s always embarrassing to lose to those guys in anything, but we must confess some relief that the nation’s attention can once again be diverted from our pressing economic and political problems by baseball.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, as we are of a libertarian bent and therefore tolerate all kinds of cultural rot, but as a mindless distraction from the world’s woes we much prefer baseball this time of year. This prejudice might well be proof of what old-fashioned fuddy-duddies we’ve become in our middle age, as well as the nativist xenophobia and heterosexist preoccupation with phallic symbols and all that stuff that is so typical of people with our right-wing political views, but we make no apologies. We’re Americans, damn it, and prefer an American game.
We’re Americans of a certain age, too, which we means grew up playing sports other than soccer and haven’t failed at the game nearly enough to appreciate the talents of those who play it well. Soccer fans have tried to convince us of the aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and subtle strategies that they swear are involved in the seemingly random meanderings of the players, but we remain unconvinced. Despite our best efforts at objectivity, we find the sport suspect for several reasons.
You can’t use your hands in soccer, for one thing, and this strikes us as an offense against both God and sport. We used to suspect that soccer was a communist plot to keep America’s youth from hurling hand grenades against the invading Russky hordes, and although soccer seems to have outlasted the Soviet Union and we can’t think of any other plausible conspirators it still strikes us as damned suspicious.
All those foreigners in the game are troublesome, too. Soccer fans seem to regard the overwhelming presence of foreigners in the sport as proof of its worthiness, and will wax poetic about the “world’s game” and cite their affinity for the game as evidence of how very cosmopolitan they are, but we are unimpressed by their claims of being citizens of the world. When the world ratifies a constitution that guarantees our rights of freedom of speech and bearing arms and not having soldiers quartered in our homes we will consider renouncing our American citizenship and embracing a game that doesn’t allow the use of hands, but at the moment the world seems downright hostile to these ideals and unhealthily willing to forego the use of hands.
Nor does the rest of the world seem any more civilized than the average American baseball, basketball, or football fans. The stadia where the National Football League conducts its brutal contests are famous for the fisticuffs and boorish behavior that pervade the stands, but the most face-painted fans there are a veritable PGA gallery compared to the hooligans that predominate at soccer games. Even the Oakland Raiders don’t have such a grisly death toll as soccer, and their fans are more well-behaved than the hooligans who populate the seats at soccer games around the world. Racists taunts are reportedly common at soccer games, by both players and fans, but rarely heard at American sporting events where almost everyone has a rooting interest in a competitor of another race. One of the more intriguing side stories of the World Cup was about the Mexican fans’ traditional chant of “puto” against a certain hated foes, which we’re told translates as “homosexual prostitute” and is intended as a most hateful epithet, and it was fun hearing the politically correct press reconcile its revulsion for anything homophobic with its indulgence for anything foreign.
Such exquisite sensitivities seem an essential part of soccer’s appeal, and another reason we’re indifferent to the game. When soccer first became a part of the American sporting scene it was through the American Youth Soccer Organization, and all the bumper stickers that adorned the minivans hauling the kiddies to the little league “pitch” promised that “Everyone plays.” This is taking egalitarianism too far, as even the most carefully raised youngster intuitively understands that playing time should be earned by superior performances, but has an understandable appeal to the doting modern mom. Those “soccer moms,” so assiduously courted by Democratic candidates for the past many election cycles, also seemed to prefer soccer to baseball because it didn’t involve the supposedly soul-crushing failure involved in a sport where even the best major league teams will lose 60 games a season and the most skilled batters fail to get a hit more than 60 percent of the time. Soccer is a fairly rough sport, judging by all the melodramatic flopping that the players indulge in whenever they make contact with a momentarily outstretched limb, but we can’t imagine that it inures a kid to life’s inevitable failures the way an 0-for-4 day at the plate does.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, though, and we’ll hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll notice that aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and those subtle strategies we keep hearing about, and we really wouldn’t want to deny the satisfaction. None of the teams will be wearing “USA” on their jerseys, but feel free to root for any country that isn’t currently at war with us. The Wichita Wingnuts have a home stand coming up, though, so we’ll be down at the ballpark watching men use their hands.

— Bud Norman