Friday marks the beginning of the mostly widely-viewed sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup. The total television audience for this quadrennial donnybrook should be near a billion. I, along with most other Americans, will not be in the TV audience even though the United States team is among the 32 qualifying teams. Why the lack of interest? Because soccer (known as football outside the United States) is one of the most boring sports on the planet—right down there with the America’s Cup. Here’s my indictment of a game for which the rest of the world holds boundless passion.
Nothing Much Happens in a Soccer Game. Mind you, professional soccer players are among the most-skilled, best-conditioned athletes on the planet. I’ll put them up against the best in almost any American sport when it comes to endurance. But all they do is run around the field, kicking the ball hither and yon. The chance that anyone actually will score is small. Here are the scores for the final matches of the last five World Cups: 1-0, 0-0 (yes, you read that right), 3-0 (wow!), 2-0, 1-1. This is not world-class excitement. This is watching paint dry.
There’s Not Enough Violence on the Field. In the past 25 years over 200 people have died at FIFA-sanctioned matches around the world. These deaths occurred primarily during post-game riots when fans of opposing teams decided to take the contest to a higher level. In the NFL, by comparison, post-game rioting is rare, usually limited to property damage done in the hometown of the Super Bowl winners. Football and hockey fans usually see enough real violence during the game to sate their blood lust. Hockey fans are treated regularly to full-blown fist fights. Almost every play in a football game results in one or two fairly violent hits. Soccer players cannot hit or check one another as can football and hockey players. When a hit does occur on the soccer field it’s usually a minor collision followed by the most pathetic acting this side of David Caruso. You don’t have to have seen many soccer games to have witnessed a player rolling on the ground with his hands clasped around a knee. He’s waiting to see if he can con the referee into yellow-carding his opponent. Fifteen seconds later, the “injured” player is running down the field, apparently none the worse off.
FIFA Doesn’t Even Allow Blood. Under FIFA rules if a player is bleeding, he’s out of the match until the flow is stanched. What are they worried about? Blood-borne pathogens or having their cute little uniforms soiled?
The Referees Have Too Much Influence on the Outcome of a Match. Between calls of ‘offside’ when a goal has been scored and the assessment of penalty kicks, the referees’ decisions often determine the outcome of a match. Many soccer refs have been forced into hiding and retirement due to serious death threats by disgruntled fans. Some hard-core soccer fan can do a detailed analysis but my casual estimate is that about one third of the points scored or denied in a soccer match are the result of referees’ decisions. In games where only 3 or 4 total points are scored, these decisions have a material impact on the outcome. Yes, you can point to MLB and NFL games where a ref’s decision materially affected the outcome of the game but they are the exception. In soccer, it’s the norm. And, by the way, have you ever noticed how long it takes soccer refs to assess a penalty? It’s like they’re waiting to judge the quality of a downed player’s feigned agony before making a call.
The Offside Rule Sucks. Read the rule. Then ask a random sample of soccer fans to explain it to you. Nobody really quite understands it but the idea of the rule is to prevent a team from stationing a player near the opposing team’s goal in hopes of taking a long pass and scoring a goal. What’s wrong with that? If a coach wants to unbalance his defense by leaving one or two guys near the opponent’s goal, that just increases the chance of a score. The other team can do it, too. Or, they may take advantage of their opponent’s weakened defense and overpower them at the opposite goal. My theory is that the offside rule was thought up by the same folks for whom ‘equal opportunity’ equates to ‘equal outcome.’ Yes, the offside rule is part of a liberal/socialist/communist plot to make sure everything is ‘fair.’ I attended a FIFA game in Rome where the final score was 0-0. The only goal scored during the game was nullified by an offside call. Yawn.
Some of the World’s Most Annoying Fans. Not only are they ready to continue the match in the streets and the pubs if they don’t like the outcome, they show up at the events with those annoying vuvuzelas (air horns). And they blow them constantly throughout the entire game. Might as well blow them all the time. If they wait until something exciting happens they’d hardly get to use them. (BTW, vuvuzelas produce a B flat tone at 127 db, enough to cause permanent ear damage if you attend enough games). On television the background sound is like that of a swarm of giant hornets buzzing thorough the entire match. Gawd.
So Why Is Soccer So Popular? Because it’s a great game to play, but not to watch. All it takes to put together a soccer game is a ball and a few kids who want to have fun. You can play the game in a street or an alley with no special equipment and have a blast. It’s great exercise and physical size or strength are not major factors. The only sport requiring less of an investment in playing space and equipment is ‘tag.’ If you grew up in the barrio or the streets of Karachi playing the game, it’s only natural that you’ll take an interest in it as an adult. But, really, it’s just not that exciting.
Enjoy the World Cup. I’ll be rearranging my sock drawer (unless Brazil makes the final match. Those Brazilian soccer babes are the best-looking sports fans in the world).