It’s been less than a week since the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Brazil, and already it is safe to declare it is better than previous tournaments. The Public Apology’s Ben Shine tells you why…
1. They stopped fucking around with the ball
For the past three World Cups, some dimwits at FIFA and Adidas decided it would be a great idea to completely fuck with one of the four elements that comprise a football game.While the field, players, referee were left relatively untouched, the ball itself was completely re-designed.
Since the 1970s, Adidas has supplied a new ball for each World Cup. This hasn’t been a problem, but for the past few tournaments, instead of usually a standard football – like the ones used in professional competitions around the world – Adidas developed these fucked-up, light-weight plastic servo balls* that nobody could play with.
The thinking behind developing these new balls was that they would be so light-weight that when they were hit, they would fly around and therefore be harder for goalkeepers to judge, therefore resulting in more goals scored, therefore making soccer more interesting, because apparently more goals = more interesting (compare an enthralling 1-0 to a snooze-fest 4-0 and you will quickly realise this is patently not true).
The problem with fucking with the ball is while it makes it hard for goalkeepers, it also makes it harder for other players to control, pass, shoot and do all the things they would normally do so easily on a football pitch. It’s like asking the Miami Heat to play basketball with a helium balloon.
As a result, the past few World Cups have been shit. Thankfully Adidas have recovered their typical German sensibility and the ball for the Brazil World Cup, the Brazuca, is just a normal fucking ball and players are not being bamboozled by some shit, blown up goon bag.
2. The referees have a good OK:shit ratio
Another way the FIFA World Cup tries to mess with the game of football is by abandoning quality control when selecting referees.
Rather than picking the best referees in the world, the organisers select them by geographic spread (much like the teams in the World Cup itself, they don’t necessarily have to be the best 32 teams in the world – they have to be the top 32 according to region).
As such, you don’t end up with the best whistleblowers in the world. You end up with, say, Italy’s best whistleblower and El Salvador’s best whistleblower, when perhaps selecting two referees from Italy would result in better officiating.
This year isn’t much different, aside from the introduction of goal line technology, but somehow the referees have been good when it matters, and shit when it matters. In simpler terms, they’ve hit the sweet spot when it comes to the OK:shit call ratio.
In past World Cups, the men in the middle have been so bad, you end up with perverse outcomes – i.e. South Korea making the semi-finals; Croatian players receiving three yellow cards yet staying on the field.
This year, when the referees make mistakes, it’s more about giving Brazil a penalty when they don’t deserve one. This is a good outcome. It keeps all the Brazilians happy and noisy, and ensures those pesky protesters don’t get too loud.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. The World Cup is happening in a good country
A good country is one with a strong footballing history and culture. A place that likes football so much that it has invented special words and phrases specifically developed for the game, like jogo bonito and selecao.
It just makes it more special when people in the country give a fuck about the game. Yeah you can stage a tournament in Japan and people will attend, but will they really care? And if they do care, have they cared for long enough for it to matter?
It’s like going to a house party at your best mate’s place versus going to a house warming for that nice bloke from the office who you’ve known in a work-capacity for six months, but the conversations haven’t progressed from football results and weather. The housewarming is just going to be less fun than the house party.
Staging the World Cup in Brazil feels right. Apart from the sport, there is plenty to look at and discuss. We can talk about Pele! Hey look, there’s football being played on Ipanema Beach! Omg, racial diversity, slums, anti-government protests and other socio-economic issues!
In contrast, in South Africa, we had fucking vuvuzelas. Those plastic horns that – for mine – ruined the whole goddamned tournament. But the viewing public were asked to accept their constant droning noise, because that was the extent of the football history in South Africa. Long plastic annoying horns.
We had better enjoy Brazil now, because if you look down the track, things aren’t going to get much better, with the next World Cups scheduled in Russia and (possibly, but hopefully not) Qatar. One is a cultural desert, and the other is just a desert.
Where’s the football history there? Generally the country had a passing interest in football, and then some rich oil/gas baron bribed FIFA officials, and now there is a World Cup being held there – that’s the story. This gives no interesting context around the tournament.
As such, we will have to avoid talking about the sideshow, and instead talk about the football. And we’d better hope don’t Adidas fuck with the ball again, or FIFA gets the referee good:shit ratio correct, or else it’s going to be one big old bore-fest.
By Ben Shine
*The servo ball is a $2 ball bought from a service station that, when kicked, flies away from its intended direction.