Friday, June 23, 2006

No More Beano

Normally my wife posts my random comments on this blog, but today I wanted to specifically write about the most pressing issue of the day: Why are FIFA referees so bad in this World Cup? There have been some very well-ref-ed matches, but there have also been some amazingly horrible spectacles. The precipitating factor for venting on this blog was the Tunisia/Ukraine game. I have faithfully tried to watch every game of the World Cup to date, but I finally had to turn the TV off in disgust at the antics of the referee in that game. He took inconsistency and incompetence to all new heights.

My first reaction to the low quality refereeing in this WC was to ask why is it not possible to find, in all the world, 30 quality referees? This made me go on to muse that the problem should probably not be laid at the feet of the individual referees in these matches. I mean, they are probably (emphasis "probably" since the Italy match-fixing scandal) trying their best. FIFA selected them to come and ref these games. The real blame needs to be put at the feet of Seth Blatter and his cohort. I'm guessing that the department of referee recruitment and selection is not normally a high profile department in FIFA. There are probably a number of instances of "hey Seth, can you give my cousin Sergi a job? He's not real bright, but he'll try hard". "Sure, we can stick him in the referee department as some underling. That will keep him out of trouble." Pretty soon, you might end up with a whole department of earnest, but not real competent folks all trying their very hardest, but…and this is important…not being held accountable for their actions. For four years this systemic incompetence and lack of accountability is out of sight and out of mind, but then comes the World Cup and all eyes are on the games, and suddenly systemic incompetence rears its head. In other words, I consider the bad (or at least wildly inconsistent and damaging) refereeing to not be a result of bad individuals, but rather of an incompetent system staffed with the mediocre administrators (the kind who really do most of the world's damage).

This is not unlike my assessment of the US team's performance. I agreed with Eric Wynalda (and had been saying it since the first game), that the blame for the US performance should fall on Bruce Arena. Bad decisions and a bad philosophy combine to produce a performance lower than Trinidad and Tobago's - a country 250 times smaller than the US. Bruce's biggest mistake was complacency. He relied on a group of veterans who had performed in 2002 admirably. Unfortunately, they were 4 years older and had already been through the experience before. Some of the emotion and excitement just didn't seem to be there this time. Now, veterans are all well and good. You need some to steady a team. But the key word here is "some" as in two or maybe three. Not "some" as in 7-8. Too many veterans, not enough speedy, highly excited youngsters meant a team that played "composedly" but lacked any real fire. I think Brian McBride is a great guy, he tries hard and gives 100%, but when the US went down to 9 players, it was absolutely inexcusable for Bruce to leave McBride in there. Brian is also big, slow, and not real skilled with the ball except in the air. Not exactly the type of person you need on the field when you are playing with 9 and needing to cover enormous amounts of ground. I don't think it was a coincidence that the only time the US really looked lively in the whole World Cup was when Clint Dempsey was involved in play. He may be cocky and a bit erratic on defense, but he had the type of energy the rest of the US team lacked.

I've been pleasantly surprised with the US announcers though. They started off very shaky, to put it mildly. The first few games were so bad I had to turn the sound off and frantically searched through the short wave bands trying to find a station with competent broadcasters. Dave O'Brian and Marcel Balboa were the worst offenders. I wanted to go have a long heart to heart with the producers of these telecasts to drop a little hint that the people who are going to be watching soccer games in the US are not little old ladies from Chattanooga who've never heard of the game before, it's going to be soccer fans. People who already know that the ball is round and that you kick it and that hey, the rest of the world loves this sport what do you know? Real soccer fans already know about yellow cards and would like to hear broadcasters provide a little technical expertise and analysis rather than mouthing blathering nothings such as did you know that that player's sister's brother-in-law once owned a car dealership with Landon Donovan's half sister?. In the beginning the only good broadcast team was that British/Irish combination (can't remember their names). But the teams did improve. By the end of the first round Dave and Marcel didn't outright suck and I actually kept the sound up for the entire game, with only occasional wincing. Most improved definitely have to be Glenn Davis and Shep Messing though. Their first game was even worse than Dave/Marcel, but they've come on these last couple of games and have become quite entertaining to listen to, even with the sound up.

Back to administrative incompetence and lack of accountability. My contention is that the referees are wildly inconsistent in quality not because of the individuals, but because of a slow accumulation of administrative incompetence in the whole referee selection and training and policy formation under Seth Blatter. The head of the FIFA referees made a comment that he was quite pleased with the level of the refereeing in the World Cup. I wonder which World Cup he was watching? This is the sad thing. The system and quality are unlikely to change if the administrators sit around in a self-congratulatory circle and talk about how hard they tried and ignore the very real criticisms that are raining down on them. This kind of group-think can be pretty pervasive in organizations that don't demand accountability from those administrators in power. Look at the Bush administration. No one gets held accountable for screw-ups. I mean, they must be good guys who tried hard. So what if things didn't quite work out. At least they tried. Let's give them a medal of honor for trying, kind of like it's the Special Olympics. Then everyone acts surprised when an Iraq or a Katrina come out of the blue. Same thing happened at a small college that I know. They tried to go through a strategic planning process of sorts to prioritize their programs for the coming years. They so thoroughly bungled the job that it created enormous distrust, shattered morale, and left the whole community disenchanted. What made it worse was that the final outcome of the process was a bunch of smoke and mirrors and a "our strategy is to hope things get better so the whole issue goes away". All that pain and suffering and incompetence and nothing to show for it. The whole place would have been better off if the process had never been done than to have been done so shoddily. But the architects of the prioritization process weren't held accountable for their failures. Instead, they all huddled together in their little self-congratulatory circle and told each other how noble they had been in the face of difficult decisions. Since they had tried hard, they thought they ought to be excused for screwing up so badly. Now they are out and about saying how the process worked so well, let's implement it as an annual reporting strategy. Cousin Sergi rides again.


At 6:49 AM, Blogger AK said...

4 red cards, 16 yellows... it looks like we missed a real stinker yesterday. Earnestness rides again....

At 1:50 PM, Blogger AK said...

There's an interesting article here on the announcers..


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