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Perceptions of Corruption within “Professional Football”

June 1, 2011

Anyone with a passing knowledge of World Cup Football will be unsurprised by its latest scandals. ‘The World Game’ has a notoriously checkered past of bribery, corruption and match fixing. Such activity has become a regular fixture of the sport and appears to be intrinsic to the games hierarchy. But perhaps we spectators are observing at the game incorrectly, taking too literal a view on the layered interplay that the greater game offers. World Cup Football or Soccer, I suggest, operates at three levels of play.

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The first level is the physical activity as played in stadiums, ovals, backstreets and parks worldwide. Its play is ordered by the seventeen codified laws upheld by the games governing body: FIFA. These codes cover everything from the game play, the shape of the ball, the amount of players, the duration of match and size of the field. Any one familiar with the game has at least a working knowledge of these rules.

Yet, through the creative interpretation of these rules comes a second, more strategic layer of play. It is well recognised that the games is not simply about what you can achieve lawfully, but equally about what you can get away with. Owing to FIFA’s official ‘Law Five’, which deems that only one referee has authority over the match, you can get away with quite a lot. For example, while handball, diving, kicking, tripping or charging an opponent are strictly forbidden, such acts regularly occur out-of-view of the referee and go unpunished. A referees’ decision is irreversible and will extend beyond the games duration. As a result, a player may be incorrectly issued with penalty cards that can affect future matches, even if video replay conclusively proves a decisions to be incorrect.

Despite ongoing calls from fans and officials to introduce video replay to correct such errors, FIFA has boldly opted to “keep the errors in” ruling out both instant AND post match video replay options.

Let the decision be in the hands of a man, not a machine. Sepp Blatter

Given the role of video replay in todays Rugby Union, Cricket, Basketball, Baseball, Tennis, and Ice Hockey, Formula One and Horse racing internationally, its exception in World Cup Soccer where it appears most sorely needed make its absence a curious anomaly, particularly in light of the sublime sums bet on and invested in the sport, and that the last two world cups have involved highly controversial incidents in which video replay would have dramatically affected the outcomes.

Scandals such as the 2009 revelation that over 200 games were rigged across Europe and the 2006 corruption involving collusion from some of the biggest figures and clubs in the games history, underscore the games desperate need for greater transparency.

“The credibility of the game is at stake” – Portugal coach, Carlos Queiroz

But these questionable decisions, both in-match and about the game, reveal a third and final level of play, also known as the corruption and bribery that increasingly appears integral to the games structure.

Certainly, the scandals keep the game well publicised and even lend it a criminal mystique. They turn no fans away. Despite the riots, high cost and low scores, and persistent corruption scandals, few sports ignite the passion of fans as much as soccer. The songs, the cheers the gasps of horror, the uselessly yelled accusations at ‘useless’ players and ‘blind’ referees.

It all reminds me of something I’ve seen elsewhere.

I’m reminded of myself as a young teen speechlessly watching a scene in which Rowdy Roddy Piper flagrantly distracted a referee while King Kong Bundy produced a metal object from his shorts and struck Hulk Hogan in the head. Hogan keeled over backwards, almost comically, bouncing hard on the canvas. Bundy strutted the mat with arrogant pride. Down, but not out, heroic Hogan fought to his feet, only to have Piper slam a plastic chair across his back while Bundy further distracted the referee with yet more nonsense. Hogan writhed in agony as the ref (blind it seems) continued to berate Bundy, while completely oblivious to the appalling injustice occurring behind him.

When soon after, I clicked that Professional Wrestling was not so much professional sport as theatre sport, I was neither shocked or upset. As with the Santa and Easter Bunny scandals that preceded them, at some level I had known all along. Indeed my naive complicity had helped prop the whole thing up.

Perhaps then, there is a case for World Cup Football aligning itself more comfortably with the likes of Professional Wrestling given its high degree of spectacle, its combination of athleticism and theatrical performance, and its mimicry of competitive sport. Perhaps the calls to cleanse the corruption are missing the point, and indeed the play of the game altogether.

Mr T Intervenes in the hopes of restoring common sense.url-15

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