Select Soccer Silliness

Let us count the ways in which this (pasted below if you don't have Times Select) is silly:

1) It is silly that the NY Times makes you pay to read stories like these -- or any stories for that matter. It's hard to find anyone who doesn't think the NYT will come to regret this absurd and ill-conceived experiment. Paying for George Vecsey when you can get Rob Hughes for free is like buying Andy Rooney dinner in the hope that he'll sleep with you when Charlize Theron is already brushing her teeth in your bathroom. In a thong.

2) It is silly that George Vecsey has written this story, which he has clearly filed only because they've sent him over to Leipzig and he's got nothing else to write about until tomorrow when they actually do the draw. Sing the national anthem, don't, who cares? GV doesn't even convince us that he does. And who really gives a fock if Sepp Blatter tends to say things off the cuff? It's sort of refreshing, as a contrast to officials from American sports leagues who weigh every word like they're Scott friggin McLellan. I"m not seeing the harm here. What would GV have written about if it weren't for Blatter? The real problem is that Blatter, like all high-ranking FIFA officials, is irredeemably corrupt, but GV isn't really interested in that.

3) It is silly that GV thinks that playing the anthems lends "pomp and dignity" to sport, and that this is important. The dignity comes from the game itself, and how many people care about it. Fock the pomp.

4) It is silly that Blatter thinks that women should wear tighter outfits when they play soccer. Women, of course, should not be playing soccer at all.

kidding, kidding.

Blatter's Blather Besmirching Soccer

Published: December 8, 2005

Leipzig, Germany

ONE of the great rituals of sport is going to survive. For a few tense days recently, it seemed that the singing of the national anthems at all World Cup games was going to be booted toward oblivion, not only by the sport's resident hooligans but also by the free-associating major-domo of world soccer, Joseph S. Blatter.

After a nasty scene in Turkey, Blatter blurted to the Swiss weekly Schweizer Illustrierte: "I feel this whistling shows a great lack of respect and is disparaging to national pride. I wonder, therefore, whether it even makes sense to play these national anthems."

Blatter, who is known as Sepp, surely knows that anthems are an intrinsic part of the greatest sports event on the globe. The players march out, stand in line and move their lips as if they actually know the words to their national anthem. Some soccerphobes equate this ceremony with more ominous mass stirrings, like to tramping armies. George Orwell once labeled international matches "orgies of hatred," words often dusted off by the British news media.

I, however, see the soccer anthems as a touching gesture, matching the handshake line in the N.H.L. playoffs or the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" at the Kentucky Derby.

For a few seconds, there is some pomp and dignity in sport, although quickly followed by the elbowing and the shoving, the name-calling and the gesturing - and that is the benign part - on the field. Sometimes in the stands or city streets, it gets worse.

Tomorrow night in this former East German city, the draw will be held for the 2006 World Cup. The German hosts have initiated a policy of selling tickets only to registered individuals, who must present their passports and have their identity checked by microchips in the ticket at every game. This will surely cut down on scalping, and perhaps also keep away the thousands of officially barred thugs.

In keeping with his long history of blurting out whatever is on his mind, Blatter, the president of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, suggested this week that this tracking process was too complicated, but the hosts insisted they would do it their way.

FIFA has other issues on its plate. The downfall of an allied marketing agency, International Sport and Leisure, in 2001, left a loss of millions of dollars. The police recently raided FIFA's headquarters in Zurich to recover records, a move that Blatter yesterday called "not correct."

Blatter also got into the anthem issue after the final playoff game between Switzerland and Turkey. In the first match, in Berne, Swiss fans hissed and jeered the Turkish anthem, so when the Swiss team flew to Istanbul for the return match, Turkish fans rocked the Swiss bus and spat and threw eggs at the players. Before the game, the Turkish fans reviled the Swiss anthem.

This display was a shame because Turkey had contributed lovely moments in 2002 in the last World Cup. After defeating one of the host teams, South Korea, in the third-place match, the Turkish players held hands with the South Korean players for a mutual victory lap. The Turkish fans were also a credit to their country.

On Nov. 16, however, when Switzerland qualified after the second game, players and coaches from both squads got physical on their way to the locker rooms. FIFA is currently investigating and could place serious sanctions on Turkey during qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

Blatter's comments about anthems created a stir around the world, making it seem he would try to ban the prematch ceremony.

When asked at his news conference yesterday, Blatter said: "We should keep the anthems, but I said we should put them into question. We should respect the anthems and educate people about them."

Blatter has been known to quickly engage his vocal cords, perhaps ahead of his reason. He once proposed holding the World Cup every two years instead of every four years, which would have watered down the anticipation that makes the World Cup so vital.

And who will forget the time he blurted out that female soccer players should wear tighter shorts that fit their shapes?

"In volleyball, the women also wear other uniforms than the men," Blatter told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick. "Pretty women are playing football today. Excuse me for saying that." Needless to say, Merrie Kinge Sepp took some criticism for those public musings.

Currently, Blatter is dubious about modern technology, including electronic gadgets that may determine if a ball has crossed a goal line, a huge issue since England defeated West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

"The referee can make mistakes," Blatter said yesterday, adding, "For the next few years, we will not speak of goal-line technology."

But we will surely speak of many other things. Blatter's random comments are a part of soccer, right up there with the anthem ritual.