Viewpoint: A case of the World Cup blues

I arrived at the inevitable conclusion that what I have seen was hardly a pure sporting event, a nice football game as I once knew.

A tackle during the Netherlands-Spain match. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A tackle during the Netherlands-Spain match.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A report earlier this week on a World Cup match was headlined as follows: “Ruthless Dutch rip shell-shocked Spain to shreds,” which the story going on to illustrate how a rampant Netherland soccer team inflicted the heaviest World Cup defeat on Spain in over 60 years.
Unfortunately, the wording of the headline could not have been more accurate. It admits that the more ruthless and cunning team won the game.
But was this a true soccer exhibition – i.e. a clean sporting event – or a free-for-all fracas on the pitch? I admit that I am not such a devoted soccer fan, but I have been watching on television a number of recent World Cup games and I arrived at the inevitable conclusion that what I have seen was hardly a pure sporting event, a nice football game as I once knew.
What I saw – and the films and other pundits have indeed corroborated my observations – was not a civilized, well-ruled football game, but a painful-to-watch, fast-running competition during which the players of both sides of the field used every possible trick – kicking, pushing or shoving each other in order to gain an advantageous position.
They didn’t hesitate to throw themselves down between the legs of their adversaries to stop a well-aimed attack, whenever one player or another was in a position to score a goal.
Yes, there was a referee wandering amongst the players and he was apparently well-aware of what was going on, but he intervened only on those rare occasions when it was all too obvious that a criminal act took place to the point that he couldn’t pretend to ignore.
The matches were no longer a gentleman’s game, but a wild goose chase in which the stronger and most enterprising and cunning team of players would surely score most points and win the game.
Perhaps I am simply naïve and this is what soccer has become today. Perhaps the fantastic sums that soccer players are paid nowadays had changed sportsmen into gladiators or high-priced, on-field assassins.
Yet, if all that saw was true, only rough and cunning individuals could succeed in such a sport.
We look to the World Cup finals as setting an example for our youth and the Israeli sporting world. But if this is modern soccer’s real world, then we should rightly fear that our own soccer education in Israel will eventually follow such example and produce ruthless individuals, disrespectful of any rules, firmly believing that only cunning and pure power matters, and all rules should be ignored for the sake of an ultimate victory.
I am sure that many will agree with me that this is not what the concept of a real sporting competition should be about.
This issue is of particular importance for our youth in development towns, where soccer is maybe the most valuable educational and recreational tool. Soccer can serve as a great positive force, if all its regulations are accurately observed.
Notions of teamwork, discipline, sportsmanship, respect are values that are all learned on the pitch.
But the picture of a soccer player who puts his leg forward to stop his contender from scoring a goal and forces him down to fall in a great pain is certainly not what we want, and yet are forced to see so often.
There were numerous occasions where two or three, or even four players got entangled, not by accident, but by a sly or sneaky intervention of one unscrupulous defender. Perhaps it is all the better that Israel failed to qualify for the World Cup (or maybe not).
We can hardly learn anything from watching a painful spectacle where every other minute another player is forced down the ground in convulsions, kicked down by his adversary.
Excessive violence renders all final results absolutely meaningless, at least in my mind.
There is perhaps nothing more beautiful and more exciting than a properly played (and judged) soccer game. Certain amount of painful encounters is inevitable in every match. However, unfortunately the scene from Brazil has exposed too many dirty tricks to allow us to cherish the contenders and possible winners.
Some observers claim that it is high time for the money-wasting and corrupt FIFA to be dissolved, or replaced. I don’t know whether such rumors are true or not, but having watched the recent games on this highest international stage, I must conclude that they hardly do justice to the purity of real sport, to the multitude of participants and fans who expected a fair fight and to the players themselves.

The author, Mr. Zvielli, is a 93-year-old soccer fan who has been working at The Jerusalem Post for 69 years (and counting). He was eight years old at the time of the inaugural World Cup in 1930 and has been able to follow most, if not all, of the now-20 editions of the tournament.