FIFA Shoots They Score!! …Or Did They?

Well, it’s hard to have breaking news on a weekly blog entry, no? NY Times beat me to it, but it’s still relevant (hey, they just posted this morning!).  Times Online (UK) did too, and to no surprise, I find their commentary better informed.  Before this becomes a link fest to organizations that have covered the topic before me, I just want to say what I think and why.

I’m frustrated with the power of FIFA (there are only 8 votes counted on these things??).  No sporting organization is nearly as powerful as FIFA.  I hate that FIBA rules are different that NBA (and to a lesser degree IIHF/NHL), but without that tension there’s a monopoly. US sports don’t have monopoly status in the same way because college sports are separate and very important.  Also, whatever you think about it, the US Congress isn’t afraid to step in.  I have a hard time believing the UN is going to pose sanctions on FIFA-nation though.

Of course, as I mentioned, FIFA isn’t the only global organization, but the only one that can even claim to be in the same ballpark is the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  Yes, the Olympics are huge, but  the Olympics only happen once every four years (let’s not kid ourselves, much as I personally love the Winter Olympics, they are a side show).  FIFA’s once-every-four-years event, the World Cup, is bigger in some respects than the Olympics.

It’s a little off-topic, but I think it’s worth going down this FIFA vs. Olympics debate briefly.   There were 715.1 million viewers for the 2006 final and total viewership was 26.29 BILLION (down from just under 26.4 billion in 2002…different time zones and such).  Before the soccer-hating Americans rush in to claim that USA Today reports 40 Billion viewers, let’s think about this a bit more.  How many countries compete in the Olympics?  Let’s guessimate…all of them.  The UN says 192, so let’s go with that (even though that’s low due to multiple examples like Puerto Rico).  There are 32 countries competing in the World Cup.  192/32.  That’s exactly 6 times more.  Not all countries are the same size of course, and some of the big ones aren’t even in the World Cup: Russia and China are notable.  India, with it’s billion people, has never qualified for the World Cup.  They are too busy playing cricket.  China has only qualified once for the World Cup.   I think it’s safe to say on time slot saturation, the World Cup is doing a better job.

I think that little tangent was important, but it’s not really the point. FIFA operates all the time (not saying the IOC doesn’t plan for the summer games for four years, but that’s not what I mean).  Every year there are EPL games.  Every year there is a UEFA Champions League.  Every year is a Copa Libertadores.  These, and every other top teir league and tournament around the world, is governed by FIFA.  When the MLS tried to do things the ‘American’ way (read: ridiculous), FIFA stepped in and was going to withhold cash.  I think it’s really hard to impress upon someone who doesn’t follow the game just how powerful FIFA is.  Any analogy is going to be ridiculous, but let me try.  Let’s image that the European leagues in basketball were dominant powers in the world.  The NBA is a powerful league, often thought to be the best, but the NBA teams aren’t the best teams in the world.  The Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons and Cavs all have worldwide popularity due to their past and present stars, but Uppsala Basket had an unstoppable center in the 70s and were a best team in the world for a while.  The Munich, Milan, Rome, Paris, London and Barcelona teams could any year be the best team, even if top-to-bottom the NBA is still the greatest league.  This is more-or-less, the way the EPL is now.  Let’s say the top 2 teams from the NBA enter a NorthAmerican/European tournament akin to UEFA Champions League.  The Celtics and Lakers dominate these spots (domination in the NBA doesn’t happen like domination in European football, but that’s another story) and teams like the Bucks are less interested in winning the league and more interested in knocking off either the Lakers or Celtics (let’s for get the conferences here) to get that NATO League spot.  Now, let’s say that the NBA really didn’t like the trapezoid lane, but to cash in on the millions of dollars of the NATO League, they had to follow FIBA rules.  If you can imagine this, you can imagine the power of FIFA.

We’ve established that I don’t like FIFA’s power (even if I do adamantly believe in standards), that the World Cup is ridiculously huge and that that power I don’t like FIFA actually possesses.  What we have not established is that video replay is a good or bad thing.

I do *not* think video replay should be the start of things.  I do, however, think a chip in the ball to determine if it crosses a goal line would help the game.  How many goals are scored in a game?  I don’t have stats, but let’s say 2-1 is a common score.  Just as common as 2-2 and 1-1 so it balances out to three times a game.  Thus, technology is going to come into play, let’s be generous, six or so times a game (ok, that’s not being generous to current officials, but you know what I mean).  If I’ve got Americans reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir.  We love video replay in American football, basketball, hockey and baseball.  There was a fight in baseball because of it’s “tradition” and that’s the same fight FIFA is putting up.  Up until World War II, the norm was for countries to have protectionist economic policies.  Up until the invention of the printing press, the tradition was for people to be illiterate.  The world changes and while I do think it’s important for people and organizations to stick to their roots, those roots weren’t established in stone.  They were established in a changing world.  One that is changing faster now than it ever has before.  Perhaps that’s why there is a backlash of traditionalism from FIFA and from the MLB.  With technology and communication changing on a daily basis, we want to be able to sit on our couch and watch the same game we’ve always loved.  Well FIFA, I’ve got news for you, I didn’t have an high definition TV a couple years ago.  It made the games better, not worse.

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I played four varsity sports in high school (gridiron, track, football and basketball). I went to states with a relay team in North Carolina and made the state semi-finals in football (soccer). I also coached travel football for TFC ( and worked for Eurosport/ I graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where I study intellectual property and sports law.

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