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Lasses leave lockers, looking lovely

The England women's side was the toast of Westminster on 21 June. (FA.com)
Manchester, England, and Philadelphia, 27 June 2005 | Remarks by UEFA President Lennart Johansson appear to have added injury time to the aftermath of the recently concluded European Women's Championship (James Ducker, "Sexist Claims Are Rejected by Johansson," The Times [U.K.], 18 June). The comments do not bear repeating—suffice to say that they include the words "sweaty," "rainy weather" and "dressing room"—but they lead us to wonder how competent Johansson and Sepp Blatter before him are in English. They speak the language well, but it is not their first language. These multilingual gents now have found that obfuscation becomes more difficult when venturing beyond the mother tongue. Hence, perhaps we received a more accurate rendering of their beliefs than we would have otherwise—a disturbing thought. If one's definition of "sexism" includes creating a bind of "double negativity" for victims, consider the dilemma facing women footballers: encouraged by FIFA and UEFA leaders to look feminine (are men asked to look masculine?), yet yellow-carded, as was Norway's Solveig Gulbrandsen, for lifting her shirt above her head during a goal celebration. At least rules on the field are applied consistently, while the women's game off the field still receives mixed messages.

A second entrenched "-ism"—racism—has been in the news. For close to two weeks The Guardian website has touted its report on racism in American soccer (Steven Wells, "Racial Divide Driving a Wedge into Soccer's Grass-roots," 17 June).

The Rutland High School girls' team in Vermont is all-white. But what does it say about U.S. soccer? (rutlandhs.k12.vt.us)
We have no doubt that the thesis—that American soccer is overwhelmingly white—is true. But Wells's statistics are slight. For instance, he queries why there aren't more African American sides in Philadelphia, which is 40 percent black. "[T]he segregation of US cities still shocks," Wells writes. "And nowhere is this divide more obvious than in US soccer. No one is keeping statistics on just how effectively working class African-Americans have been excluded from America's grass roots soccer explosion. But everyone is agreed that US soccer is . . . hideously white." Notice the unqualified use of "nowhere," "no one" and "everyone." To us, segregation and the resulting monoculturalism are felt at every level of American life; to single out soccer seems like treating a symptom rather than the disease. Wells's article needs a conversation partner. But up to this point, U.S. soccer authorities have met the indictment with silence.

Reprise: Soccer as ballet

A man and a ball: Sepp Blatter has a go. (Diether Endlicher | AP)
Munich, 9 June 2005 | Goleo VI—the lion mascot of "gormless" visage—featured prominently along with FIFA suits and Bavarian politicos as 2006 World Cup organizers acknowledged that one year remains until real players in real uniforms replace them at center circle ("Where's the Party?" Reuters, 6 June). Goleo was selected along with a giddy logo to project Germany in a positive, rather than dour, light. "Germans can be cheerful," said Interior Minister Otto Schily, "although to date this is not something we are

known for abroad." Yet Goleo has been mocked and a refereeing scandal and hooliganism have marred the buildup. "The last six months have been a disgrace," says Franz Beckenbauer, chairman of the organizing committee. But stadiums and transport are in place. And residents of Hamburg were scheduled yesterday to wear shirts of their favorite teams to work, "doing their bit to shake off stereotypical views of Germans as hard workers with little talent for enjoying themselves." So no worries.

Thy filleth my cup with sand
Zurich, 1 February 2005 | Another brainstorm from Sepp Blatter. Babes, beer, PABA-free sunscreen, another World Cup.
Visit a totally awesome beach-soccer site, dude
Like, nice site.
Wait, yes, a FIFA Beach World Cup. In 2005. In Brazil! We'll piggyback onto the work done by Beach Soccer Worldwide, on whose website one finds rules, history and the following statement: "The unique party atmosphere enjoyed by a Beach Soccer crowd is maintained during the three-minute breaks between periods, when music, live acts and dancers keep the entertainment flowing." More babes! Woo hoo!

Add to Their Tallies the Nobel Prizes in Schmoozing
Tooting riotously on vuvuzelas, South Africans celebrated the World Cup finals that finally had come their way—four years later than expected ("Vuvuzelas Blare from North to South," Sunday Times [Johannesburg], 16 May).

All agreed that with Mandela at the fore, South Africa produced a spectacular bid.
Early analyses of the results from Switzerland credited the influence of the Nobel Prize–winning troika of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and F. W. de Klerk and the emotional meaning that the world's largest sporting event would have for a nation once banished from international competition. Before a thorough discussion of why, on the first ballot, South Africa was able to garner 14 votes of FIFA's executive committee to Morocco's 10, however, the country demonstrated its relief:

Blaring hooters and firecrackers rocked the Five Roses Bowl in Mofolo, Soweto, as thousands of township residents and their white countrymen celebrated. Thrilled residents felt that the South African bid company, led by Irvin Khoza and Danny Jordaan, strengthened their presentation immeasurably by involving Mandela. "He held the ace for us. Mandela represents everything that is good and vibrant and positive about South Africa," said Gugu Sibiya. Mangethe Zwane, a former soccer player for Zola Young Stars, commended Khoza and Jordaan on a job well done. . . . "Doors are opening wide for every South African. A man in the street is guaranteed a job now." (Larry Lombaard and Gillian Jones, "South Africa Jubilant after World Cup News," Mail and Guardian, 16 May)

Mandela, by all accounts, made a poignant presentation to the executive committee the day before its award. Referring to South Africa's expulsion from FIFA in 1976 as well as his own imprisonment, the former president said, "It is 28 years since FIFA took its stand against racially divided football and helped inspire the final story against apartheid. While we were on Robben Island, the only access to the World Cup was on radio. Football was the only joy to prisoners. . . . I can confirm that we are ready, determined, willing and capable, as well as passionate, about hosting the World Cup. You, my friends, have it in your hands to make that dream a reality. As football generated hope on Robben Island, hosting this World Cup will give a certain meaning to this hope" (Grahame L. Jones, "South Africa to Stage Soccer World Cup," Los Angeles Times, 16 May). Others note that Mandela paid more attention to boxing and tennis in his 750-page autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Whatever. (For more on football and Robben Island, see the gleanings entry for 27 April 2004.)

Even with Mandela's presentation, though, the London Daily Telegraph reports that committee members required last-minute hotel-room schmoozing to seal the arrangement (Mihir Bose, "How South Africa Swung the Vote in Their Favor," 17 May). According to the Telegraph account, a block of four votes—three from the Central American, North American and Caribbean nations and one from Oceania— controlled by CONCACAF chief Jack Warner changed hands from Morocco to South Africa in a last hotel-room encounter, with Mandela waiting in his suite until 30 minutes before the final announcement lest he be publicly humiliated. That final swing means some 21 billion South African rand ($3.1 billion) in income, 150,000 jobs and untold residual effects (Rowan Philip and Andrew Donaldson, "Economic Cup Will Overflow," Sunday Times [Johannesburg], 16 May). One residual effect relates to Mandela himself: a 110-meter statue in the Port Elizabeth harbor mouth, called the Statue of Freedom, that could be fast-tracked for completion by 2009. On 18 July 2010, Mandela would turn 92.

What Was He Thinking?
Pelé Names 100 (And Then Some)

Pelé has made some poor choices in his career. Perhaps one of the worst, however, was agreeing to name history's 100 greatest footballers for FIFA's centenary. Now he's encountering no end of stick for his selections, even from his native Brazil, where folks feel that more than 15 merited inclusion (" 'I Did My Best': Pele Angers Brazilians by Leaving Out 1970 World Cup Stars," Associated Press). The first oddity is that the list actually includes 125 names. Click for FIFA 100 siteThe list has also gained attention for including two women, both Americans: Michelle Akers, who, with China's Sun Wen, was FIFA's co-player of the century among women, and Mia Hamm. Pelé defends this choice: "[W]omen's football in the world is very important. We have the World Cup, the United States is world champion twice. This confused the people who were working with me but it was my choice, my idea." Ultimately, though, the selection seems like a half-hearted nod to the women's game. Why just two names? Why not a separate list when influential figures such as Carolina Morace (Italy), Pia Sundhage (Sweden), Elsie Cook (Scotland) and so many others get the snub? . . . We enjoyed Michael Skapinker's take on clichés ("Heed This Wake-Up Call or Risk a Spectacular Own Goal," Financial Times, 3 March, p. 7; available by subscription only). In the relevant section discussing "own goal," Skapinker notes the rarity of its use among Americans.

The war on Iraq was a "spectacular own goal", says Robin Cook, the former UK foreign secretary. Shackling the accused in their cells before their trial for defrauding the Commercial Bank of Mozambique was another "spectacular own goal", says the Agência de Informação de Moçambique. ¶A parenthetical curiosity is that real own goals are embarrassing, hilarious, unexpected—but rarely spectacular. They usually come from a mistimed defensive lunge or an ill-judged attempt to head the ball over the bar.

  • Zurich | 16 January 2004 . . . This is how women's football seems to gain notice, when sex becomes an explicit part of the equation. Blatter believes in lifting up the women's game (AP Photo)As you no doubt have heard by now, FIFA boss Joseph "Sepp" Blatter has spelled out his vision of the feminine future for Swiss trash mag SonntagsBlick. That future involves tighter-fitting kit. "Pretty women are playing football today," Blatter said, in what the Times (U.K.) called a liberal translation from the German. "Excuse me for saying that." Headline-writers, of course, have had a good time:

    "Blatter-Mouth Sepp Puts His Foot in It" (Edmonton Sun)
    "Slip into Something Skimpy: Blatter" (Winnipeg Sun)
    "Brief Loss of Blatter Control" (Washington Post)
    "Getting Shorts in a Bunch" (Tacoma News Tribune)

    And so on. The Times had its own variation—"Blatter Given Clear Brief Over Hotpants" (17 January)—in which Peter Lansley notes that the English Football Association might have unwittingly buttressed Blatter's comments by releasing a brochure with four female England players modeling, yes, closer-fitting football wear. We also cannot forget that the Women's United Soccer Association once sent cheesecake pics of its players to Playboy. FIFA's response to the latest imbroglio? A spokesman says that Blatter never said "hotpants." | back to top

  • Zurich | 17 December 2003 . . . Let's get straight to the Blatter bashes backmost volatile paragraph from FIFA president Joseph (Sepp) Blatter's op-ed article in today's Financial Times ("Soccer's Greedy Neo-colonialists," available by subscription only):

    Europe's leading clubs conduct themselves increasingly as neo-colonialists who do not give a damn about heritage and culture but engage in social and economic rape by robbing the developing world of its best players. If we are not careful, football may degenerate into a game of greed—a trend I shall vigorously oppose.

    Blatter makes explicit early on that he refers to the so-called G14, which actually groups 17 top European clubs as an advocacy and lobbying force. Blatter's essay has been prompted by the request that FIFA reimburse G14 clubs for national teams' use of G14-member players in major international events. The FIFA leader rebuts that such reimbursement is the responsibility of domestic football associations. Blatter, however, appears a bit disingenous about FIFA's authority, saying the organization exists to distribute funds and lets FAs make decisions. Yet he threatens lifetime bans against players on steroids—singling out Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand for special mention for failing to take a September drug test—and immediate relegation for the players' clubs. Blatter may be right about rich clubs prospecting for talent around the globe, but he must acknowledge that, in sport, there is no organization like FIFA: setting rules, schedules and protocol for clubs big and small, men or women, handicapped or fully abled, futsal or 11-a-side. | back to top