Beckham Injury Causes FIFA to Postpone World Cup

ZURICH — In an unprecedented move, FIFA officials decided yesterday to postpone the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament until 2011, in order to give David Beckham’s torn Achilles’ tendon time to heal so that he could play in the tournament.

“Missing Beckham would devastate our ratings,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “Let’s face it: Beckham and his wife, Victoria, are the fifth-richest couple on Forbes money list, and we were counting on substantial ad revenue from his fragrance brand. Without Beckham, no one gives a shit about the Honduran squad. No offense, but Rigoberto Padilla doesn’t sell hair gel.”

“We are elated by FIFA’s decision,” said Armand André, spokesperson for Victoria Beckham. “This will give us time to tailor our denim and eyewear offerings to the billions who will be enjoying David Beckham at the World Cup.”

However, many in the world are speculating that the severity of Beckham’s injury will mean the end of his playing career.

“He was already as slow as a dunce with a head injury,” says Nigel Stoke-on-Trent, who writes for a soccer blog called The Old Onion Bag. “What is England going to do when he gets back? Sub him on to take a one-legged corner kick?”

Others disagree with Stoke-on-Trent’s prediction, noting that FIFA is not the only organization that stands to benefit from Beckham’s appearance. The English national squad recently negotiated a deal to make David Beckham Underwear the team’s exclusive supplier of athletic support garments, and the team would lose millions if they stopped carrying the David Beckham jock.

In related news, FIFA officials announced Tuesday that their creative team is busy re-conceptualizing the FIFA 2010 World Cup mascot, Zakumi.

At the press conference, organization released a preliminary sketch of the new mascot, “Becky.”

The Soccer Ball Rorschach Test

Not long after we bought this soccer ball, I realized it was a kind of Rorschach Test. So, using the new polling feature in WordPress, I thought I’d test my hypothesis on you:

Book Review: How Soccer Explains the World

soccer_world.jpegFranklin Foer’s book How Soccer Explains the World has the subtitle, “an {unlikely} theory of globalization.”

And his title and subtitle are, perhaps, my only quibbles with his excellent book. This isn’t one of those “Worms: How Fat, Soft-bodied Invertebrates Explain Human History” books.

It doesn’t exactly explain the world, though it is very much about globalization. The first part “tries to explain the failure of globalization to erode ancient hatreds in the game’s great rivalries.”

He calls this the “hooligan-heavy section of the book,” and once or twice he comes perilously close to retreading the same ground covered in Bill Buford’s harrowing and amazing Among the Thugs.

But Foer, an editor at the New Republic, goes the extra mile here, and it shows. His first chapter is how about a Serbian a soccer thug who helped organize troops who became murderers in the Balkan War. By the war’s end, the thug’s men had killed at least 2,000 Croats and Bosnians. There’s another, equally fascinating chapter about a soccer rivalry in Scotland inflamed by religious hatred.

The second section is more economic, with an excellent dissection of the disease-ridden state of football in Brazil, a look at Italian oligarchs, and arguably the most globalized chapter, about a Nigerian playing professional soccer in the Ukraine, where “Even the ruddy Ukranians line up in wool hats, long pants, and heavy parkas. Many Nigerians playing in the Ukraine complain bitterly about their inability to maneuver in these temperatures. They say that their frozen feet feel like sledgehammers, while their style of play demands a chisel’s delicacy.”

Apart from readers such as myself reaping the benefits of him roaming the world and watching soccer (in Brazil, Spain, Italy, the Ukraine, Scotland and the US, among others), the book is a whole new reading on politics, sometimes showing a country in an entirely new light as a result. One of the best chapters is about Islam, and the way that soccer has been a liberating influence for people there (especially women). The chapter on Brazil is no less illuminating. There’s even a two-chapter detour into The Jewish Question that describes Hakoah, a soccer team that’s a bona fide Jewish Sports Legend.

For as well informed as the book is about world events, Foer is no less astute when it comes to the US. He makes a fascinating argument that for children who came of age at the same time he did (I’d estimate he’s between 35 and 40), soccer was

a tabula rasa, a sport onto which a generation of parents could project their values. Quickly, soccer came to represent the fundamental tenets of yuppie parenting, the spirit of Sesame Street and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Unlike the other sports, it would foster self-esteem, minimize the pain of competition while still teaching life lessons.

That leads to a strange inversion in the United States: “In every other part of the world, soccer’s sociology varies little: it is the province of the working class.” In the US, as sporting goods surveys show, “children of middle class and affluent families play the game disproportionately.” I found that a shocking conclusion—not because it was wrong, but because my son plays youth soccer, and I still somehow didn’t see how obviously right it is.

In other words, soccer is an elitist sport, and thus derided by sports talk shows and conservatives who see it as yet another unpatriotic symptom in the American liberal disease of Europhilia.

Again, I’m not sure soccer explains the world, but it does make me see it in a whole new way.

Stayin’ Alive

hockeyfight.jpg

We interrupt this working day to bring you news of brilliance on the internet, in the form of Nate DiMeo’s proposal in Slate, “My Plan to Save Hockey.” (He tells it in the form of a letter to the NHL, which explains why he keeps using you).

First the problem: “Thanks to a functional but deeply imperfect revenue-sharing system, you’re getting by. But you’re propping up franchises that have no business surviving. … you let salary growth far outpace revenue growth. You expanded all the way to the breaking point (if you’re looking for this point on a map, it’s suspiciously close to Nashville).”

Then the proposal: Make the NHL like The English Premiership, where “the three worst Premiership teams are kicked down to the league immediately below them. The best two teams from that lower league move up; the third team gets promoted after winning a thrilling playoff series.”

It’s no accident that English Premier League soccer is addictive. It’s great. But it takes some getting used to, because it’s geographically chaotic, and you have conversations with yourself like this:

  1. Manchester City is playing Manchester United?
  2. Cockswold on the Glen is playing Buggerborough? Oh, like I’m going to tune in for that — oh wait, doesn’t Buggerborough have that amazing Nigerian striker I saw in the last World Cup? I take it back. What time is it on?

But back to the ice. Is relegation for NHL a good idea? Yes, it’s unalloyed genius. Here’s why:

You’re not just rooting for your own favorite club and watching what happens at the top of the league. You’re also watching teams duke it out at the bottom as they fight for survival. Plus, it means that there aren’t perennial basement dwellers. Team owners have to keep investing in their team if they want to stay in the spotlight (and stay where the money is). If baseball had this system, the nation would have been rid of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays a long time ago.

Not only that, the league contracts (which it needs to), and other hockey hotbeds, which now have great owners and fan bases, get a shot at the big time:

If the Halifax Mooseheads are slugging it out with the New York Rangers for the 2012 Stanley Cup, then all the better. That will mean the Mooseheads can draw 18,000 rabid fans and have owners who’ve invested in building a great team.

And damned if I wouldn’t be first in line to buy a Mooseheads jersey.