Soccer or Futbol is the world’s most popular sport—as well it should be. And it begins this weekend in Qatar regardless of the controversy in awarding the game to that Middle East nation.
Many Americans scratch their heads in wonder as to why this sport is an obsession worldwide and evokes such frenzy including occasional violence. The answer is easy. The game is played the way our world works.
Unlike American football, soccer rules are capricious and arbitrary—similar to how many governments on the planet operate. There are officials to be sure (head referee, linesmen, reserve referee and video assistant referee), but what constitutes a foul or penalty is never clear. A whistle is blown and either a yellow card or red is held in front of the offending player. Yellow is cautionary and red is an automatic ejection.
Occasionally a video replay is used decide the severity of the infraction. But this is seldom convincing because these calls are arbitrary there is no absolute certainty—unlike in basketball and American football where it’s clear if a player steps out of bounds or grabs a facemask.
Nope. Not in soccer. Any hope of clarity is a will-o’-the-wisp. A familiar scenario to anyone who lives in an autocratic society.
The field boundaries are mere suggestions not absolutes. Players routinely continue to play whether they or the call goes out of bounds. Residents in nations where laws seem flexible and depend on the moment or mood of a functionary can relate.
Finally, achieving a goal or even winning a game is agonizingly difficult. Long periods of sustained pressure
Result in no scores most of the time.
The ball fails to enter the net and games often end in a tie.
To be sure, the World Cup winner this year will actually record the clinching goal. But, again, as is too often the case in various societies, it may be decided by a strange, protracted, convoluted process. In soccer this is called penalty kicks.
An offensive player faces the opposing goal defender and tries to propel the ball past the goalie into the net.
In years past the World Cup champion team has been determined following 90 minutes of regulation play (score tied). Then one or two 15-minute overtime periods (if score still tied) then a required shoot off in which each team has five penalty kicks.
As you can imagine, this process lasts longer than some parliamentary governments—Britain and Italy come easily to mind.
Why you ask again is this so popular? Because it’s the same Sisyphean task millions face around the world daily.
But at least for one month every four years fans know that the impossible will finally be achieved.
Let the World Cup begin.