Football is supposed to be the beautiful game. We saw snippets of it in the World Cup in Brazil this year, but there is still too much that gets in the way of the game as it is supposed to be.
Having grown up in Argentina, I am immensely proud of this year's national team. It displayed the highest level of persistence, teamwork, and maturity, both as a team and in the players and head coach. The final could just as easily have been won by Argentina as by Germany.
Officially, football is a non-contact sport. According to the rulebook, no player may touch another under any circumstances except shoulder-to-shoulder, arms against one's side, when both players are vying for the ball. This means that if a player merely rests a hand on another, a free kick is supposed to be awarded. Any deliberate grabbing of a jersey, pushing another player, sliding at the ball with cleats pointing outward calls for a yellow card. A repeat offense calls for expulsion.
In the rare games in which the referee calls the game according to the rules, football indeed is the beautiful game. The play moves constantly and winning depends on the skill, speed, and intelligence of the players.
During this World Cup, the refereeing has been awful in every game. The reason is very simple: the referees tolerate a great deal of fouling without stopping play and calling free kicks when they are supposed to be showing a yellow card. This practice goes back many decades to England, the country which invented the game but also introduced "war football." The practice was to mark other players by fouling them so they could not move and then do a lightning counterattack. This is boring football and not beautiful at all. It also violates the rules.
Argentina in the late 60's witnessed the coach of Estudiantes de La Plata introduce this kind play and no amount of protesting to the referees had any effect. All over the world since then, football has declined into a game of fouling the opponents to the full extent the referees allow, thus keeping the other team from putting any sort of plays together. This year we saw a Brazilian player get a vertebra cracked in a vicious foul that was not even awarded a free kick, but ignored by the referee. In the final, there was a clear foul in the penalty box that would have meant a penalty kick for Argentina and likely a different outcome in the game, but the referee ignored it.
The time has come for all fans, players, coaches, and above all the FIFA, to demand better training for referees and to insist that the game be played according to the rules. Doing so will protect players and increase the joy of watching the game, a real win for everyone.
A quick word on football as a term. Among several other sports, the United Kingdom gave the world football and rugby. The players of the latter game are called ruggers, while players of the former are called soccers (from "Association Football"). The game is called football because it is played with the feet, no hands allowed. American "football" is derived from rugby, not football, modified to allow for the forward pass. Given these facts, we would ask for indulgence in using the word "football" to mean the beautiful game.
I would invite all lovers of good fiction to read the first two of my Angela novels (I am writing the third as we speak). You can look them up, as well as my short stories in Spanish, at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . Thank you.