Is It the Heat, Or Just Bad Sports?
World Cup soccer referees called “foul” when none occurred and thus lost their chance to impress American sports fans.
Cycling officials sent Tour de France riders bouncing over huge Brussels cobblestones at high speeds in early stages of the race, causing injuries from massive crashes anyone could have predicted. Then these officials showed a callous disrespect for cancer survivors on the last day of the three-week Tour during its Paris finale.
Back home college athletic officials professed shock to learn that agents roam their campuses trying to corral undergraduate athletes. Agents have been doing this for decades.
Diminishing interest in the PGA Tour has almost reached the laughing point as we wonder “who he” on the leaderboards these days.
Maybe it is the heat that’s getting to me. But whatever the cause, it appears to me as if there has been an inordinate amount of poor judgment in major sports circles lately.
Given a wonderful opportunity to win over the one big nation that does not have much interest in major league soccer, FIFA and its World Cup in South Africa blew that chance to convince the sports fans of the United States that they should become international soccer aficionados. The American TV audience was the biggest in World Cup history. ESPN and ABC did a good job reporting on and showing the games.
But for the untrained American eye it was the action on the field that was enough to continue our old habits of staying away from big time soccer in droves.
When bad officials call phantom fouls and never own up to why they made such calls or explain who committed the imaginary fouls, it is hard to say this is a well conducted game. Then when those officials skip town never to be seen again, is it any wonder we don’t fully appreciate the sport?
It became obvious during the World Cup in South Africa that soccer needs more than just one official to cover 22 players running about a pitch the size of a football gridiron. Remember, our football games have six officials.
The United States was not the only team unfairly penalized by a referee’s egregious call at those World Cup matches.
Don’t expect a growth of enthusiasm for soccer in the USA after this year’s World Cup tournament, particularly after listening to those insufferable vuvuzela horns the crowds hooted on all game long.
Moving a few thousand miles north and a few weeks later, we were treated to a messy start and a very insensitive ruling at the finish of this year’s three-week Tour de France.
Andy Schleck, of Luxembourg, the eventual runner-up to Alberto Contador, of Spain, complained about the danger of the third stage of the Tour July 5, when the riders were forced to pedal over stretches of roads that were built of big, fat and round cobblestones. He was right.
There were a number of accidents over those cobblestones with many riders tumbling over one another in each of these needless collisions. Andy Schleck’s brother, Frank, was forced out of the Tour de France after he fell in the cobblestones and broke his left collarbone.
What gets into the minds of officials at this annual, grueling marathon to send the world’s premier cyclists racing over streets of spine-jarring, wheel-twisting cobblestones?
Then last Sunday when the race ended in Paris, Lance Armstrong and his RadioShack teammates wore black shirts with the number “28” on the back of each shirt. But Tour de France officials delayed the start of the last day’s “racing” up and down the boulevard Champs-Elysees when they made RadioShack riders replace those black shirts with the “proper” Tour numbered T-shirts.
The final day of the Tour has become nothing but a formality with no real racing for position involved and nobody caring who wears what. RadioShack members wore those shirts with the number “28” to show support for the 28 million people fighting cancer that Lance Armstrong and others support through his Armstrong Livestrong Association.
In the world of academics and athletics, it is interesting to see how John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, came out with a long list of things he suggests be done to prevent agents from swarming all over his ACC universities looking for professional player prospects to sign up. That list did not include anything about putting an end to the “one and done” system of getting high school athletes to spend one season on campus, just long enough to help that school earn a national title.
Kentucky, North Carolina, Southern California and a whole lot of other universities have followed this strategy in football or basketball for years.
Just where is the education in all this?
And why do college officials act stunned when agents come to town trying to pick off athletes that have no intention of staying around for a degree? It is as if a beekeeper should be surprised when a couple of bears enter his property that has 100 hives loaded with honey.
When the top draft pick for the National Basketball Association is only a freshman in college, then we know that institution had little intention to educate and plenty of intention to reach the Final Four. Agents swarm around those players.
Instead of expressing shock at agents’ activities, colleges might try recruiting someone for purposes of having that person earn a degree.
The failure of Tiger Woods to get his act together so far has seriously hurt the PGA Tour. Add to that the fact that some of the better known golfers are aging and not up there when Sunday rolls around and you have a dwindling audience.
That was indicated by the lowest American TV ratings for the British Open in recent years. This followed a sluggish TV rating for the United States Open in June at Pebble Beach. Each of those major tournaments was won by a relatively unknown foreign golfer. Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland took the U.S. Open and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa won the British Open.
The ESPN crew did a fine job on the British Open from St. Andrews. We were able to see the stormy links course where the game began hundreds of years ago at her very strongest.
Celebrity watchers were turned off by the British Open while the real golf fans watched St. Andrews Old Course in action and marveled at how she could subdue those “name” golfers who are over-pampered, over-rich and over there.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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