Qatar 2022 – The Whiny and Hypocritical US Sports Media Is Driving Me Crazy

A quick(er) rant.

The amount of contrived indignation on this topic is incredible. Since the announcement of Qatar 2022 (and Russia 2018) was made, the U.S. sports media has produced a non-stop barrage of articles complaining about every aspect of the decision. Other than the initial disappointment of having to wait longer for a World Cup in the US, I absolutely do not care that FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar or Russia. Rather, I’m sick of reading whiny articles about it. For both but particularly Qatar 2022.

Some of the complaints we read about Qatar daily:

1) The bribes and shady dealings.

I don’t like bribes or shady deals. Anywhere. But I’m not going to pretend bribes aren’t the way FIFA, the Olympics, UEFA, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, AFC and CAF (and U.S. Congress) have always been doing things. Nor would I dare pretend that taking the World Cup from Qatar (or Russia) would accomplish anything. We Americans behave in the same way. Remember the Salt Lake Olympics? The investigations around it also implicated Atlanta 1996. Remember Chuck Blazer? He was made in America and was instrumental in arranging USA 1994. He and his co-horts didn’t get FIFA to bring the World Cup to a country without a soccer league because of their charm. They struck back-room deals like everyone else. Then they set themselves up to profit off the World Cup as much as possible. Sometimes these crooks get busted by authorities (see recent developments or Italian football history) but most often they don’t.

And from what many gather, the United States Soccer Federation, Soccer United Marketing, Major League Soccer, their commingled shell corps and a select few people are behaving in a very similar manner. I would be delighted if our media would spend just a moment looking at those within our own house with the same vigor. There has been too much bold moral positioning against far away foreigners by a domestic sports media engaging in ostrich-like behavior on a lot of topics.

2) Qatar’s slave labor.

There are those who’ve written we should boycott the World Cup because of this. Boycott the World Cup??? This is an absurd idea. Only hurtful to American soccer and for nothing more than irrational and hypocritical grandstanding. To be clear, I don’t support slave labor but if anyone has noticed, Qatar is a U.S. ally. These labor practices have been going on for a long time not just in Qatar but in a lot of countries that are U.S. allies or regimes put in place/kept in place by our government. A lot of the goods you probably used today were built by a labor force who has minimal to no rights.

US Central Command has a base in Qatar. The same labor probably built the some of the buildings our own military is using. So if you care about improving the lives of slave labor in Qatar or anywhere, start with calling our own elected officials and complaining to them. Don’t complain to FIFA about it. This is non-sense that ignores the real causes of these dynamics.

To pretend that the US Men’s National Team or American soccer fans should carry this baggage without any real-world context is ridiculous. Seemingly blind, our sports media is talking about stadiums being built by people who’ve been suffering for decades in a close ally with US approval. And since we are unlikely to stop being allies with Qatar (and their oil) for a long time, these people will likely continue to suffer long after 2022. Everyone of these articles should be addressed to the U.S. government, not FIFA or even Qatar. Or rather, they should be addressed to the apathetic American people who continuously elect the same brands of politicians who continuously behave in the same way with regard to our foreign policy throughout the world. This one, the slave labor complaint, is nothing more than a bunch of self-righteous U.S. media pots calling a kettle black. And it’s an American maintained, armed and protected kettle.

So no, I do not expect FIFA to give a hoot about how Qatar builds those stadiums like I didn’t expect IOC to give a hoot about how China built its stadiums for the Beijing Olympics. I expect FIFA to organize a soccer tournament in a stable nation with hotels and move on to the next one. In fact, I hope FIFA gives that very next one, the 2026 World Cup, to a country with an awful human rights record and which has been in continuous war since 1941: The United States of America. (If only Gulati and our self-righteous media would shut their pious mouths)

3) Winter World Cup:  I don’t care that pompous Europeans or whomever will have to adjust their league schedule for two months for the first time ever. There are a lot of countries which due to weather play Spring to Fall. Finally, for once, these countries will not have to adjust their schedule as they have been doing every four years since their leagues’ creation. Basically, one group has always been asked to adjust and does so happily and now another group is being asked to adjust ONE TIME and they are acting apocalyptic about it. Good grief, what a bunch of selfish jerks. Once in 100 years is not that big a deal. Get over it. Stop acting like the world is falling apart.

And for all those people whining about the World Cup competing with NFL/NBA/NCAA, Qatar is far away. In November, the time difference will be 8 hours, meaning the games will be on in the morning or noon-ish. They will not be on at the same time as any marquee US sports. The noon NCAA games are mediocre and the NFL reserves marquee games for 4pm and primetime. When Qatar 2022 happens, it will likely be the only time in our lives where we will get to wake up, watch amazing World Cup soccer and then immediately watch a full slate of great American pro and college sports . We are talking quintuple and sixtuple-headers of great soccer, basketball and football.

Qatar 2022…CAN’T FREAKING WAIT!

Russia too!

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List of Questions Regarding MLS and USSF

1)    Who is the CEO/Chairman of the Board of MLS LLC?  Bloomberg lists it is as Richard A. Peddie, the former CEO of MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment). http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=4312581 I’ve asked Mr. Peddie on twitter but he simply blocked me without saying no. He was asked by several people over a couple of days and he continued to ignore the question. Then, @sisusoccer (an anonymous account, to me) asked and Mr. Peddie did go on record with a quick “no”: https://twitter.com/SisuSoccer/status/575467792796807168 But Mr. Peddie would not respond to any follow up questions about when he left the position or who is the current CEO.  Also, former USSF president and lifetime director of the USSF Foundation, Alan Rothenberg is named per this site http://www.corporationwiki.com/New-York/New-York/alan-rothenberg/136277457.aspx as chairman of MLS LLC. Is Mr. Rothenberg Chairman of the Board/CEO or has he ever been? None of Mr. Rothenberg’s or Mr. Peddie’s online profiles disclose any employment for MLS LLC or related companies (other than USSF and MLSE, of course).

2)    Who are the majority owners of MLS LLC? I believe it to be The Anschutz Corp, The Kraft Group, and Hunt Sports LLC and maybe a few others: we know the teams are essentially franchises and MLS contracts with all players, parties, and has authority to make all major decisions. The exact structure is discussed fairly well in the first half of the decision from Fraser vs MLS (see end). Though from 2002, I can find no evidence the fake-competition model has changed nor the original majority owners.

3)    If the structure outlined in Fraser is accurate, it would mean the new entrants are transferring ownership of their teams (private corps in NASL) to MLS LLC for a right to be in the corporate umbrella. And they are doing this while also paying entrance fees? Since entry fees are relatively high, what promises of future returns are being made to these new entrants? Since the larger TV deals are mostly locked in for some time and since the attendance figures appear over-inflated in cases (easily proved by photo), are they indeed relying on “suckering” new entrants, similar to a ponzi scheme and as discussed by the soccernomics team?

4)    What is MLS Partners LLC (active)? http://www.corporationwiki.com/p/2espfd/mls-partners-llc  Originally created in Delaware on 2/19/2014 but also recorded in California. I can find no news or explanation about this corporation which appears to be owned, at least in part, by MLS LLC. I have called and emailed people within MLS to ask but they’ve given me no response. I wondered whether it was disclosed to the union during the CBA negotiation so I called and emailed several people within the union, including Bob Foose and John Newman, but received no response. Not even “it’s a non-factor”. Why let me stir a pot at all and why not tell me to buzz off?

5)   What is MLS Consulting (inactive)? http://www.corporationwiki.com/New-York/New-York/mls-consulting-inc/73911463.aspx which was owned and/or operated by Alan Rothenberg and Douglas Quinn, former president of SUM and former President of DallasFC  There was a third related corporation, also inactive, called “De Operating a Professional Soccer Team.” (I’m not kidding) However, for some reason, I cannot find any of the links I had been previously viewing. What are these sister/shell corps owned and/or operated by MLS or USSF officers or them together? How many are there?

6)    What is the exact nature of the lawsuit filed only last December by USSF against the USMNT player’s association? http://dockets.justia.com/docket/illinois/ilndce/1:2014cv09899/304155 It appears there was an arbitrated dispute regarding national team player images that was decided in favor of the USMNT and USSF has sued to undo the arbiter’s decision. This legal dispute has rendered the USMNTPA broke per the reports filed with the Department of Labor http://kcerds.dol-esa.gov/query/getOrgQry.do .

7)    Where is the 2010 CBA? If it is never disclosed and no one has a copy of it, how are contracts being negotiated? The player agents or any lawyer for a player must certainly have a copy they could disclose. Otherwise, how can terms be decided in a uniform manner?

8)   How much money, exactly, has MLS LLC and its wholly-owned subsidiaries received in public funds? Unlike other sports leagues comprised of multiple individual corporations, MLS LLC is one giant corporation potentially worth about or more than $3B (estimated guess from team values per Forbes). Yet it has received $1.5B in public assistance for its stadiums. https://twitter.com/neildemause/status/580709905390284801 Was almost half the corporation’s value derived via welfare? And this welfare-fattenned beast is actually one of the largest sports corporations around. Americans have surprisingly little control over something for which they’ve paid half.

9)   What are the real attendance figures or a legitimate estimate? I recently saw a photo of a Houston-Dallas game at BBVA Compass Stadium. https://twitter.com/EmptySeatsPics/status/594328707516506112  The stadium was clearly less than half full – indisputable. I estimate 40% full. The announced attendance was 19,975 (20K) but the stadium capacity is 22K. Total bullshit. The attendance figures are undoubtedly used to persuade entrants and sponsors. Is this more evidence of ponzi-scheme-like behavior or just number fudging?

10) As a former USSF president (Rothenberg), lifetime director of the USSF Foundation and CONCACAF VP (and if he is/was the CEO of MLS LLC), is this not a conflict of interest prevented by USSF or FIFA rules? With Garber as well, who is a current board member of USSF. Is Mr. Garber permitted to vote on all matters pertaining to division one? Including which corporations/entities should be allowed access?

11) USSF is sanctioned by FIFA. Regardless of the directorships, what are the FIFA rules regarding favorable FA treatment of individual teams/corporations? Are MLS and USSF allowed to collude so openly with no administrative recourse to other entities? IMO, the need for the NY Cosmos or top NASL teams to be allowed a shot at D1 competition is incontestable.

My odyssey with MLS started just a few months ago so I am trying to catch up to everyone on a lot of things. I give great thanks to all the free-market/open system advocates out there for all the guidance, data, info, history and news they provide. They actually care about the future of American soccer. Thank you.

In my opinion as well, an objective analysis shows this company is harmful to American soccer. It’s a centrally controlled, anti free investment, anti management freedom, dictatorial communist system which only ensures the development of American soccer will always lag behind the superior systems of the world. I suspect it is designed in this manner not to sustain growth but to ensure that any value or wealth generated by the sport of soccer within North America is captured by a select few individuals. And to achieve this monopoly on the future of soccer, it does so with disregard of the negative effects such a closed, imprisoned system has on the potential development of the players or overall sport within America.

Though I have been amassing data and info, MLS Media members are for the most part ignoring me completely. I think they view me as an irrelevant nuisance. Admittedly, those I did speak to were incredibly polite (ty!) but none would answer any questions. I will add more to this list as I go along and continue seeking answers.

If you are able to assist with any of these, a lot of people would be greatly appreciative. Also, I personally think it would make a good story for any intrepid sports journalists out there tired of reporting scores and injuries.

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EDIT: I have been advised that the photos cited in No. 9 were taken early and that the game did fill up further. If anyone has good photos of game crowds at their height, please share them with @TheMehdiMan. I am also familiar that “tickets sold” often exceed attendance. However, for this to be plausible in an example like the HOU/DAL game, there would have to be approximately 9000 empty seats which were purchased. These numbers seem inflated and deserve questioning. Also, unlike other leagues and teams whom most likely also inflate attendance figures, MLS uses these numbers to lure new entrants into the league, who are paying large entry fees and, ostensibly, assigning ownership of their teams to MLS LLC.

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MLS’ franchise, faux-competition structure, as discussed by the Court in Fraser vs. Major League Soccer:

Fraser - MLS structure 1

Fraser - MLS structure 2

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Soccer United Marketing…I have not yet even started with you.

Top 5 Moments in African World Cup History

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In continuation of our series about international soccer, we present our top 5 most memorable moments in African World Cup history.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has often reasserted his belief that Africa should be given more qualifying spots at the  World Cup. However, there was a time when FIFA and the World Cup was not so inclusive or welcoming for members of the world’s three largest continents. In fact, Asian, African, and North American teams were afforded only fractional qualification requiring inter-continental playoffs prior to 1970. Considering UEFA always had at least eight dedicated qualifying spots, critics rightfully complained of a continental bias within FIFA’s “World” Cup.

As a result of this dispute, African teams boycotted the 1966 World Cup when only one place was afforded for Asia and Africa combined, demanding each continent be afforded at least a direct qualifying spot. When FIFA acquiesced in 1970, Morocco was Africa’s first participant.

However, after two defeats and dead rubber draw against Bulgaria, some argued FIFA should revert to fractional qualification for Africa and Asia (AFC member Israel managed two draws and a defeat). The debate continued throughout the qualification period for the 1974 World Cup, pitting the members of CAF, AFC, and CONCACAF against UEFA and CONEMBOL for qualifying spots at the big event.

And so begins our list.

5.  Zaire 1974 – Some memories are so bad they can never be forgotten.

It was under this context Zaire qualified for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. CAF members were hoping for a good performance to bolster their arguments about qualification spots. Instead, Zaire delivered one of the all-time worst performances by any team in World Cup history. Prior or since. It was a cruel joke against CAF.

After a respectable 2-0 defeat to Scotland, Zairian players learned they would not be paid as agreed by their FA. Dejected by this reality and in semi-protest, they were humiliated 9-0 in their second game by a mediocre Yugoslavia team. It was 6-0 at halftime with the victors seemingly scoring without trying. No one who watched this game felt the Africans deserved to be on the pitch.

In their third game, Zaire faced perennial power Brazil. While Zaire managed to improve their play, Brazil still cruised to a 2-0 lead when, late in the game, Brazil was awarded a free kick outside just outside the Zairian box. As Brazil lined up for the kick, this happened…..

One of the most baffling things ever seen in a soccer match. Was he confused? Does he know the rules? Why is this team playing in the World Cup? ‘Silly Africans’ is what the footballing world thought as Zaire was ridiculed.

However, the truth is much more depressing. Unfortunately, Zairian defender Muepu Ilunga knew exactly what he was doing and made what he felt was the most logical choice in a desperate situation. As you may or may not know, Zaire’s president was a wonderful man named Joseph Mobutu. And by wonderful, I mean a murderous, unhinged, thieving, totalitarian dictator with a penchant for atrocities. After the debacle against Yugoslavia, Mobutu advised his team there would be dire consequences if they lost more than 3-0 to Brazil. And when Mobutu said dire consequences, the players did not need further clarification.

Losing 2-0 in the 78th minutes, Ilunga booted the ball solely to delay the game as much as possible. He and his team were desperate to not run afoul of Mobutu. While Brazil did score on the ensuing free-kick, the game ended 3-0 and Ilunga lived to tell his story. However, Mobutu stopped funding the national side and banned most players from leaving the country to play elsewhere. Many of the Zairian players from this team lived out the rest of the lives forgotten and in poverty, although a few managed to emigrate elsewhere. So yeah, this memory was not so good.

4. Algeria 1982 – Who’s laughing now!…..oh wait, it’s still not us.

While Tunisia managed to snag Africa’s first World Cup group stage win in 1978 with a 3-1 win over a weak Mexican side, African soccer was nevertheless still regarded as weak and inferior. When Algeria qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Fennecs were not given much a chance by prognosticators. Their first game would be against reigning European Champions and tournament favorites West Germany. This West German team included legends Paul Breitner and Heinz Rummenigge and was expected to cruise through a group which also included Austria and Chile.

From the comments and predictions before the game, we know the West German players had full confidence they would embarrass their Algerian opponents. West German players openly predicted a 10-0 victory. One was quoted as saying “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs,” with another boasting he would play the match with a cigar in his mouth. Even the German coach, Jupp Derwall, could not help but join in the orgy of arrogance, stating his team would hop the first train back to Munich if they lost.

Then they played the match. Bolstered by reigning African Footballer of the Year Lakhdar Belloumi and a young future Porto legend named Rabah Madjer, Algeria held off the West German attack and struck first via a Madjer volley in the 54th minute, stunning the Germans and the crowd. West Germany responded with intense pressure, allowing Rumminigge to equalize in the 67th minute. At this point, most rational observers fully expected the German onslaught to continue and the plucky Algerians would eventually cede more goals and lose to the mighty European champions. However, after the kickoff, the next time a West German player touched the ball was when he picked it out of his own net.

Algeria’s response to the West German equalizer proved enough to secure the biggest upset in World Cup history at the time and Africa’s first over a European squad. The footballing world was absolutely dumbfounded. The West Germans were in disbelief and Derwall was made to look a fool when reminded of the local train times.

But the joy quickly turned to anger. Algeria finished the campaign with a loss to Austria and a victory over Chile, looking poised to be the first African team to reach the second round. However, the last match between West Germany and Austria was not scheduled until a day after Algeria’s final match against Chile. Realizing a 1-0 West German victory would send both the West Germans and Austrians through at Algeria’s expense, this is exactly what occurred. After a quick goal by West Germany, the two teams spent the next 80 minutes passing back and forth in one of the most shameful matches ever played in a World Cup. Both FIFA and Algeria were outraged. Fans whistled and waved money in the air to signify their belief the final match was rigged to produce the only result which would benefit Germany and Austria. One disgusted German fan burned his nation’s flag during the second half. Even the German television commentator quipped

“What’s happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you want, but not every end justifies the means.”

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Alas, not much could be done and the results stood. The Algerians who surprised the world were eliminated and West Germany eventually went to the final, losing to Italy 3-1. It was not all for naught as FIFA adjusted the tournament starting in 1986 so that the final group stage games were always played simultaneously, preventing another 1982-like debacle from occurring again.

While little solace for the Algerians, there always remains the memory of making the West Germans eat their words and, for a moment, captivating the sporting world.

3. Senegal 2002 – Henri Camara strikes again…

It is hard to properly credit Senegal’s accomplishments at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, the only time West Africans have ever qualified for the event. You have to know where it began to understand just how far they went. It is not that Senegal barely qualified for the World Cup, it is that they barely qualified for the last round of African qualifying, which included twenty teams seeking five spots.

To even get to the final round, they barely beat Benin 2-1 on aggregate in a home and away. Many people have never heard of Benin and trust me if you have not, they are not exactly a soccer power. If Benin played the USA in a friendly, USA would probably win 5-0 playing with an experimental squad. Benin would never play a team like Brazil or Argentina because this would be cruel.

Once Senegal managed to squeak past the mighty Beninese, they were placed in a group with reigning AFCON winners Egypt, continental powers Morocco and Algeria, and were picked to finish last with Namibia. After three draws found them about where everyone expected, Senegal went on an unexplainable tear. They won four of their final five, scoring 14 goals in those victories, and edged out Morocco on goal differential on the final match day with a 5-0 drubbing of Namibia.

El Hadji Diouf of Senegal

At the World Cup, the debutants were drawn against France, Denmark, and Uruguay, and were definitely not expected to survive this group. Most assumed they would just be happy to be there. They were wrong.

The first game saw them play their former colonial occupiers in France in the Cup’s opening match. While Zidane was out due to injury, this was a French team with Henri, Trezeguet, Vieira, and essentially all the same players who won the 1998 FIFA World Cup as well as the 2000 UEFA Championship. Again, little respect was given to the African side. French commenters referred to Senegal as the French “B” team since they argued any Senegalese players of worth would be playing with France. Indeed, almost the entirety of the Senegalese team played in Ligue 1 and many carried French citizenship.

However, when the game was played, the French attack was unable to produce a goal despite rattling the woodwork twice. And the French defense found it could not handle the pace and strength of El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara, and the Lions of Teranga’s attack. A midfield turnover by Djorkaeff provided Senegal the opportunity it needed and Diouf’s ensuing cross was driven home by Papa Bouba Diop, stunning France.

Just like that, the World Cup kicked off with an African debutant beating one of the world’s best teams…again. As remarkable as it was, Senegal was not done. After two draws against Denmark and Uruguay, Senegal qualified for the round 16 where they met Sweden.

Sweden was led by in-form Celtic superstar Henrik Larsson and a young Zlatan Ibrahimavic. After 11 minutes, Larsson headed in a corner to give the favorites the early lead. However, a Henri Camara strike on 37 minutes saw the Senegalese equalize and while both teams created chances going forward, the game went into golden goal extra-time. Near the end a first extra period, a nifty heel pass found Henri Camara streaking through the Swedish defense. Flat-footed, Sweden’s keeper could do nothing but watch the ball ding off the post and into the net to give Senegal its golden goal and golden moment in the land of the rising sun.

As fate would be, it was another golden goal versus Turkey that beat Senegal in the quarterfinals, ending the dream run of the West African first-timers. Although their lackluster play in their final game cost them a chance to be the first African team to reach the semis, Senegal’s run from barely beating minnows like Benin to world’s final eight remains one of Africa’s greatest international soccer memories.

2. Cameroon 1990 – Roger Milla teaches us a new dance

If any African team ever had a chance to hoist the Jules Rimet Trophy, it was Cameroon in 1990. While not expected to go past the first round, the Indomitable Lions would electrify the world.

They were given no favors by the draw, pitted against reigning 1986 World Cup champions Argentina (eventual 1990 runners up), Romania and the Soviet Union. Yet they wasted no time making their presence known, upsetting Maradona and the reigning champions 1-0 in their fist match. Cameroon’s defense proved to be a tough nut to crack for the Argentines and Omam-Biyik soaring header squibbed past Pumpido to give Cameroon the win.

The second game was against co-group leaders Romania and Galatasaray star Gheorghe Hagi, who was supposed to be the star of the match. However by day’s end, the world would become familiar with another name: Roger Milla, an aging Cameroon substitute brought on in the 58th minute. Twenty minutes after coming on, Milla won a loose ball near the Romanian goal, slotted it into the goal and raced to the corner flag to do his now-famous dance. Ten minutes later, a superb Milla strike iced the game and Cameroon qualified for the second round with a game to play.

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But Milla was not done. In the second round, Cameroon would face talented Colombia, led by the wonderful and creative passing of Carlos Valderrama. As the game began, Colombia had the run of play before Cameroon settled down. Milla was brought on just after half time and Cameroon began to take control of the match. However, neither team could score in regulation and the first period of the added time also passed without a goal.

As penalties loomed, Roger Milla had seen enough. After receiving a pass, his quick pivot and burst toward goal split the Colombian defense, allowing him to drive the ball over the keeper. Milla’s second goal was less about skill than it was about the poor judgements of Colombia’s gambling keeper Rene Higuita. Known for dribbling and taking risks (such as gratuitous scorpion kicks off the goal line),

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Higuita was dispossessed by Milla 40 yards from goal. Milla outran the bumbling Higuita to an easy goal and Cameroon would be the first African team to make the quarterfinals. More importantly, it was clear to the casual observer Cameroon had the talent to challenge anyone.

The quarterfinal match between the Indomitable Lions and England’s Three Lions is a classic which could have been won by either team. After England led 1-0 at halftime, Milla was inserted and Cameroon began to press forward more successfully. In the 61st minute, Milla sprinted into the box and was fouled, earning a penalty which was converted by Cameroon. Less than 5 minutes later, Milla was at it again. A soft touch pass from Milla found Eugene Ekeke streaking past the British defense and his chip gave Cameroon a deserved 2-1 lead.

But England would not wilt. This was one of the best England teams of the last 40 years. With stars like 1986 golden boot winner Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne, England were a tournament favorite, having only been ousted from the prior World Cup because of Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ goal and Maradona’s “greatest goal ever scored.” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are not a soccer fan!)

After continuous pressure from England, Gary Lineker earned a penalty and drove it home to equalize. In extra-time, Gazza slotted an exquisite pass through the defense to give Lineker a break away on goal. As Lineker juked the keeper, he was knocked down by a defender and awarded another penalty. Lineker blasted the penalty in the back of the net to give England the hard-fought lead.

Sadly, Cameroon and Milla were out of magic and had no response to Gazza and Lineker’s brilliance. England would go on to win 3-2 after extra time before losing to West Germany on penalties in the semifinal.

As impressive as Cameroon’s accomplishments were, it was Milla’s achievements which are most memorable. The veteran substitute was 38 years old at the start of the tournament, making him one of the oldest participants ever. Always a fixture off the bench for Cameroon, the flashy forward with perfect finishing scored 4 goals and 2 assists during Cameroon’s run and changed the dynamic of every game he entered. In the process, he became a world star and African legend. So much so that when Milla was left off the squad for the 1994 FIFA World Cup (which was expected and reasonable since he was 42 years old), Cameroon’s embattled president forced the coach to include Milla, hoping to obtain some domestic support and distract from other problems the nation faced. Cameroon disappointed in USA 1994 but Milla did score one goal, becoming the oldest goal scorer, and participant, in World Cup history. Largely based on his efforts on Italia 1990, Roger Milla was named by CAF as the best African footballer of the last century and deservedly so.

1. Ghana 2010 – Luis Suarez is the Grinch that stole an entire continent’s Christmas

The 2010 FIFA World Cup was a big deal not just for South Africans but for all Africans. Never before had the continent hosted an Olympics or FIFA World Cup. The anticipation was palpable through the qualification campaign as every nation desperately wanted to qualify for a tournament which would be played so close to home. Heck, Egypt and Algeria almost broke off diplomatic relations over a qualification spot. As highly anticipated as the tournament was for the world, the hopes for African entrants was even higher.

Unfortunately, 5 of 6 African teams disappointed and failed to qualify for the second round, leaving only Ghana to carry the continent’s banner. And Ghana was well suited to carry those hopes. Playing in their third consecutive World Cup, Ghana had proven themselves worthy competitors on the global stage and consistently among the best in Africa. While they are nicknamed the “Black Stars”, the moniker “Brazil D’Afrique” has also arisen in the last few years as a compliment to their talents and consistency.

After a second place finish in the group stage behind Germany, Ghana faced familiar foes USA in the second round. While USA had just come off a thrilling victory over Algeria and played with great passion, the Ghanians proved to be too strong in the end. Asamoah Gyan muscled off an American defender and struck home a powerful volley in extra time to make Ghana the third African team to take its chances in the quarterfinals.

Ghana v Australia: Group D - 2010 FIFA World Cup

You may have noticed the quarterfinals have been kind of a glass ceiling for African squads. While Asian teams have managed to reach the semifinal, no African squad has ever done so. Cameroon in 1990 may have been the best African team to go the World Cup, but Ghana 2010 had the best chance to shatter this ceiling.

In the quarterfinals, Ghana met resurgent Uruguay. While Uruguay had not achieved much World Cup success over the previous decades, their performance in South Africa 2010 is worthy of its own article. Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, and Edison Cavani were the most efficient attack at the tournament and made Uruguay a threat to beat any team.

After ending 1-1 at full time, the game proceeded to extra-time. Towards the end of the second period, Ghana began applying more and more pressure on the Uruguayan goal. Seconds away from penalties, Ghana was awarded a free kick in the Uruguayan zone. Now if you have spent the time to read this article, you probably know what happened. If you do not, here is the recap.

As tense as you can imagine….the ball bounces around, gets smashed at goal, gets saved by a defender off the goal line, bounces around again, get smashed at goal again and is saved by Luis Suarez pretending he is the goalie. (and if you noticed, the other Uruguayan defender also tries to save it with his hands but he was not as effective as Suarez). Suarez was deservedly red-carded and Ghana awarded a penalty. But instead converting the penalty and creating a continent-wide party, Gyan smashed his penalty off the cross bar and game proceeded to a penalty round. Almost as if all of this was a scripted tragedy, Ghana would lose in remarkable fashion.

Devastating. The roller coaster of emotions which is African football can be best portrayed in those zany few minutes at the end of this game. Ghana played a great game and performed excellently at the World Cup. They had their opponent on their heels and victory seemed inevitable, both when the scramble was occurring and before the penalty. It seemed certain African soccer would finally break through to the semifinals and would get to do it on home soil.

And be certain, this was poised to be a great victory for all of Africa, not just Ghana. Politically and economically, the vague and amorphous concept called African unity has not faired so well. But when it comes to sport, I have never met an African who does not root for all African teams against any others. It is a beautiful thing on the sporting level. A sense of us against the rest. And Ghana was our “us”.

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Luis Suarez was vilified wrongly as a cheater or a disgrace by many in the sports media and will forever be remembered as the single man who shattered the dreams of so many. This is understandable considering the emotion and magnitude of the moment but is nevertheless misplaced.

As time has passed, more have come to understand the brilliance of Suarez’ quick decision and the grudge will eventually fade. He was placed with only two choices and a nanosecond to decide: 1) let the ball go in and be eliminated; or 2) stop the ball at all costs, be red carded, concede a penalty, but give your team a tiny chance. Any rational thinker would do what Suarez did if they were quick enough to do so.

Uruguay turned Suarez’ tiny chance into a historic victory and at the same time, provided Africa with its most heart-breaking, yet also most memorable, moment in World Cup history.

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Written prior to the last World Cup

The Effects of Promotion and Relegation on American Sports

When thinking about it there is no reason major sports leagues like the NFL and NBA should keep their anti-trust exemptions and be protected from outside competition. Doing so is anathema to the ideals of capitalism and limits the economic growth of each sport, hurting the consumer and the sport itself. Gosh darn it, it hurts America! Switching to a system of promotion and relegation would multiply the economic reach of each sport within our country as well as increase the quality of the athletics for the spectator. It might even lead to a World Cup trophy one day.

If you do not know how relegation and promotion works within a league, we will use England’s Premier League system as an example. This same system is repeated across every team sport in almost every country in the world.

The Premier League is comprised of the twenty best teams in English football (soccer). The twenty teams competing in the Premier League each year have no right to be in the league other than the right they have earned through past performance. The three teams which finish at the bottom of the standings at year’s end are subject to relegation to a lower league. Oddly, England’s second tier league is called “the Championship”. Teams which finish at the top of the Championship are promoted to the Premier League. This process is repeated throughout the multi-league structure. How many leagues are there? It depends on how many eligible teams there are within the overall system. In England, there are currently five leagues considered professional national leagues. Below, there are seemingly countless divisions of professional and semi-professional leagues, eventually split among geographic regions.

Levels_9–10_Football_League_areas_in_England

Levels 9 and 10 of the pyramid of English football

The beauty of this system is it is open, inclusive, and creates natural incentives for success. It allows the sport to grow unconfined by the top league. If you or I wanted to own a professional football club in England, we can start one without having to save billions to buy an existing team. It does not mean you can get ten of your friends together and start playing.   Each country’s association sets up different requirements for starting a new franchise. This usually involves approving an organizational structure, modest stadium or field requirements and perhaps capital requirements to ensure the new entity has money to survive a season or two. But this is far from the 40,000-person stadium and capital reserves of 1 Billion or more it requires to get an expansion franchise in American sports. Starting on the bottom league generally means having a field with a seating capacity of the 10,000 with capital requirements affordable to entrepreneurs or small business ownership groups.

Not exactly Old Trafford

Not exactly Old Trafford

So why do this? Why shake up everything? After consideration of the benefits there are no reasons to not. I dare say logic and the current state of our economy require it be done. We will talk more about the economy below but let us first focus on how relegation and promotion is likely to affect the quality of athletics.

In this system there are no Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars stinking up the field every year and making us wonder how a team could be so bad for so long. You do away with pathetic losers. They and their inept management would be shifted down the league rungs accordingly until they were placed in a league commiserate with their abilities.

Perhaps just a league or two above these guys

Perhaps just a league or two above these guys

I know it may be harsh to call those teams pathetic losers. Especially when the truth is current league structures create no incentive for bottom teams to compete. They can collect a check in last place. Why worry about winning too much? The Florida Marlins are a prime example of this business model: spend nothing on the franchise; sell successful players at every opportunity; lose the vast majority of years but always rake in profits. Every now and then you may luck out and still win it all (not if you’re Cleveland though). These businesses are designed to earn money and not win games because the system makes it so that they can earn money without winning games. The incentives are misaligned and we all suffer because of it.

Relegation and promotion ends this nonsense. In the Premier League each team receives around 50 million pounds for its operations derived from joint revenues, TV rights, etc. This revenue sharing is similar to the NFL except of course if you lose too many games you are booted from the Premier League. Contrastingly, you can go 2-15 forever in the NFL and always collect your check. The Jaguars are laughingstocks but at least they are rich laughingstocks.

Yes, I'm jealous.

Yes, I’m jealous.

In England (and the world), teams who get relegated will receive the apportionment equal to every Championship team but it is much less than the amount given to Premier League teams. These apportionments continue in decreasing amounts down the league rungs until at some level there is no apportionment. Those lower teams must survive economically on their own and based on their own management/ownership skills. The apportionment is usually only given to teams in national leagues since it is important in offsetting travel expenses. A system of relegation and promotion would replace bottom feeder teams with new, hungry, successful teams that have earned their spot through their recent success. Out with the old and lazy and in with the new and ambitious.

Another complaint many raise about the NFL is the style of play is not diverse unlike college where teams which run standard NFL-style schemes play against whacky high-flying Mike Leach offenses or run-read-option teams and everything in between. Across several professional leagues styles of play and innovations to the game would certainly be as diverse as college athletics. Likely more diverse since the coaching staffs would not be constrained by NCAA time limitations about meetings and practices.

Popular players like Tim Tebow or Vince Young or Michael Sam would not have to ride the bench or be excluded from the sport if they cannot find a job for one of thirty teams. There would be hundreds of teams available to these players whether it be in the top league, second league, or seventh league. The debates amongst obnoxious talking heads opining about the capabilities of said players would be settled on the field. This is true for every sport.

The best part for the spectator is the drama. More meaningful games at the top and bottom of each league means more last minute drama and magic moments. Tense finishes would unfold across each league towards the end of every season as the next round of relegation and promotion approaches. Teams desperate to advance and desperate to avoid relegation provide some of the best moments often from lower leagues. Remember how Manchester City won the Premier League in 2013, scoring two goals in the final five minutes of their last tie to edge Manchester United. It was heralded as the most dramatic final day in Premier League history.

But there was better drama in the league below. My personal favorite is this ending from the Championship a few days after Aguero’s famous winner for Man City, between Leicester City and Watford. Both teams were fighting for a spot in the Championship final and potential promotion to the Premier League. It’s 2-2 on aggregate with Leicester City already in the ascendancy based on away goals. Watford desperately need a goal but Leicester City has been awarded a dodgy penalty in the 95th minute, much to the overwhelming anger and dismay of Watford fans….

Love that celebration!

Broaden the sport and you broaden the fun for spectators by creating more magic moments.

While increased competition, innovative coaching, creative playing styles, great drama and removal of consistent losers should be enough to get every fan of team sports on board, there is a more important reason to support relegation and promotion: economic impact. America needs it.

In the NBA there are thirty teams, thirty owners/ownership groups, thirty GMs, thirty accompanying staffs and player rosters.  It all adds up to a few thousand people involved in the sport making incomes they spend in their communities and taxable to local, state, and the federal governments. Along with the direct employees paying their bills and taxes, there are many thousands more whom rely on the income the sport creates including support staff, stadium vendors, merchandise manufacturers, hotels workers, security staffs, local law enforcement agencies and so forth. With all of these people getting paid, they pay their taxes and buy the goods and services we all do and which helps our economy.

Professional sports are not just innocent pastimes anymore. They are major economic forces which affect a lot of lives. Unfortunately, the potential economic impact and benefit to us all either through direct or indirect employment or tax revenues is limited to preserve the status quo of current monopolies.

In a system of relegation and promotion, there would not be thirty professional basketball teams. There would be hundreds broken accordingly into various leagues both national and then regional stacked in a clear hierarchy. Accordingly, there would be multiple the amount of executives, managers, trainers, vendors, manufacturers and athletes needed in such a broad system. Concerns regarding minority ownership of sporting franchises would be resolved by broadening the sports to allow for new teams in every city in America. The expansion of professional sports may be the largest one-off job creator our country could muster. And unlike other industries, these jobs cannot be exported to China. If that ever happens please take the Jaguars first.

Is there any city in America with more than 100,000 people that would not have a professional basketball team placed in the overall league system? Per the 2010 Census, there are 298 cities in America with more than 100 000. Cities like New York, Chicago, and LA would likely have more than ten. By example there are over 30 football clubs in London in the top eight leagues, six of which are currently in the Premier League.

Further, American players not able to make the roster for an MLS or NBA team will no longer have to travel to South America, Asia, or Europe for development. Granted only those in the top league would make the audacious salaries we all would want on our paycheck but they and their team would have a direct path to the top league with promotion providing the incentive. If you want that payday, then win enough and you will get it.

Jackie Moon

Make Semi-Pro a reality!

Television revenues would increase exponentially. Although the amount of parties taking a cut would also grow, stations would have an over abundance of sports programming to fill every day of the week. While national broadcasters may not pay for and carry every game of a third tier league, regional broadcasters and local broadcasters of involved teams would reap the benefits of this expansion as well as online providers.

And if adopted, how this would affect the current sports hierarchy in this country?

It is unlikely the NFL would make such a dramatic switch. They are the kings of the sports landscape and have no incentive to change. Only an Act of Congress (removing the anti-trust exemption) could force the issue. And we are unlikely to get legislative action from our defunct Congress to do anything much less change a profitable and popular entity like the NFL for some zany foreign idea.

But while the NFL is king a rebellion in brewing. The various scandals and continuous rule changes continue to hurt their brand. This creates an opportunity for other sports leagues to broaden their base while the NFL fumbles the ball.

No sport would benefit more than American professional soccer and its top league, MLS. While the beautiful game has grown steadily in America since World Cup 94 it can never compete with the NBA or NFL. Even a self-loathing, scandal-ridden NFL will always win unless Roger Goo-doofus bans all hitting or something incredibly stupid. I am not ruling that out.  But as is, professional soccer is condemned to compete with hockey and nascar for fourth place.

By adopting relegation and promotion first, professional soccer would be the largest sport in America in terms of participants, teams and fan bases within a couple of years. This would be true as well for the NHL and moreso for the NBA. Soccer would not be the wealthiest though. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. At least not yet. But they would be the largest sport in terms of scope and with that largess the sport would grow organically with fan bases growing around successful local clubs in every corner of the country.

Lots of room to grow

Lots of room to grow

There would be an immediate boost to the development, evolution, and depth of American players. Thousands of players leave collegiate athletics each year giving up their careers and ending their development at 21 or 22. For many this is a choice but for many others it is a reality without a choice. Not good enough to play in the MLS or NASL (or NFL or NBA) and without the means to locate a tryout abroad, their careers end not because they should but because the system we have created dictates they end. We do not have late bloomers in American sports because we extinguish them.

It is difficult to project a players future by the age of 21 or 22 or even 25. We search for the early prodigies at 18 and younger yet they often fail to develop as we hope. Promotion and relegation ends this and provides opportunities for the natural development of thousands of athletes who would not have had the chance otherwise.

The United States is the third largest nation on the planet in both population and landmass, spanning an entire continent and then some (Hooray for Hawaii!). Comparatively, England is tiny in both size and population yet there are hundreds of professional football teams in England. It is difficult to over-estimate how broadly professional soccer would grow its talent base, coaching pool and overall exposure by shifting to such a system. Its far-reaching effect on the sports landscape would only increase over time as the sport would enjoy a natural competitive advantage over NFL, NBA, and MLB.

This diversification of American soccer would allow for a quicker evolution of the best American players. Relegation and promotion creates a laboratory effect which judges different styles of play, management techniques and recruiting tactics. Kind of like capitalism. It rewards successful squads and smart management and punishes others. With teams around the country in an interconnected system of leagues and coupled with America’s natural diversity and size, we would get to see a variety of playing styles from Brazilian dribbling to German efficiency.

As the sport broadens and better teams move up in each league, interest will grow correspondingly. This fan interest is less likely to be from fickle fair weather fans but rather from those whose interest has grown along with their local club. They are likely to remain loyal to the team through thick and thin and remain interested in the overall sport through the long run, teaching their love of the game to the next generation.

But why would any current team owner of any league agree to do this? Wouldn’t they risk getting booted out the top league by voting for this? Yes. It is always about money.

Imagining MLS were not a single entity, take a look at the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders are the most marketable team in MLS with a large fan base. Currently, their estimated value is about 175 Million. Not too shabby but pale in comparison with the value of an NFL team, NBA team or MLB team. Forbes lists the cheapest NBA franchise (Bucks) at 405 Million. With the league constructed as is, the Sounders and every other team in MLS will always be worth fractions of the worst teams in other sports.

Worth more than twice the Sounders

Worth more than twice the Sounders

This will not change until professional soccer finds a way to grow the sport, market base and TV revenue. In doing so, they must compete directly against long established and successful American sports leagues. Promotion and relegation gives professional soccer a unique competitive advantage which mirrors and re-enforces long-standing American ideals of capitalism and merit-based advancement. An advantage which rewards bold and innovative coaching styles, successful talent scouting techniques and works to evolve and grow the sport organically over time.

Want to win the battle of the American sports marketplace? Promotion and relegation is low-hanging fruit which can pave the path to prosperity. The NFL is king today and for the foreseeable future but there is a way to steal their crown.

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