Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mandela's Legacy

I've spent the last several days mostly at home vigorously failing to write down any of my many thoughts. South Africa is unfinished business for me. I know that much. My blogging was not up to my intentions of course, but stands as a sort of series of photographs, incomplete and some blurry, but nevertheless captured memories. But I don't think I've finished.

I think a lot about South Africa, and what it has done. There is rightly an impression that South Africa must be a bit backward politically, that finally in 1994 it shrugged off institutional racism. But as a microcosm of the World it seems to me that it is the first not the last.

Because South Africa is a microcosm of the world, and a world which is globalising faster than everyone is comfortable with. South Africa contains both the First World and the Developing World, but in 1994 the borders were removed. Maybe we should keep a careful eye on it. Maybe we should study Mandela's politics carefully. It might be the best model we have to pull down the global apartheid which is holding back millions of human opportunities in every direction.

Australia may feel blessed to be an island, and to be able to pretend that we can seal ourselves off from the problems of the world around us with our own version of barbed wire, but this world is becoming one very rapidly, and ultimately I fear the barbed wire is going to hold us back.

Don't talk to South Africa, which shares a very permeable border with Zimbabwe, about refugees. Actually, if you're Australian you better keep your mouth shut about that topic pretty much wherever you go.

This current Australian election reveals to us more starkly than ever the inadequacy of federal government when it comes to the real issues of our day - population, poverty, climate change, terrorism, sustainability. These problems, for both major parties, are things that can be kept out by border security and xenophobia. But they can't. Addressing these things - and Australia still isn't even big enough to spend the recommended 0.09% of GDP on foreign aid - is addressing Australia's biggest problems. Educating and developing the World is the highest priority for Australia's interests. Meanwhile any interplanetary visitor would be reporting back to its people that Earth practices apartheid and that the current Australian election is the western elite once again voting for it.

I refer to the fact that Pauline Hanson's then-controversial views on refugees have now permeated both sides of parliament. For anyone who still feels strongly about this issue, the only political refuge, unfortunately, is the Greens.

"Build the fences higher," is not going to work. At some stage in the medium future, the World is going to have to pull the fences down and let the people of the World live where it is good for them to live and get jobs where they can get jobs. If facing that sort of music horrifies us, we should think of the white South Africans, and not feel so self-righteous when we do so.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding Africa

This is as close as I got to the Grand Final. The photo was taken by Jacob actually, and we had split up a minibus ride ago, but Jacob had a ticket. I was wandering the periphery, a shag on a seething rock, practically illegal, knowing there was no fan zone anywhere.

The reason I was there at all is because I was trying to keep up with Keith and Kate, Total Sports Employees, who also weren't going to the game. They didn't really know where the fan zones were, oddly enough for travel people, but were planning on finding one. But we were shepharded onto different minibusses at the park and ride point, which of course dropped us at different random points closer to Soccer City. I found out about their story later, but I'm not going to relate it because mine is more interesting.
One thing I have learned travelling is that you can get anywhere by asking the right questions. "Where's the nearest fan zone?" I ask a cop.
"Ah... Newtown."

"Where do you catch a bus or cab to Newtown?" I ask another cop after wandering for a while looking for such a thing. The apparently thousands of mini-busses and busses were all coming in and becoming permanently stuck in place. There really wasn't an easy answer to the question and when one police officer directed me to "the other side of the stadium" (which looked like it might be about 30 miles) I strongly suspected she wanted me to become someone else's problem.

Finally I flagged a mini-bus that had extracted itself from the jam and was going back to Gold Reef, the park and ride zone, for more passengers. He showed me where to get a mini-bus toward Newtown.
It was the first time I've used Johanessburg's real public transport system. Generally the tourists are warned against using it, and they are never really advised about it. The owners of the B&B in Durban mentioned it, but explicitly said that it was dangerous, but then again, they are not exactly ANC voters, and one can't help supect that the main problem with the mini-bus system is that the mini-busses are full of local black people. Call me a cynic.
There are hundreds of them, all the time. They regularly beep their horns just to sort of say, "Here I am!" Each of them have established routes, but they can be hailed at any point. They are absurdly cheap to catch.
I was told how to catch them in detail on the first day of arrival from Mark. "Put out your hand like that eh? Five fingers eh? Randburg. Seven Rand 50 eh?" That particular trip was alternately a 10 minute walk so I never used it. But whenever I've needed a cab I've used metered taxis, Jay (a white local who has moved in on the people-moving business for lack of adequate service otherwise, and who also asks, "Eh?" at the end of every statement), or the provided busses.
The minibusses go all over Joburgh, and anyway now I was in one, in Soweto, heading for some place called Newtown. It was full of black, local people. About 4.00pm. I was on my own, out of the blanket-policed zone of control, without the immediate responsibility of my son, and the evening had started.
Of course I still had no idea where I was going. "Will you get me to Newtown?" I asked the driver. He nods. "How much?"

"Six Rand."

Almost embarassed, I hand forward three small silver coins. As people were dropped off and picked up along the route, the bus remained, miraculously, precisely full, without disappointing anyone. When people got on they passed their money from person to person through to the front, the driver would count it and then wordlessly pass any necessary change back over his shoulder to be passed back to the appropriate person.

Helpfully, a bloke behind me says, "I'm going to Newtown." I wonder if he's going to the fan zone, but think at least I'll know where to get off the bus.
It's about a twenty minute drive, and when we get off it turns out he is heading for the fan zone, and I am pleased for the company and the guide. We walked for about four or five blocks and there wasn't much indication of anything except light industrial urbia, but as promised there was eventually more people and we came to the security check and passed. Back into the foreigner-protected zone. But still at least 95% of these people were not foreigners. This was mostly a closing night party for the locals, and I was where I wanted to be, finally.

As pictured before heading out, I was wearing colours. Ben, a compatriot who was going to the game supporting the Netherlands in full kit (pictured next to Jacob below), had found the kangaroo and given it to me. Later in the bus I ripped the joey off and gave it to Ben, who still has it.

The kangaroo was a good prop, but the flag was essential, as I had earlier determined that for this last, celebratory night I must wear my own team. Jacob, on the other hand, is as Spanish as he could possibly get.

The flag was the main prize, and now, back at home in Brisbane with my beautiful fiance, it remains my most valuable momento.

Jacob and I walked to Randburg for the last time early that morning. Jacob was buying a jacket for Ben, who as well as being fairly promiscuous with the teams he supports is an extreme merchandise junkie, and wanted some more Spanish regalia for himself as well. I just wanted something destinctively Australian, as I'd given my scarf and hat away in Durban and my Socceroos jersey wasn't much good under the necessary layers against the cold. It had occurred to me tht a flag would be perfect, but knew that there would be no Australian flags for sale. It was all Spain and the Netherlands, with a few French and Japanese leftovers, and no flags.

But in the Randburg Mall there is hanging by the elevators a series of World Cup Nations flags. In broad daylight, Jacob casually informing me of how many people were watching, I managed to reach one of the pieces of fishing line holding up the Australian flag from the balcony of the second level. I carefully hauled it up, worrying that the rod the flag was hanging from might slip from the line with the vertical weight, until I could grab the rod and bring it over the balcony. With my teeth I cut the line on one side so I could slip the flag from the rod. I placed the rod, still attached to a fishing line to the ceiling at one end, on the ground, and we walked as casually as possible, myself refusing to even acknowledge that anyone might be looking, back through the mall and, after looking once more in a merchandise store for the Spanish shoelaced volleys Jacob was after (he settled for South African ones), outside and back to the Football Gulag.

There is much security and police, but little enforcement.

If the best the internationals can do is call us convicts, then we must oblige. Stealing the Australian flag, which I proudly wore, was my greatest yob act in South Africa. But to continue the story of the day...

I wasn't ready for a permanent companion so I lost my guide from the bus pretty quickly, despite him trying to establish a night-long relationship. What I needed was a toilet and a beer. And food. Oh, and cigarettes.

What I didn't need was for someone to paint a really terrible rendition of an Australian flag on my face and take 30 rand from me, but the guy did direct me to the toilets.

Generally you don't include the toilet stop in a diary-like account but I have a reason in this case. But even before I get to the message on the back of the toilet door I need to backtrack yet again.

Mark at the Gulag has brought up a concerning narrative several times in the past couple of weeks. He is absolutely certain that when the World Cup is over - now, but this weekend is when Mark thinks it's likely - there will be an outbreak of xenophobic violence against foreigners. "It's not IF it will happen ey? It will happen eh? If there's even a rumour violence might happen here then it happens. But this time everyone's saying it will happen eh? It will happen eh?" Etcetera. In Mark's opinion the 'bloodletting' will even be 'right' in some way. I tried to probe the point with argument, but didn't persist beyond the point of discomfort. I still want to think he's wrong, that he's just a freak, but for the record, watch the South African media this weekend.

And I had no other confirmation of Mark's viewpoint until I read the back of the toilet door at the Newtown fan zone, which said, "Any foreigners still in [an unremembered placename] after the 2010 World Cup will be burned with petrol to the ground." After that someone else had scrawled, "Racism will kill us all," and there was to-and-from dialogue after that from various contributors, but the headline was large-writ and dominated the door.

Food was easier to find than the toilet, and beyond that having my cigarette supply in order became a higher priority than beer. So I wandered from the fan zone to see what I could find.

A couple of blocks away I found a restaurant which looked lively, and beyond that a bar. The bar was black, with people playing music, smoking and looking very relaxed. It was still only about 5.00pm or so.

I shouldn't paint too much of an off-the-beaten-track picture of this place. It wasn't that far off the track. By the time of the game I guess it was 10% full of foreigners, and security guys were still about, but there were none of either there by 4.00am.

I still really just wanted some cigarettes. Rolling tobacco, which is cheaper and far less bad for you, is really hard to get in South Africa, so I often had to resort to cigarettes, which I don't really like. The guy at the door of the bar - overstaffed as everywhere - asked for 30 rand and went to get my cigarettes, rather than just directing me to the machine, so I bought a beer from the bar as he did so, naturally.

There wasn't any seats left but there was only two girls in one booth so I sat and asked if it was ok that I did. Their names are Amanda and Nelly, and I was with them for the rest of the evening. My apologies for no photographs - Jacob has the camera at this point and, incidentally, is doing brilliantly with it.

The girls are educated and intelligent, with Zulu accents. The Africaans accent is frankly disturbing. Like the German accent if you hear too much of it it kind of drives you mad, but it is a shame that we have come to call that the South African accent. The Zulu accent, like the Zulu people, is very cool.

Actually I find the white Africaaner people to be uptight, uncomfortable and slightly irritating in general. With rare exceptions, like Kevin, the guy next to me on the second flight to Durban, it's like they don't want to be here but insist on every excuse for not leaving except the underlying definitive one that they can't. The people at the bar - mostly Zulus I suspect - were not like the immigrant workers - mostly Zimbabweans - directed around by Mark back at the Gulag. The Zulus seemed a cool, proud people, who moved and resonated with grace and purpose.

The people I met that night were very pleased with my opinion of the Afrikaaners' accent. I think they were also pleased that I was there, blatantly an Australian yobo, by myself, at all.

"Are you scared?" Nelly asked soon after introductions.


"You're lying. You are scared."

I didn't feel that scared. "Maybe I am a bit, but it's a fear I want. I want to actually be here, for just one night before I go back to Australia."

I shouted the girls to dinner at the restaurant next door, where we bantered with a table full of Spanish revelers whilst eating meats and drinking coctails. One of the girls organised a few joints outside (I found out weeks ago that the standard price is five rand each) and we smoked one as we walked to the fan zone for the game. There was part of one left, which I pocketed for later.

The truth is that although there were thousands of people, the night was very cold. It was so cold that all my compatriots who actually went to the game didn't party at all afterward but went straight back to the Gulag on the first bus. It's hard to get beer, and another guy who had latched on to us had been extremely sleezy toward Amanda, so although we watched the first half with interest, and although I felt like a very smug yobo with my stolen flag and a pretty girl under each arm, it was not the best environment, so at half time we headed back to the bar. The bar, now, was quite packed.

And the whole place moved. Everyone, foreigners from all corners, locals black and white, were friends, as we somehow colonised a space and I did that sideways slither through the bouncing, writhing crowd to the bar for drinks.

There was attention of sorts for the game, but it wasn't easy to see the screen, and I missed bits. But when the whistle blew for full time, before extra time, the DJ within seconds had changed the sound to music and the place danced. Apart from the restraint of the game itself, the place wanted to dance, and dance it did.

When Spain scored the place went completely insane, and I lit the half-joint. I'd already met a few people, but a stranger, who turned out to be a player in Brazil's second division, smelled it and I passed it naturally without expecting it back from the crowd. The place was generally going off at this time.

Mbizo, the football player, grabbed me as I once more braved the journey to the bar. "Got any more weed?"

"I thought I did but my friend can't find it," I replied honestly. "Have you?"

"Sure man, I'll sort it," Mbizo said with enormous enthusiasm, "I'll smoke you up man. Fuck it I am going to so smoke you up." I liked him a lot. He had charisma and cool, and clearly was the dominant male in the small crew of blokes he was with. He grabbed me a short while later and, taking me outside, introduced me to his friends, the only name of which I can remember is Happy.

From that time on there were many, many joints, and although I was buying drinks and cigarettes at a fairly rapid rate by this time for quite a few people, they resolutely refused money for the dope. Once again, once I lit up inside they did too. I couldn't help feeling that if the foreigner could do it that they could to, but there was no holding anyone back once it had started. If there was still police and security around outside, I doubt they would have cared or noticed.

I can't hide that I was extremely happy with how the whole thing had worked out. However fleetingly, however superficially, I felt a great need to actually be with the locals. A number of times in the past month I have gone a bit off the beaten track, but I needed to really do it and that night I felt I got the closest. The guys clearly enjoyed my company, and I thoroughly enjoyed theirs, as we bantered about football, South Africa, life and peace between all people.

Most of all, until 4am when the place stopped selling drinks and finally closed, we just danced. Then the girls and a boy friend of Nelly's walked a couple of blocks with me to find an ATM, and I farewelled the girls with some money for a cab. The guy whose name I have forgotten (by this time I am, I admit, staggering) then walked me many blocks to some transit place with 24 hour taxis. I slept most of the taxi ride back to the Gulag and, checking that Jacob is safely in bed, retired.

Congratulations Spain. Ben was absolutely devastated, but Jacob had had an excellent night. Deserved winners.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Final Four

Four are left, three beautiful Europeans and a gutsy outsider South American.

Apart from just watching some brilliant teams play do-or-die soccer, the significance of day two of the Quarter Finals was that Jacob and I got to find out who would be the teams we will see live in Durban on the 7th.

Apart from our Socceroos scarves, I have accumulated just two. I bought a German scarf early on in reverence for the team that beat our own so comprehensively and beautifully. Later I bought an Argentina scarf as I succumbed to Maradona's cool and charm. So we negotiated, and I wore the Argentina scarf and Jacob wore Deutschland.

The organised collective defeated the reliance on flair. And Jacob gets the Germany scarf for the Semi.

What really stands out about the Germans is their apparent ability to not just have shots and get some of them in, but two of the four goals were a complete defeat of Argentina's defences. That is, they passed and dribbled their way all the way in to within feet of the goal before the shot. I just haven't seen much of that at this cup.

When it comes to Spain, who barely won the game against Paraguay, their control and passing is sublime, but the ability to actually defeat a defense is what they lack.

So for my money Germany is the only squad at this tournament who has demonstrated a complete mastery of the game in every part of the pitch.

The Irish curse was fulfilled and the Nike curse was fulfilled. The only living god at the tournament, whose team had the privilege of being kissed by a god before entering the pitch, is out, humiliated 4:0 by the masters. And the other random factors have been largely sorted too.

The Vuvuzelas have become background noise, however unfortunate. The ball has been masterd and corrected for. There are no teams who have not had time to prepare, who lack top level gametime, or who are not dealing with any foreign conditions. The four teams have played five top level games each in perfect practice conditions for the competition head.

So The Netherlands will defeat brave Uruguay, Germany will defeat the Spaniards (to my peril I am again ignoring the M&Ms), and, I believe, Germany will win the finals. Third? I think Uruguay will have more to play for, but who knows.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Round of Eight Day One - The Pagan View

Netherlands v Brazil 2:1

Now regular readers of my writings are accustomed to incisive, educated analysis and poignant, accurate predictions, so I will not disappoint.

It was the M&Ms and, the Nike curse.

The M&Ms, you may remember, were very clear: the Finals, at which my son will be present, will be a Spanish victory over the Netherlands. Hence, I really should have known that Brazil was gone.

But for the issue of the Nike curse I cannot claim responsibility. The Nike curse is an astute observation by my Facebook compatriot Gav Gforce Cheesebladder.

The Nike ads, according to Cheesebladder (See what you miss when you ignore the advertising?), gave away the game with the slogan, "Write the future?" All the stars featured in the ads have gone home - Ronaldo, Rooney, Canavaro, Ribery, Drogba - except... Robinho. In Cheesebladders own words, "The Nike curse says Holland will win!"

But why a curse? Is it from FIFA itself?

A running theme in the local media is that FIFA has taken all and although South Africa has been gifted with a warm buzz, it isn't going to come off much better. One article developed the theme that, "Everyone in South Africa was under the rule of Law, now South Africa is under the Law of FIFA." So FIFA itself needs to be careful, because Africa is traditionally a big force when it comes to casting curses.

But a parallel theme is that FIFA is prosecuting all sorts of very small operators for appropriating copyrighted terms like "World Cup 2010" (I'm serious), yet Nike, who is not a sponsor of FIFA World Cup 2010, flagrantly bases its entire advertising campaign around it. Well Nike is being prosecuted by the fates. Robinho, it might be argued, was not only the last of their featured heroes to go, but arguably the only one that did not pretty much disgrace themselves before leaving.

Uruguay v Ghana 1:1 (4:2 on penalties)

Jesus. This was the game that both Jacob and I thought should have been cancelled for lack of interest. We watched the afternoon's blockbuster (described in precise detail above) at the fan-zone down at Durban's beach, which was very cool, but we came home and went to the same local pub, The Jackie Horner, for the evening's game, as much because we needed something to eat as anything.

Lets's summarise Ghana's journey by pointing out that it began in the Group Stage by scoring only from the penalty spot and ended by missing no less than three (out of five) penalties. I'm counting the one during play obviously.

We certainly didn't regret watching it. There was much great play from both sides, but from the beginning, once again, it was clear that Ghana was being nursed by the ref. Once again, I do not think it was intentional, but Uruguay is an expedable non-favourite and the entire continent, and much of the world, including most of the referee's family and friends, wants Ghana to win, so the errors fall in one direction more than others, and only in Uruguay's favour at the least decisive moments. That doesn't cover the non-errors however, and Uruguay's free kick was well deserved legally as well as karmically. What an effing kick!

In a packed pub of celebration and joviality, which built brilliantly throughout the evening, the lagers flowing, Jacob became the only person in the place openly celebrating Uruguay's triumph. I had long before had the sense to put my neutral observer face on, but it was time to leave the Jackie Horner. We left it in a dark, quiet, deeply glum state, and I must wonder how many millions of Africans shared that dire mood last night.

Once the penalty shoot-out began, most of the technique of the players became irrelevant and all of the tactics and coaching became irrelevant. The final call in our game, once two teams have battered one another into a draw, might be seen as rather stupid, or it may be seen as the highest drama of all.

Neither the big, beautiful African, nor the suave and swarthy Latin can win the girl's heart. She herself is torn between two lovers. The suitors have cast their spells in every gentlemanly way possible, for she would only love a gentleman. The time passes, and more time. If this destructive, relentless triangle is not to last forever, there really is only one solution. Swords or pistols gentleman? That's what a penalty shoot-out is.

As the game went into the hands of the gods, I for the first time fully expected Ghana to win. This is Africa: fiery, pulsing, magical Africa. The sheer weight of will of the hundreds of millions witnessing this penalty shootout from near and far must inevitably push the Ghanians to the virtually impossible place of a semi-final spot. Hell, at that point I wanted it to, for the sheer, absurd African joy of it.

And against this weight, Jacob kept his faith in Justicia. It was still undeniable that Uruguay should win. And he was right.

Sebastian Abreu, stepping up for Uruguay's fourth and winning penalty kick, was a man possessed. From the moment the camera found him there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to do it. He looked evil, like an undead creature embalmed with supernatural, irresistable determination. His walk was grim and mechanical. And then, in some sort of zone of fate and genius, he barely kicked the thing, but gently chipped it over the Ghanian keeper's shoulder.

Extraordinary stuff.

So with six teams to go we have only Europeans and South Americans - three apiece.

If anyone's gotten a bit over all the soccer games, I feel compelled to note tht there's only five to go, and these are the ones you simply must not miss. This is the good stuff.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Why Do We Care About Football?

Book Review
Chuck Korr and Marvin Close, More than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid, Collins, London, 2008.

Most people are familiar with the famous line by one of those Pommy Soccernumaries, "Some people say that football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with this view. Football is much more important than that." A more obscure line comes from this book, from Indres Naidoo, imprisoned on Robben Island for many years and now a member of South Africa'a Parliament: "... we knew that sports is much too important to be just fun."

What do we do with lines like this? Of course the already converted know deep down that they're dead right, and say "Oh yeah!" but nobody can blame the unconverted for thinking that they're sheer nonsense. How can we say such things?

More that just a Game is a history of a football league, but it starts with a time when the prisoners on Robben Island (this is the place Nelson Mandela was incarcerated incidentally) were not allowed to play any sport at all. The opening chapters were my own first real introduction to the history of apartheid itself, the horrible repression that occurred and the barbaric, sickening conditions on the Island itself. And even for this I found the book valuable.

Of all things for the prisoners to lobby for - suffering beatings and periods of confinement and starvation to do so, over several years - the ability to play football was front and center. And they did not merely want to be given a ball to kick-about with. They wanted a League, and bit by bit, with meticulous organisation, and helped by outside pressures, they got it.

What is really astounding is this level of organisation. They drafted a constitution, had nine clubs at the peak, three divisions, rules for transfers, appeals processes and committees and a referees union. The thing that got the authors of the book going was the voluminous documentation of the whole thing, all handwritten but all in formal, legalese tone. Most of this, meanwhile, was done completely behind the prison authority's backs.

So while the sporting may have helped the prisoners' spirits and fitness, it was the organisation itself that educated the prisoners in skills that they now are using to run the country. Surprising and fascinating stuff all.

The book is not some side-story by football fans. It is real history, researched and written by historians, about a story which, if not told, would leave a real gap in accounts of the overthrow of apartheid. There is no exageration here as far as I can see, and it's not all flattering, as in the account of the 'Atlantic Raiders Affair' which is essentially a long-winded legal battle between typically self-righteous athletes over a referee decision. Even in the latter case, we see prisoners develop real skills of advocacy and argument, which would later serve them in struggle and in running the country.

Football on the island led to other sports of course, and we witness a version of the absurd tension between football codes that we are familiar with in Australia. Fortunately they come to the conclusion that the important thing is sport, and in my view Australian football codes would do well to learn parallel lessons - that the modern enemies of soccer are not rugby and AFL but apathy, bad nutrition, poor health, inadequate parkland and computer games. Anyway I digress.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read and it taught me a lot about this strange, brave country.

So what's the answer to the question? Why is football, which let's face it is an arbitrary human contrivance with no real stakes, so important? Somewhere in the midst of reading this book I came up with an answer, and it's about freedom.

Those of us who believe in a religion do so because we feel obliged to. We must. We might believe in ideals or political causes because we see them as necessary. But we believe in football because we can, because we are free to. Millions are, of course (as were some on the Island) equally free to not give a shit about football and that doesn't matter a jot. But those of us who do, believe in it because we are free. It is a highly social, organised, universal, articulated expression of human freedom.

Incidentally, 1GOAL is less than 200,000 off the 10,000,000 mark. If you haven't signed up (costs nothing), think seriously about it. Education for all is a very worthy goal, and I believe in it because it is essential for the furtherance of human civilisation.

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Official Interlude

According to Harry Kewell, the Refs Favour Big Guns. I don't think it's Harry Kewell's place to say it actually, but he's broadly correct, and backs up my own and many others' observations.

Actually Harry Kewell is looking to me more and more like a poor man's Cristiano Ronaldo - brilliant, but a mummy's boy, a cheat and a whinger. One fan back at the Gulag reckoned he saw Harry dive five times in his 27 minutes. I counted just two definite dives, but impressions are real, even if they're not entirely accurate. Like Ronaldo, if he didn't cheat himself his whinging might have some credibility but as it is it just looks really bad.

But ad hominem is not an argument, and just because Harry is a cheating tool doesn't mean he's not correct. So what's happening here?

Well once again I don't think there's some official directive behind the bias. There's just a lot of close calls in a soccer game, and a lot where a quick judgement has to be made about a grey situation. Is it worth stopping the game for? Has the game gotten to a point where it needs bringing under control? Does the team being wronged have the advantage anyway? This mere mortal has to answer these questions in a flash and then, right or wrong, maintain his authority no matter what. The 22 blokes he's officiating are millionaires with egos the size of their BMWs. The pressures and the margins for error are quite mind-boggling.

So if there's some error, who do you reckon it's going to favour, overall?

If there's a broad institutional problem, it's that the refs are inexperienced at this level. In the language we would use when describing players, they haven't had enough recent gametime at a high level.

It is a FIFA thing that the World Cup must bring refs from all over the world. I think that's bullshit. The Mexican guy who gave Timmy a red card, and later officiated another game (I wish I could remember the one - help me out if you can), stopped the play for every second tackle and threw cards around like confetti. In short, quite apart from making some bad calls, he ruined the game and made it as stop-start as a rugby match.

He plies his trade in Mexico, a minor league at best, and cannot be expected to be up with the professional antics of the high-profile wankers who play in Europe. He's literally out of his league.

As the tournament has gone on my feeling is we've got some better refs, like the Hungarian guy who handled the USA v Ghana match. (I hope I can remember my mental notes correctly - I think this is the game that stood out for me in this way.) I loved it how he let the soft ones go, but still, when a decisive and clear foul was made, asserted his authority with a whistle and in the clearest cases a card. The game was allowed to flow. I especially love seeing a diving prick disadvantaged by his own antics as the play continues right over the top of his pathetic, prone body. This is good refereeing.

The Round of 16 refereeing has been better in general in this sense, in my very broad perception (I haven't kept careful notes or anything).

But the point is that given the incredible talent on the field, the speed of the game, and especially the sophisticated, highly developed techniques of both fouling and of diving, you need refs for whom this is part of their trade. That is, you need refs that regularly officiate Champions League games, EPL, Spanish and Italian League games. Otherwise, you don't just get bad decisions, you get crap games.

On a historical note, in the era of Pele and Maradona there were goals. But both of them in their biographies attest to the bruised, bleeding shins they would end the game with as defenders resorted to kicking and hacking their legs to attempt to stop them. This was bad, and it has largely been cleaned up. It's right that fouls are called and cards are given for this behaviour. But note that diving wouldn't have helped these two greats score goals, and score goals they did, because as proud athletes they kept running if they could.

Ronaldo and Kewell will never be this great, because they're habitual cheats. We need experienced, wary refs, and to reiterate another point made in previous blogs, we need post-match tribunals to properly punish the cheating (both fouling and diving) that the ref misses. It's for the good of the game.

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