Before I get to today’s rant, I ask that we spare a thought for News of the World, the right-wing, populist, Murdoch-owned, British tabloid (think New York Post but even worse) which was founded in 1843 and will publish its last edition this Sunday. The end of News of the World was inevitable when it was discovered that the tabloid was involved in a massive phone-hacking conspiracy that just kept getting bigger and bigger over the past five or so years. The media sees itself through self-righteous eyes and generally excuses bad behavior from fellow journalists, but this was inexcusable. There is no good reason why innocents (famous or not) should have their privacy intruded upon. A newspaper simply cannot do willy-nilly what law enforcement must get strict court permission and supervision to do. Rot in hell, News of the World; may you be joined by the rest of Murdoch’s foul empire.
Speaking of horrible, slimy people, FIFA and Qatar are in the news again. This time it because the head of the company in charge of designing Qatar’s 2022 stadia (God, it feels painful to write that) told delegates at a conference that FIFA is going to change the rules of the game to accommodate the Qatari heat. If it gets too hot, the matches will be played as three half-hour periods rather than the two 45 minute halves that have existed since the beginning of the game. It is so nice that FIFA cares about players’ safety, but rather than a massive upheaval of the game’s identity, why not change the venue instead?
FIFA have denied this, of course. They are under enough pressure already and most certainly don’t need anymore. It has been slightly over half a year since that horrible decision to hold a World Cup in Qatar was made, and it seems that at least once every month or so some new public relations disaster ensues.
I suppose one could legitimately ask what is so important about two 45 minute periods. If the match still 90 minutes, why does it matter how those 90 minutes are divided up? It’s a fair point I guess, but part of football’s core identity is being a game of two halves. It dates back to the earliest days of the game before it became formalized. Football as we know it was saved from the Industrial Revolution by the British public (private) schools. The faculty and administration of the schools introduced sport so that their rioting students would take out their aggression on each other rather than on the faculty and townspeople. Different schools created different rules, and some schools codes (such as Eton’s and Harrow’s) emphasized dribbling with the feet, which others (most famously at Rugby School) allowed handling. When teams from different schools met, they played the first half with one school’s code and the second with the other school’s code. They players never saw themselves as playing different sports just different rules. Hence, a game of two halves.
Association football (“soccer”) was first codified nearly 150 years, the proponents of handling the ball developed their football into its own sport, and the reasons behind two halves disappeared, but it nevertheless became an integral part of the game’s structure. There is something simple, and symmetrically pleasing about two halves, that one does not get from smaller division such as the thirds and quarters.
In a more modern, television-driven age, a two-halves game with one break in the middle is perfect because it limits the amount of time one has to sit through commercial advertisements (which we are already bombarded by on stadium grounds and players’ kits.) The half time break allows the viewer to get up, take a break, and ignore the ads that are selling us what we don’t need. Compare that to sports such as baseball and American football where it feels like there are more commercials than game.
It is important to stress that FIFA denies this conversation took place, but it probably did. Two breaks in the match instead of one would allow for increased ad revenue, and FIFA doesn’t care in the least about the soul and identity of the game. This just provides the pretense that they care about the players rather than about the old men of the ExCo who lined their pockets with Qatari bribe money. (Speaking of that, the evidence against Mohammed Bin Hammam keeps mounting, and although it all appears to be circumstantial, he’s done. Out of FIFA.)
The 2022 World Cup is 11 years away. Many things could change between now and then, but I suspect I will not be watching it. Given the way that the international game has faded and the club game has risen, I also suspect I will not be the only one.