51 Bad Ideas Before Breakfast

Once of the best descriptions of Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s President and all-around football villain, was made by a German journalist who said of Sepp, “He has 50 new ideas before breakfast and 51 of them are bad.”  That basically sums up Blatter, but I want to turn my attention to one of his recent presidential challengers who has shown that he too is not immune from bad ideas.

That challenger is Grant Wahl, whose symbolic run can to nothing, as pretty much everyone knew it would.  I am ambivalent about Wahl* because on one hand he is one of the most prominent supporters of the game (men’s and women’s), but on the other, when he is not writing magazine articles, he comes up with amazingly ridiculous ideas that no doubt he believes are brilliant.  Because his blog is on SI.com as opposed to say, tracingthetree.wordpress.com, his bad ideas are given far more credit than others’ bad ideas.

The specific bad idea that I am referring to today is in this bullet point wish list (calling it journalism or a blog entry is too generous.)  He calls for the Women’s World Cup to be held every two years instead of every four.  Now at first blush that seems brilliant.  Yay!  More women’s football!  But if you scratch the surface, this is a deeply flawed and even dangerous idea.

Discounting the logistics of holding qualifiers so frequently (clubs in America and Europe do want their players to play for the club from time to time), holding the World Cup ever two years would be detrimental for another reason.  The World Cup (and the Olympics) gets so much publicity precisely because it is once every four years.  It’s a simple ration: the more international competitions there are, the less people are willing to watch.  This is particularly true of niche sports.  Swimming and track and field have major meets every two years (odd years so as not to conflict with the Olympics).  Who really pays attention to that, other than perhaps the occasional Michael Phelps reference?  Men’s and women’s basketball, so popular at the Olympics, has much less attention for its own World Championships (non-Olympic even years).  Even in football the biennial African Cup of Nations is more of a nuisance than an event, especially for the European clubs and their fans.  If it were four years rather than two, like every other confederation’s cup (CAF greed), it would be far more exciting.

What makes a World Cup or an Olympics so special is that is so rare.  If the World Cup were to move to every two years, it would become background noise.  However one builds off the success of this World Cup to maintain a viable and sustainable women’s professional football league (and I have no solutions), holding the World Cup more frequently is not the way.  That would only cheapen the competition.

Way to go, Grant!  Now all you need is 50 more bad ideas, and you can really challenge for FIFA presidency.


* While I am ambivalent about Wahl, one must marvel in amazement at the quality of football writers who write columns for SI.com, many of whom also write for English publications, in particular The Guardian.  Whatever you feel about The Guardian, their football coverage is top-notch.  Jonathan Wilson, Sid Lowe, Tim Vickery, Georgina Turner, Raphael Honigstein, Marcela Moro y Araujo, Gabriele Marcotti.  The list goes on and on.  Which reminds me.  Whatever happened to Gregory Sica?  Between SI and ESPN (again excluding Soccernet), there is no question which one I go to first.


4 responses to “51 Bad Ideas Before Breakfast

  1. I completely agree. Wahl isn’t the only one floating this idea. ESPN’s Bill Simmons (who isn’t really a soccer expert, though he fancies himself that way–he also thinks he’s a top-notch TV critic) is suggesting the same thing, only he says it should be every three years instead of every four years. He’s made the same argument for the men’s World Cup and the Olympics as well. While this isn’t quite as bad as every two years, it should still be resisted. As you say, the reason the World Cup and The Olympics are so special is that they’re so rare. This raises the stakes to the highest possible level, as many high-level athletes only get one or two good chances at glory, and it keeps these sports from wearing out their welcome. Nobody cares about the annual World Championships in various Olympic sports, and most people (in this country, at least) don’t really care about soccer outside the World Cup. ESPN analysts keep trying to convince us that the European Championships next year will receive comparable interest, but I’m skeptical. There’s no Team USA (even if they’re not very good), and there won’t be any of the great South American countries. Mexico won’t be there either. I’m sure it will get some interest, but I wouldn’t expect it to be on the level of the World Cup. The one move that I do think was brilliant was when the Olympics decided to separate the Summer and Winter Olympics. I’m too young to remember the Olympics before this (the first ones I watched were Barcelona and Albertsville in 1992, but Lillehammer was just two years later), but the way it’s set up now, we get the best of both worlds. The importance of the Olympics hasn’t been detracted from, as it’s still every four years for all sports. But sports fans get to watch Olympic action every two years, with the summer and winter sports alternating.

  2. I have to say that I am a purist, and I miss the Winter and Summer Olympics being in the same year. Granted the first Olympics I remember watching was 1988, but there was something magical in that. I’m not advocating for a return to the old way, I have no doubt it is better like this, but I liked the idea of an Olympics year.

    I suspect that the Euro will be better received that you believe. It’s probably not going to be World Cup levels, but I think the American fan with even a passing interest is savvy enough to know that there will be high quality play (we hope; this year’s Copa America has been a major disappointment), and will tune in.

    As for Bill Simmons, I have no time for him. I remember last year the New Republic kept up a blog for the World Cup (the writers were all long-time fans) and one of them flat-out called Simmons an idiot.


  3. Taken in isolation, I don’t think it’s that bad an idea. At a time when womens football is growing, a world cup every two years would give it far better exposure and a chance for national teams to play each other on a regular basis.

    The spanner in the works comes from the various confederation championships and the Olympics which, unlike the mens competition, ranks second to the World Cup (and currently above the various confederation championships).

  4. Wahl’s suggestion for the Olympics is basically to do the women’s tournament what the men have done (although he did not say that in so many words.) I actually might talk about the Olympics in a future post depending on how Uruguay do in the Copa America final.

    The women do play each other a lot more in international tournaments. This year alone the US women played (and won) the Algarve Cup and the Four Nations Cup, I’m not comparing these to the World Cup; in the past I’ve called them glorified exhibitions. Nevertheless, these are tournaments that national teams play, but the competitions get very little respect/viewership.

    The other problem is a support issue. While US fans (justifiably) complain about the USSF, we know that it will fund women’s football. That is also true in some other places: Scandinavia, Germany, maybe Australia, New Zealand, and possibly even Nigeria. But in places like Brazil and the rest of South America, some other European countries (we’ll see what happens in France), China, and most of the rest of the world, giving any kind of support to women’s football is asking too much. Having to shell out finding every two years instead of every four is probably a bridge too far.

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