Forget Africa’s Mugabe and other fat cats — Ghana are worth consulting on Beautiful Game’s values

2010-06-26 00:00

GHANA continue to light the path forwards. Forget about the evil doers, Mugabe, rich people driving Mercedes and paying miserable wages, Malema, the loathsome fat cats of Zimbabwean cricket and others hell-bent on bringing Africa to its knees as they fill their already bulging bank accounts. Focus instead upon the Black Stars’ instructive achievement in surviving a tough group to reach the last 16 of this fine World Cup (friends attending matches in Durban attest to the carnival atmosphere, excellent organisation and the friendliness of the volunteers).

Ghana was the first African nation to secure its liberation. Barrack Obama’s first overseas visit was to Ghana. It is a genuinely democratic country whose governments submit themselves to genuine elections and accept the result (meanwhile the ANC resists the release of its report into the fraudulent Zimbabwean election of 2002).

Of course, it is not a coincidence that this nation of all African nations has again advanced into the later stages. Ghanaian soccer is properly run. Administrators are accountable. Sport ministers cannot run around talking through their hats, which is the fashion hereabouts. Although narrowly beaten by the Germans in their last match, they played with a maturity and skill suggesting that they can go further. And that is without Michael Essien, one of the giants of the game.

It’s the same in cricket. Part of the reason Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been inept is that officials are not accountable to anyone except their political paymasters. It breeds self-interest, sweet tongues and inactivity.

It’d be worth consulting the Ghanaians and visiting the Ivory Coast Academy where strong values are instilled.

Overall, the World Cup has been enjoyable. Its delights have included the disintegration of an arrogant French side, the panache of the Portuguese, the pride of the Kiwis, the rally of the Australians, the progress of the democratic Koreans, the grit of the Ghanaians, the adventure of the Argentineans and the polish of the Brazilians. Soccer has been extremely lucky in its leading team. Champions are supposed to embody the best the game has to offer, a task the Samba boys mostly fulfil

But two weak points have emerged, neither of them the host country’s fault. Overall, the referees have been good, especially those prepared to let the players get on with the game. Alas, a few have spoilt matches by endlessly flashing yellow cards and stopping play for every minor infringement. It is supposed to be a man’s game not a tea party.

Inevitably though, mistakes have been made, results have been affected and teams sent home nursing a grievance. In the age of technology it is no longer sensible to ignore replays. Millions of viewers can see that a penalty was wrongly given or a goal mistakenly denied, yet the decision stands. USA might have been eliminated after an otherwise admirable ref denied them a legitimate late goal against Serbia. They were again denied against Tunisia. Brazil’s centre forward scored after twice handling the ball. Thierry Henry was lambasted for less.

It’s unfair to put the referees under so much pressure. No one wants every little incident to be reviewed, but penalties and goals can be examined in a few seconds so that justice is done. It’s happened in other sports and the world has not come to an end, and the refs have not been undermined.

The other irritation concerns diving. Time and again players fall writhing in apparent agony only to rise again once a severe penalty has been imposed. Miracles happen in soccer every day, but some of them are demeaning. Any sport that allows cheats to prosper needs to examine its priorities.

Take the recent red cards issued to players from Nigeria, Brazil and Switzerland. In all three cases the supposed victims were as guilty as the punished

Seeking a quick throw, the Nigerian ran across to grab the ball whereupon his Greek opponent pushed him away. Enraged the Nigerian kicked out. Halfway through he realised his stupidity, pulled out and made no discernible contact. Too late. At first Thioamides did not react. Suddenly he grasped the gift and fell like a victim in a B grade movie. He deserved cautions for the push and play-acting, and so a red card. But TV did not focus on him.

Kaka was likewise hot-headed, but his opponent exploited the opening with a stirring display of suffering. By and large, African teams do not go in for that sort of thing. However, the Ivory Coast midfielder earned his corn.

The Swiss case was the least sympathetic because he lashed out twice with his arms. Even so, the victim went down like a shot bird. It is hard to bring a man to ground. Watch a rugby match. Yet, these fellows fall at a whiff of wind.

The Italians are the worst offenders; Australia obtained footage of them practising diving at a closed session, footage that ought to be shown to every referee. The end, it seems, justifies the means. But true champions do not think that way. The fall of the Greek and Roman Empires is easily explained. It’s cheating and as long as it lasts, soccer is unworthy of the self-awarded title of the Beautiful Game.

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