What a pleasant surprise, to watch World Cup 2018, and not be frustrated, disappointed, and at times disgusted, so far. After the Olympics, World Cup (also every four years) is undisputedly the greatest International sporting event. Unlike the multi-sport and athletics competition ‘The Olympics’ - ‘The World Cup’ is all about the singular game of football, perhaps the most beloved sport globally, and therefore one that has the greatest audience globally, and incites the most passion as it is relatable to so many of the World’s population, including those of the poorest nations.
But as with anything that is so huge globally, over the decades, greed, corruption and questionable practices in awarding countries the World Cup Games, had steadily crept into the Organization that controls, organizes and awards it, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), and the games had suffered, along with the quality of play. But the purge of the top management of FIFA in the past few years, has given us a World Cup this year that has been at times simply thrilling to watch. There were other improvements as well that have contributed to the betterment of these World Cup Games.
Ignoring for the moment the fact that there was controversy and suspicions in the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia, the organization and execution of the games by Russia have been almost flawless. And the sporting infrastructure, particularly the Stadiums, have been most impressive. Those observations may sound a little droll, till one recalls the nightmarish problems that beset the hosting nations in the past, with glitches to the very last minutes. This time the games are being held without any noticeable problems and the teams seem happy to be just playing, and the fans seem to be equally at ease in the watching of them.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, had promised air tight security for the duration of the Games, and so far, everything seems to be going ahead without any physical threats.
In the spirit of ‘cleaning up FIFA’, the games themselves seem to be played a lot more cleaner than in the past, with the players being forced to minimize their natural tendencies to cheat by impeding their opponents through blatant fouls.
In the past World Cups, ‘playing dirty’ had become such an acceptable part of the game that the quality of play had suffered distressingly. As the games had progressed towards the finals, the hacking at the legs, the tripping, the pulling of clothing, the wrestling, the blatant pushing, the gouging and even biting (the infamous Suarez incident) had taken a heavy toll on skillful playing, particularly on the ‘star’ players, who were often the most targeted for ‘dirty tricks’. This resulted in frequently disrupted games and noticeably compromised players. This World Cup, that unsavory, unsportsmanlike part of the beautiful game has been substantially reduced, much to the benefit of the game itself, and the immense pleasure of watching it.
Unlike North American sports like ‘Ice Hockey’ and ‘American Football’, direct attack on the player in football is not allowed. That inability to purposely hit, push, or otherwise physically impede players forced the players of football to rise to extraordinary skills in handling the ball with just their legs, feet and heads, which is in large part the magic of the game. When the game became increasingly ‘dirty’, the skill side of the game predictably suffered. The greater and stricter enforcement of rules, and the greater penalizing of the players when they purposely erred, have led to much ‘cleaner’ games, forcing the players to resort to their skills to make a positive impact. That aspect of the change in the refereeing of the games has gone a long way in elevating the standards of play and the unleashing of the star qualities of the players, not to mention pushing the games towards fairer plays.
The introduction of the ‘Video Assistant Referee’ system has been a great technological boon in assisting the ‘clean-up’ of the games. Not only does it make it virtually impossible for players to get away with purposeful fouling of their counterparts, but it also helps correct ‘bad’ or mistaken decisions by Referees, which makes for more ‘just’ games.
There is the tendency in a lot of people to resist change, and the game of football, as it has been played, had its die-hard fans who did not want the change, but the stricter Refereeing has done wonders to elevate the quality of the games while allowing the star players to actually play, instead of being constantly attacked and brought down because they represented the greatest threat to the other side.
One of the distressing parts of the former games in the World Cup used to be the tendency of players to forget the sportsmanship aspect of the sport, and let their most unethical side dominate their behavior on the field. This unfortunate and undesirable tendency of human nature ‘to cheat’ has been forcibly restrained by the stricter refereeing with the assistance of the VAR system. The bottom line is, predictably, the quality of play has improved since the top management of FIFA, and the Referees, and the players, all had to clean up their act and focus on putting on the best football, which has made watching the World Cup 2018 a great pleasure.