Saturday, January 30, 2010

LA Sol folds as AEG withdraws its support for the team

After months of trying to unload its half of the LA Sol, AEG withdrew its support for the team. The LA Sol, regular season champs, is no more.

The WPS's financial plan is not about turning a quick profit but developing a self-sustaining league.  But AEG has never acted like it believed in the Sol, or women's soccer - instead, the structure around the team seemed intent on selling the women and the training staff short. This is bitterly disappointing to fans of women's soccer in LA - a city that could support two WPS teams were they located correctly and marketed well.  I am too depressed about this to comment at the moment.  Instead, I will gesture here towards my rant/manifesto "Notes from an Alienated Fan" and go pour myself a drink.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Indian Women's National Team is Back!

And I have a story about them in the International Herald Tribune ("A World Cup Dream...").  The women are competing against Sri Lanka in the opening match of the South Asia Games -- it's their first international match in two years, and marks their return after FIFA's delisting of the squad (for its inactivity) in June 2009. Read this June 2009 interview with Subhrasnu Roy on for some more insight into the team's situation.

Best of luck to these incredible women! The above photo was taken by Riyas Komu - the artist whose work inspired my trip to India.

[Jan 30: The women won their first match handily - scoring 8 to Sri Lanka's 1. The men lost to Afghanistan 0-1. This is the first year women's football has been included in these games.]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sepp Blatter's Moronic Statement about Indian Women's Football

I just came across this tidbit in an interview with Sepp Blatter about FIFA's "Win with India in India" program (initiated in 2007):
FIFA: Women's football is not very developed in India. Do you feel it is possible to change that situation? 
SP: Women's football has already managed to grow in countries where cultural, religious or political factors might have made that appear unlikely. As a result, there's no reason why it can't work in India. For example, a film such as 'Bend it like Beckham', in which Parminder Nagra, an actress with Indian roots, put in such a brilliant performance, could act as a spark for women's football in the country. It's just a question of opening the door. I said in 1995 that the future of football was women's football and I don't think I was mistaken. The epidemic could well reach India! 

1. Let me start with the question - it's very problematic.  India's national program has been a mess. But women's football some regions (half the NT comes from Manipur) is very "developed." See #2.

2. "Women's football has already managed to grow in countries where cultural, religious or political factors might have made that appear unlikely. As a result, there's no reason why it can't work in India."

Blatter seems to have confused India with Afganistan. What does he mean by this? Perhaps he means England and its national FA which banned the women's game for 50 years.

Seriously, this suggests that there are "factors" in India that make the development of women's football seem "unlikely."  It would be generous to say this is ill informed.  It's colonialist/racist/imperialist bullshit.  Women play soccer in India.  They have since the 19th C.  Like the US, soccer in India isn't so much a "man's game" - girls play it in schools, and the sport has had its moments of popular success (in the 1970s & 80s).The WPS should be so lucky as to get the numbers that have turned out for some of the country's regional derbys.

3. "For example, a film such as 'Bend it like Beckham', in which Parminder Nagra, an actress with Indian roots, put in such a brilliant performance, could act as a spark for women's football in the country."

This is again ridiculous, on quite a few levels. The president of FIFA should know something more about women's football than the storyline of this film.

This statement assumes that women in India - no matter where they live or what background they have - will automatically identify with this story of a daughter of a Punjabi Sikh immigrant family in London.  I can't even begin to map the problematic assumptions here - the collapse of all people of "Indian background" as one, and the assumption that everyone's story - and relationship to tradition is the same.

Nagra was great, but we actually don't see any real football in the movie - at least nothing that makes anyone convinced they are watching footage of a top female player. I'm sorry, but that movie, as much as I loved it, didn't make me want to play soccer.  Goal, a shitty film in so many ways, is much better at making you want to kick a ball around.

I suspect he has never seen the movie. It's a lazy and stupid statement.

4. "It's just a question of opening the door. I said in 1995 that the future of football was women's football and I don't think I was mistaken. The epidemic could well reach India!"

I would say FIFA is better at closing the door than opening it.  Blatter is a moron, and women's football is popular in India already.  Girls all over the world grow up with a ball at their feet.  The real question is why more countries don't have strong national programs. The fact that he refers to women's football as an "epidemic" says it all. FIFA actually controls that epidemic by recommending that FAs taking development funds spend 15% of the money on women. Last I looked, that was 35% shy of equity.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Blood Equity": has gridiron football become a blood sport?

"You have a broken back. But you can play with it." These words were spoken to Tony Dorsett, in a Monday meeting after a game in which he took a late, hard tackle that ended with a knee to his back. In the middle of renegotiating his contract, Dorset absorbed this surreal news and returned to the field wearing the flap jacket team doctors recommended to absorb the impact of the blows he would surely take. He considers himself lucky. He can't run today, but he can function.

That is a lot more than many retired NFL players can say. A 2009 documentary, Blood Equity (available on uncovers the ugly story of how the NFL player's union has turned its back on the men who have made billions of dollars for the league. This betrayal is often the last act in a series of ruthlessly exploitative decisions - in which team doctors underrepresent the nature of injuries to players, robbing them of the chance to make informed decisions about their own health, in which coaches opt to field players with concussions, torn ACLs, and, incredibly, in Dorsett's instance, a broken back. These players suffer from a range of horrific disabilities - crushed disks, destroyed rotator cuffs, useless knees. But these problems pale in comparison with the frightening dementia caused by the repeated blows to the head and body that make for such fantastic television.

We meet a lot of players in Blood Equity (Mike Ditka is particularly moving in critique of the player's union), but some of the most painful stories come from their families. Garrett Webster's father was "Iron Mike" Webster, a legendary center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The younger Webster sums up the suffering of his father by saying he wished he'd never played the sport, because then his dad would at least be here. Webster died of a heart attack at the age of 52. By that point, he had lived with so much back pain he would taser himself, hoping to make himself pass out. Or he would drink. He couldn't remember how to make breakfast, eventually, he couldn't feed himself. His dementia was so acute he could hardly function and he lived in poverty. By the time he got a lawyer, Jeanne Marie Laskas writes, the hall of famer "was living on Pringles and Little Debbie pecan rolls [and] was occasionally catatonic, in a fetal position for days."

Laskas's story for GQ ("Game Brain") focuses on what happened when Mike Webster died. His decline made headlines in Pittsburgh where people wondered how a man who had been so lionized could end up so horribly abject. Bennet Omalu, a local pathologist figured Webster must have been sick, and got permission from Webster's family to analyze the player's brain. Laskas writes that the scientist found
Brown and red splotches. All over the place. Large accumulations of tau proteins. Tau was kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning. (Jeanne Marie Laskas, "Game Brain")
Omalu wrote up his findings in an article (“Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player”) which he published in 2005 in the journal Neurosurgery. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) is a disease caused by repeated blows to the head, and occurs with shocking frequency in NFL players. "Game Brain" recounts the NFL's reaction - its doctors went bullistic, and demanded that the journal print a retraction. Omalu became fully engaged in a battle with the billion-dollar business of football, and opened a pandora's box of trouble for not only the NFL, but for American football culture more broadly, as it must now consider the long-term impact of the thousands of jarring blows absorbed by high school and college players (see "Football and Progressive Brain Damage" in Science Daily).

Several months ago, the New Yorker published Malcolm Gladwell's "Offensive Play". That article also offers a disturbing catalog of the debilitating injuries that hobble NFL players. Gladwell makes a provocative turn and calls out the NFL and the sports media for the way it handled the Michael Vick affair. Given what we now know about the severity of the injuries sustained by football players, and the ruthless exploitation of the athlete's love for the game, what makes us so different from the dog-fighters?

Galdwell points to "gameness" as a quality prized in fighting dogs and in athletes. "Gameness" measures the dog's willingness to keep fighting even if wounded, to fight to please its master at the cost of its own interest. Following this line of thought, Gladwell recounts Kyle Turley's experiences playing for the Packers:
Turley...was once in the training room after a game with a young linebacker who had suffered a vicious hit on a kickoff return. “We were in the cold tub, which is, like, forty-five degrees, and he starts passing out. In the cold tub. I don’t know anyone who has ever passed out in the cold tub. That’s supposed to wake you up. And I’m, like, slapping his face. ‘Richie! Wake up!’ He said, ‘What, what? I’m cool.’ I said, ‘You’ve got a concussion. You have to go to the hospital.’ He said, ‘You know, man, I’m fine.’ ” He wasn’t fine, though. That moment in the cold tub represented a betrayal of trust. He had taken the hit on behalf of his team. He was then left to pass out in the cold tub, and to deal—ten and twenty years down the road—with the consequences. No amount of money or assurances about risk freely assumed can change the fact that, in this moment, an essential bond had been broken.  (Malcolm Gladwell, "Offensive Play")
I am compelled by Gladwell's argument.  In Blood Equity, Toby Wright recalls how after he had been manipulated into playing a season on a torn ACL (thereby destroying any chance of repairing and rehabilitating the injury), he was released by the LA Rams. Dick Vermeil explained, "We don't believe your body is going to last, the way you play the game." Wright thought to himself "I got here throwing my body around, giving all that I've got. The same reason why I am here is the same reason why you are releasing me." NY Giants legend Harry Carson put it more simply, "They don't give a fuck about you. They really don't care."  Gladwell issues the following charge to us all: "What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries or scientific findings. It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game." I am not sure there is a better document of this crisis than the testimony offered by players and their families in "Blood Equity."

Friday, January 8, 2010

"It's disgusting to take bullets for a football match": Togo attacked on its way to Africa Cup of Nations

That's Richmond Forson, midfielder for Togo's national team, commenting on being attacked on the way to the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Angola.   Here's the story from Sky Sports, Dossevi reveals Togo horror, and from Al Jazeera, Togo footballers attacked in AnglolaThe Guardian story is here. Reuters reports that the team bus driver (an Angolan) was killed. CNN story here.

Kodjovi Obilale and Serge Akakpo are reported seriously wounded. Adebayor was on the team bus, and is apparently unharmed. People from a range of quarters are crying that the African Nations tournament should be moved or abandoned. offers this background story on the incident - this is particularly alarming, for it suggests the tournament was held in spite of warnings about political instability and violence in the region. Needless to say, players for Togo's national team are desperately worried about their injured teammates and some want to pull out of the tournament. This Independent article on the hopes pinned to this tournament is worth a read.

As the Al Jazeera story points out, this frightening incident recalls the awful attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore last year and is bound to cause much worry about the upcoming World Cup. [1/9: For a critical perspective on this, see Pitch Invasion's World Reaction to Togo Tragedy.]

[1/9: Three people are reported killed in the attack, including assistant coach Abalo Ametele, press officer Stan Ocloo, and one of the bus drivers. There have been rumors that Obilale died, but reports on this are contradictory. Togo has withdrawn from the tournament, and other teams such as the Ivory Coast have expressed support, though I haven't seen confirmation of other withdrawals. See the Guardian's update here.]

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Marta? Again? Really?: FIFA's Player of the Year Award is, when it comes to women, a joke.

Last month Marta was awarded the World Footballer of the Year trophy for the forth time. I have said it before: Marta is a great player.  But in ten years, only three women have been given this award (Mia Hamm got it twice, & Birgit Prinz three times).  Since 2001 (the year FIFA started awarding this trophy to female players), 9 men received the award with Ronaldinho winning it twice. I suspect Marta herself doesn't think she deserves to have won this honor four years in a row.

You can watch the ceremony's introduction of nominees here, as well as brief interviews with Cristiane and Marta. It's not translated, sadly.

Charmaine Hooper, a FIFA Committee member and one of Canada's greatest players, introduced the nominees. The Sith Lord of Soccer, Seth Blatter, stood by her side and handed the Sol/Santos player the award. I hoped she'd club him over the head with it. But she didn't.

Last year, I wrote that I suspected that the problem with this award is that FIFA's members - even female players - do not get enough real media exposure to their own game to really know their colleagues. (Votes are cast by coaches and captains of international teams.) The media gives so little time and attention to the women's game, it can only handle one "star" at a time.  So players like Nadine Angerer (Germany's goalkeeper, who played the 2007 World Cup without conceding a single goal - this includes at least one penalty save, if I remember correctly and had a great year this year) or Christiane (Marta's crucial and insanely gifted partner in crime) or Hope Solo or any number of other gifted players are ignored.

It's shameful and it seriously diminishes the value of this award - the people casting these votes need a real kick in the pants. I'm disgusted by the sports media, which has reported on Marta's four-year reign as if it were not a problem. Just goes to show you how little women's soccer they actually watch - and, perhaps, how every damned story about women's soccer has to have a smile slapped on it, like it is always good news. 

So far, I've only noticed one article that complains - The Final Third, a blog (of course), asks WTF?  They gripe "Marta plays like a beast, but she isn't like Ronaldinho is she?" I don't know about that - she is pretty amazing, especially when supported by a great team (as is the case for any attacking player). But let's say she is a female Ronaldinho. Even when at his best, he only won that award twice. So, yeah - WTF.  Marta should have just handed that thing to Cristiane.  Maybe she did. 

I'd love to know what other people think about this!

[A reader tipped me off to this interview with Shek Borkowski - he speaks in depth about the award, the ceremony, and FIFA's "lack of imagination" - it's a really informed discussion, and very worth listening too! He addresses these issues starting at about 6 minutes.]
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