Thursday, June 30, 2011

2011 Women's World Cup: perspective on Equatorial Guinea's "controversies"

When sports journalists describe Equatorial Guinea as an unknown quantity, I wonder if that's just their way of saying they haven't wanted to look too closely at the team and the country's football association.

Since they upset Nigeria in the 2008 African Women's Championship, they haven't been much of a mystery to followers of African women's football. Everyone who follows African soccer knows they are on the rise - if they are underdogs, it is not for lack of talent but experience.

Equatorial Guinea is a controversial team, though, there's no two ways about that. It has a large number of naturalized players (like the team's coach, who is Brazilian): The team has been accused of "buying" players (the country has the resources to do so) but team's manager has defended his selection. The Associated Press reports:   
Among Equatorial Guinea's half dozen players with Brazilian ancestry are standout goalkeeper Miriam and defender Carolina. Frigerio said buying players from other nations reflects the realities of a small country in a big world, and money is not a problem in a land rich in oil and gas. 
"The players all have roots in Equatorial Guinea," he said. "Either their parents or grandparents come from there."  (AP, "West Africans Making Headlines at the World Cup")
Jade Boho (in red) at the 2010 AWC
Jade Boho, the team's top striker was disqualified from competition for not having changed her FIFA affiliation when she should have (she was born and plays in Spain; she played for the Spanish U19 squad). So far, it looks like the FA mishandled the process.

That the team scouts in Spain or Brazil should be no more controversial than the fact that Mexico scouts in California's Central Valley.

[The story ought to be not why Jade Boho was playing for Equatorial Guinea, but why she isn't playing for Spain - she plays in the Spanish Super Liga, and played for Spain's U19 squad, who were European champions. Spain's senior squad is in such shambles that its best players steer clear of it. Now, that's a scandal, and the subject of a rant that should be up on Fox Soccer any day now.]

African teams have complained about Equatorial Guinea since at least the 2008 Africa Women’s Championship. They won the title in a terrific upset when they took the crown from the Super Falcons. According to a 2008 editorial in the Nigerian Observer, visiting teams complained about a lot of things.The tournament had been hosted by Equatorial Guinea, and in the wake of the big upset, Nigerian press accused the hosts of not only poor hospitality and organization, but outright cheating. Visiting teams complained about scandalously poor officiating (e.g. a referee allowed a player in one match to retake a penalty she had originally sent wide). Journalists complained about the absence of media centers and the refusal accredit journalists until the tournament was half over. Coaches complained about abusively noisy hotels and the lack of water given to teams during practice sessions. Of course, from what I can tell, tournaments can be full of this sort of shade - its why when teams show up to a World Cup and are treated well, they often express pleasant surprise.

The real problem, many argued, was the Confederation of African Football’s poor stewardship. To whom can one turn to resolve such complaints? CAF has a long history of ignoring complaints regarding corruption and mismanagement in the game, a situation as true of the women's game as it is of the men's. This hardly makes the regional governing body different from any other. 

High on the list of complaints made regarding Equatorial Guinea in 2008 was the accusation that the squad had fielded as many as three men.  The more sensitive journalists have translated these kinds of accusations into the only slightly less awful charge, in which the players are “accused” not of being men, but of being hermaphrodites. Three players on Equatorial Guinea squad were tagged with this accusation, and two have been removed from the roster prior to their World Cup games. (A third, who plays in Germany, defended herself against these absurd claims, with the full support of her club.) 

Equatorial Guinea is not the only country to field players who are accused of not being women. One African Female Player of the year (from another country) was accused of being a man, and Nigeria has lost a couple players over the years when they were disqualified for hermaphrodism, after their gender had been questioned. As Nigeria has been at the forefront of the complaints about Equatorian Guinea, plenty of fans of the latter team saw this turn regarding the disqualification of intersexed Nigerian players as karmic.

This is not only an African problem. Spanish and Indian track athletes have been (wrongly) stripped of medals, by officials who hardly know that they are doing. Can you imagine? And we all know more about Caster Semenya than we have any right to. Heck, I've heard women on my own teams wonder about opposing players, never seriously. But just casual whinging about the mannishness of a player makes me queasy.

Even given the fact of the intersexed athlete, this kind of charge floats around in women’s sports as a haunt, embodying the sports world's most intense conflicts regarding gender and it impacts all of us. For what does it mean to say a team is fielding men? It means the press gets an interesting headline, and it means that one body gets to be vehicle through the sports world conducts an exorcism, in the service of the maintenance of the fantasy that gender difference is absolute. 

It means that a team is fielding women who challenge received notions about femininity. It can be a player with broad shoulders, a flat chest and short hair. It can be a player with those attributes, who is also strong, fast, and plays aggressively. In the past, these accusations have led to horrifying groping sessions as referees sort them out in the locker room.

That the most public of these accusations fall again and again on African women athletes should be a red flag signaling the violence with which the body of the African athlete is policed. 

SO, note to journalists reporting on the team: the charge of being men hasn't only been leveled against Equatorial Guinea - it's been around in the women's game - indeed, women's sports - for years, and is used as a horrifying form of gender policing. It is casually used to 'out' women as lesbians, as not 'real women,' as 'unnatural' 'freaks' etc.

Because the effects of these accusations can be so devastating, people involved with the game have been asking FIFA to take the issue up, at least to prevent the reckless charges that teams have made against each other on this point.

At the end of May, FIFA instituted its first “Gender Verification Regulations.” This was surely done in advance of the 2011 World Cup with the hopes of warding off trouble regarding the complaints made against Equatorial Guinea. 

Basically, FIFA asserts that each national association is responsible for providing documentation regarding a player’s gender:
It lies with each participating member association to prior to the nomination of its national team ensure the correct gender of all players by actively investigating any perceived deviation in secondary sex characteristics and keeping complete documentation of the findings. Should a player’s gender be called into question, then, the FA has the responsibility of demonstrating that this player is, indeed, female. 
There are now strict procedures regulating who can call for a test (the individual concerned, an FA, or appointed FIFA medical officers), and there is also the possibility that “unfounded or irresponsible” accusations will bring on disciplinary action. Sanctions regarding gender-non-conforming players can only be imposed by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee – and, interestingly, the 2011 World Cup has its own specialist, hired to consult on these matters. A first.

On the surface, all of this looks enlightened – and it certainly is a step forward from what was in place before this – which was nothing, which produced intensely humiliating scenes as referees resorted to groping and looking into an accused player’s shorts.

But how will national associations "ensure the correct gender of all players"? What does "actively investigating any perceived deviation in secondary sex characteristics" mean? One might imagine a lot of the football associations in the world just going for feminine looking athletes, so they don't have to bother with this mess. Frankly, more than a few of them already do.

So today, the two players most frequently invoked in these complaints have been dropped from the roster. FIFA can pat itself on the back, no?

This is not a happy outcome: at minimum, we have two players exiled from the game and no explanation as to why, and no sense that we haven't just witnessed a very stark act of discrimination, in which mannish women are chased out the game so that we can maintain the illusion that the line between male and female is absolute.

How, I ask, is that any better than, any different from Nigeria's homophobic "witch hunt"?  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Women's World Cup: Thoughts on Team USA/North Korea

What to say about yesterday's game? A first half to make you want to give up on life, a second which chastised you for all that cynicism and negativity.

It isn't that the second half was so glorious that it made you forget the first.  It was pretty scrappy (though not nearly as scrappy as Mexico v England).

It was more "American" that that - by which I mean the following: US teams are often celebrated internationally for their fitness level and attitude, for their work ethic. Yesterday's match was hard work.  North Korea are fast and, as few people have much of a sense of their tactics (I assume because the don't play that many international matches and don't make DVDs of their performances available?), opponents have to learn how to play them on the fly. Which is another kind of work.

The first half was strange - two teams with obvious skill struggled to connect (US) and finish (North Korea). To me, it looked like few players had a good touch - no doubt a sign of nerves, and also of the pace at which they were playing. Shek Borkoski described the game as "[lacking] imagination and fluidity." That's about right.

The USWNT came into the second half with a plan they were able to actually execute. They played more thoughtfully (as much as is possible playing a team with North Korea's pace), they were more dogged and, as their work paid off (with better though not ideal possession), they became more confident. You felt like the players were visualizing where they wanted the game to go - and then going there. To me, it felt like they ready to slug it out - meaning, work their asses off for the all important win.

With this effort (and changes in formation and strategy), the team won two goals - thanks to Lauren Cheney and Rachel Buehler, both of whom play for the Boston Breakers in the WPS. 

That performance was the kind of thing that reminds us how much work it takes to win a game. It's not so glamorous, but it is the kind of win I associate with the US squads.

A question to readers: Are any of the networks broadcasting the match providing stats on the distance players run, as is commonly done for the men's game?  I would love to know this.

A recommendation: For excellent analysis of the USWNT's performance, see All White Kit's "Buzzwords for the USWNT/North Korea Game" and FF @jenna_awk for match commentary on Twitter. Women's football bloggers unite!

And, just bizarre: North Korea's coach blamed his team's loss on a lightening strike. Incredible, whether or not its true.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Allez les Nudes

Here's, the FFF-produced video for the French women's national team:

Yikes. I mean, parts of it are cute, I guess. But not so much the parts where individual members of the team lip sync.

Members of the national team also posed nude in 2009, for an FFF campaign with the lovely slogan, "Do we have to show up like this, in order for you to come see us play?"

Yikes again. See four years of my writing on this blog, for my perspective on this sort of thing.

One Nation, Divisible After All

I was going to maintain "radio silence" about the men's game but then I heard about Tim Howard's rant regarding the Gold Cup ceremony. Hosted by Univision's Fernando Fiore, the trophy award was conducted in Spanish except for that portion honoring the US team.

Such a thing should be relatively uncontroversial: Los Angeles is a multi-lingual city and the vast majority of people in the stands understand Spanish. It was being broadcast to Spanish speaking households across the region. In California, la vida futbolistica is conducted largely en español. The Gold Cup final is an international event, and if French is the lengua franca of sporting events in Europe, Spanish is it for the Americas. Anglo players and fans who don't speak Spanish will understand enough to get the gist: Howard certainly knows this, and was clearly displacing his frustration about the loss into this pseudo-self-righteous and reactionary rant about proper procedure. 

Mind you, if Howard was a female player, he'd likely lose his place on the squad for more than a little while - FAs are particularly intolerant of the malcriada. (Ask Hope Solo.) But, no, instead Howard's rant becomes a focal point for nationalist identification. So, you know, the men's scene can look more and more like the worst aspects of the European game. Because this seems to be what the USSF and its corporate partners want.

There are finer points to this discussion: about the way ticket sales are managed, about the marginalization of fans of the USMNT in those processes (see, e.g. Alex Labidou's polemic for  There seems to be no process that saves some tickets from being sold until the finalists are announced. That said - everyone in LA knows this and bought tickets well in advance of knowing who would be in the final. There is no reason that USMNT fans couldn't do the same. The one good thing about the current system is that it shows the sheer quantity of Latino fans of the game - fans far too committed to the sport to wait to see if their team made it all the way.

Fact is, if the final had been between Costa Rica and Ecuador, you'd still have a sold out stadium and a great atmosphere.

For the record: the United States does not have an official language. Every effort to make English the legal law of the land has failed: this is something every American can be proud of.  This makes all kinds of things easier, it makes life richer and more interesting, and public space much more generous (in contrast, for example, with countries that refuse to produce official signs, documents in different languages to support the diversity of the language communities that live within that country).

Howard's rant will get lots of play because the issue of language is the preferred field for working out national panic about American identity. And that's of course, what's at stake.

What does need examining is the US Soccer Federation's cool relationship with Latino fans of the sport. I can imagine that for USMNT it must be depressing to never have a home advantage. (That "indivisible" motto now seems particularly ill-fated.) Surely the must be a better answer than digging in one's heals and stewing in rage. 

But, hey, at least the US men's team has a crowd in the stands. And the USMNT gets the red carpet from the USSF, the hype from Nike. And all the press.

Wish I'd seen that kind of support for the women as they slogged they way through the World Cup qualifiers.  Maybe we'd see better play from them if they saw better support from us.

So, to Tim Howard: Suck it up.

And to USMNT fans: You aren't real fans of the national team until that support extends to the program's better half.  Ideally with all the passion but none of the xenophobia. Indivisible? Show us what that word really means.

The intimate connections between the US and Mexico, by the way, will be on full display when El Tri takes on England today - a few of squad's best players are from California.

Team USA plays North Korea tomorrow. If the headlines are still about Howard's rant, well, then we'll know how far this so-called support for the game here extends.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 World Cup: France & Nigeria

Well, I'm not in Germany. I know this because even though the country I'm in (France) has a good team in the World Cup, and even though that team was on the cover of more than a few of the weekend papers and Sunday magazines, no one cares that they scored the tournament's first goal in a win over Nigeria.

For those who don't know yet, France won with a sweet team goal: Necib sent the ball into box where Thiney moved it quickly to Delie, who controlled and scored. Lanky and graceful, Delie reminds me a little of Berbatov.

Nigeria came out at a hundred and ten miles an hour, but were generally much stronger on defense than on attack. Desire Oparanozie broke past Sonia Bompastor and France's back line with a first class run only to blow her chance by sending the ball wide under pressure from GK Sapowitz. What is Oparanozie? 18? Yes, she is.

In a pre-match interview, Nigeria manager Uche declared she replaced her "old" players with "younger" players. I can't help but wonder what she means by "old," as one of the women she left off the squad was Cynthia Uwak, who is all of 24. (In talking about replacing "old" players with young players, she is papering over her purge of lesbian players and/or players who couldn't truck with her prayer sessions, etc.)

Anyway, when Oparanozie sent that ball wide, I couldn't help but think: a) I don't see Uwak doing that and b) if Uwak was on the field with her, Oparanozie might have had another option.

We'll see how this "pray the gay away" coaching strategy works out for Nigeria. I hardly know what to say, as I used to be a Super Falcons fan, and now I have to root against them, because I can't stomach success under these conditions. Basically, the whole story has made it nearly impossible to watch the team's matches and really "see" their game - I'm having trouble getting outside the framework of my anger.

Maybe Eurosport feels the same way. Because during halftime the network played video highlights, with no commentary. Maybe I missed something. Maybe the television I was watching somehow filtered all but the ambient noise of the match in those replays. But given the level of pre-match commentary, I perhaps should be grateful. Sometimes nothing IS better than something: Before the game started, we were given shots of the players stretching on the field. A commentator (female, very pretty) said "Oh my, they are not so flexible, are they?" Then there was an AWFUL video publicizing the team, in which the players were lip syncing to some French pop song. (I promise to find a copy of this!)

They looked so intensely uncomfortable. I have never seen anything quite so painful.

At least they were wearing clothes.

France played like France. The big difference between this team and the men is that we actually have expectations of them. (The men are famous for lowering our expectations of them.) I thought the women were so French they played like Arsenal in the attacking half. They were better at connecting than converting.

We'll see. I'm glad they won this one. They had to, to have any chance of getting out of this group. 

I have only this to say about Germany: a few bloggers noted that Germany seemed rattled when they gave up a goal. This is how Brazil got them in the Olympics. You have to break them early - and then exploit that right away. It's true of course in general (score! score again!).

Germany, Nigeria and Brazil were in the same group in the 2008 Olympics - of all of Germany's opponents in that tournament,  Nigeria and Brazil played the best games against Germany of all of their opponents, and were heavy on the attack. (If you are really hard core: my old match reports are to your left.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Germany's Playboy Players & the "Butch Cliché"

As many readers of this blog will know, some German women who play competitive football posed for Playboy. These are not members of the national team, but they are women who play high level football in the country.

March Presentation of 2011 WWC kit
Titus Chalk from When Saturday Comes does a nice job with this story. Chalk explains that these are not rogue players: the German press has been itching for a story like this, and the national federation gave this "project" a green light, as did Steffi Jones, president of the World Cup organizing committee.

This photo spread is in keeping, in fact, with early publicity for the 2011 Germany team. When Adidas premiered the World Cup kit, they sent a woman in body paint down the runway. Steffi Jones and other officials from the 2011 World Cup team were in attendance, smiling cooperative smiles.

The Playboy players present the world with what German officials think the women's game needs. Tits.

As those familiar with my scholarship already know: I don't have a problem with public nudity, in and of itself. But, as I've written over and over again: this is not a good marketing strategy - as sports media scholar Mary Kane has demonstrated in her research, fans are turned off by this stuff. Someone who wants to see a great rack goes not to a soccer match, but a strip club. Fans are insulted. It confirms the attitudes of those already not interested in women's sports and alienates the rest of us.

Maybe these Playboy girls are more interested in modeling than they are in playing soccer. Lord knows there's more money in the former than in the latter. So, who can blame them for using the World Cup to advance their careers off the pitch.

What is offensive to me: the issuing of this photo spread as "proof" that female players are "beautiful" (against the assumption they aren't) and that women soccer players aren't butch (as if butches weren't beautiful!). Chalk quotes one of these women as explaining "We want to disprove [our sport’s] butch women cliché."

Oh dear.

I'm going to let my imagination run a little wild here: Maybe in German soccer, butches are so dominant, so overwhelming in their presence, so celebrated and privileged that coaches look at a ponytail and think "She's nowhere near butch enough to be any good."

Maybe femmes feel oppressed by the roughhousing tomboys, by the transmen, by the intensity of the female masculinity in German soccer. Maybe this Playboy spread is a femme manifesto of sorts - declaring for all who look at women's soccer and only see hard, fab butches in short hair and broad shoulders: "Hey, femmes are here too!"

Would that were the case.  No - look at publicity and you'll see an intensely manicured vision of women's soccer.

The butchness of female athletes is treated by national federations (and the corporations that launder their money through them) as a constant source of shame and embarrassment. This can be brutally explicit as butch athletes might be called out onto the field in front of their teammates and humiliated as "bad examples" of womanhood - their short hair, musculature, mannerisms - all might be called out as something to be suppressed, hidden or eliminated. (See the stories about what's going on in Nigeria's camp, for example - but this is hardly a rare phenomenon confined to that country!)  Long haired, feminine looking women might be pointed to as paragons of virtue.

Every female soccer player in the World Cup who shaves her head, opts for super short hair, or a shag makes a statement, whether she means to or not. And she didn't need to take off her sports bra to do it.

Field Insecurity (Soccer in the City of Angles, Part VI)

Yrsa Roca Fannberg, from the male bonding series (2009)
[Note: this is the 6th installment in a memoir regarding my adventures in AYSO - read from the start if you are new to this blog - articles can be found in the sidebar on the right.]

David Lynch might have scripted some of the scenes in our experiment with the American Youth Soccer Organization. Some days, things would be that baroque, that strange. This was especially true when it came to the security guard hired by AYSO to monitor the field. (I refer to him here as "C.")
In the beginning, we got along well enough. But as our season progressed, he became a bigger and bigger problem. He was so volatile, paranoid and irrational that a lot of players assumed he was on meth, or perhaps in recovery.
The artificial turf field has a few rules. One can’t bring pets onto the field or onto school grounds. No food or drink (except water), no gum and no smoking. Pretty basic stuff. Aside from enforcing these rules, there really wasn’t much at all for C. to do.
Perhaps because of this, when someone did break the rules and C happened to catch it, he got excited.
He would swagger over to the offending parties and bellow a rapid-fire series of blustery commands, embedded in a rant about how people didn’t take him seriously, were disrespecting him, and breaking the rules on purpose. More often than not, kids were the target of his diatribes.
C was a big, heavy guy in a uniform. He made many kids nervous. If I saw him give a child direction in a positive, non-confrontational way, I also saw him bully kids and pick fights with adults. He was very unpredictable. You couldn’t tell what would draw his ire. Seeing people sitting on top of the picnic tables would send him into a weird rage, for example, though there was no clear reason as to why. Most of the days I was there, however, something would send him into outer orbit.
He was exactly the wrong kind of person to be working security. He made people feel more nervous than "safe." He made people feel like they were doing something wrong, just by virtue of their presence on the grounds. And when people challenged him on his generally hysterical manner, he got even more crazy. He was generally looking for an argument, and although he was not likely to throw a punch, he was very likely to draw one out.
So, when I pulled up to the field one afternoon and saw him in a full-on argument with a woman, I wasn’t surprised.
This argument was extremely heated. As I approached, it seemed to escalate. Her boyfriend appeared and jumped in to defend her. He had just finished playing and was a real hothead who’d been ejected from at least one of our matches. They started to square off.
I put myself between them, turned to the player and herded him out of the fight, explaining that he was making things worse, that C was not going to back down. If the player didn’t, there was no telling where this would go.  “Please,” I remember saying to him – guessing he was the more reasonable of the two men, and the most likely to disengage. These situations require a Cesar Milano-style zen, in which one radiates a calm authority, a total confidence that the situation will not convert into violence. Most of the time, this works.
The player knew this ritual. He continued to gripe about the security guard, but he backed away from the situation and left with his girlfriend.
What was this fight about?
A puppy.
His girlfriend had come to the game with a new, barely weaned puppy. This tiny thing was barely bigger than her hand.
The conflict had been brewing for nearly two hours. When she and her boyfriend showed up, she brought the puppy with her on the field. C yelled at her, and said that not only could she not have the puppy on the field, she couldn’t have it at the school at all.
She took offense at the way he was talking to her, and at the idea that this puppy posed such a problem that it, and she, would have to leave.
One of the league organizers suggested a compromise – she could sit in the picnic area, still on school grounds but at least off the field. She could watch the match there, in peace. Next week, she would leave the puppy at home. This seemed perfectly reasonable – we weren’t talking about an adult animal. This thing couldn’t even walk, really. It was a wiggly little ball of cuteness. It could fit in a pocket.
C felt “disrespected” by the compromise – for him, the insult was manifold.  He took offense towards the woman’s attitude (she quite rightly was offended by the way he spoke to her, and - less rightly - she mirrored his attitude right back to him), and he took offense to the compromise, which he experienced as undermining his authority. 
Rather than leave her alone where she sat watching the game, C would drift over and re-engage her in a fight not about the puppy, now, but her attitude.
I should add, the entire time he was arguing with this woman, he was on the phone with his wife, via a Bluetooth permanently attached to his head. Thus the scene's David Lynch-like weirdness.
So, this is what I saw, as I approached the field:
C and this woman making chicken-head like moves at each other, yelling at the top of their lungs about who was disrespecting who. As this shouting match unfolded, C would make running commentary about what was going on to his wife, via the Bluetooth tucked into his ear. ("This bitch is disrespecting me!") Then he would yell at the young woman about how she was disrespecting him “in front of” his wife. It was really a crazy scene. 
But not quite the craziest thing going on at that moment.
Looking around, I was struck by how most of the people on the field were ignoring the puppy controversy. I now understand that this was because the argument had been going on for so long that it’d become part of the day’s routine.
Something else leaped out at me – something far stranger than C fighting with one of our spectators over the threat posed by a puppy.
An elderly Asian woman was wandering around the edge of the pitch. It was late in the afternoon, very sunny and hot. On a hot day, the field was far from pleasant. It made no sense that an elderly person would be out there, circling the football field over and over again.
She occasionally wandered into the field of play. Players or bystanders would correct her trajectory, and she’d resume her strange walk under the sun.  Again, everyone was acting like this was totally normal.
So, the whole time I was trying to figure out the nature of the confrontation between C and this woman (and diffuse it), I had my eye on a different problem.
The woman with the puppy interrupted her argument with C to explain what was going on:
The elderly woman was Korean and spoke not a word of English or Spanish. She’d been on the field since the start of our day’s games, apparently alone. At one point, she picked up someone’s sunblock and tried to drink it.
On hearing this, my priorities shifted dramatically. The puppy controversy was nothing compared with the possibility that a disoriented elderly woman might actually, you know, die or something.
I assumed she was grossly dehydrated. Why else would someone try to drink a bottle of sunblock?  She was certainly senile or an Alzheimer’s patient. She must have wandered from her home and was lost. There were probably people looking for her – and I guessed that whoever they were, they’d been spending the day in a real panic. The neighborhood is not the best, and this woman was the picture of vulnerability. (When I tried to talk to her, she smiled, complimented my purse in Korean, and continued her laps.)
I called the police, they sent out a patrol car. When they arrived, C was pacing up and down the sidewalk, shouting at his wife (via the Bluetooth in his ear) about how I’d “disrespected” him: "Who does this bitch think she is? This is MY field! I'm in charge!" He sustained this rant for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, I explained the situation regarding the woman on the field to the police officers.
He overheard me talking to the cops, and leaned into his car, pulled out a bottle of sunblock, and handed it to them. He’d seen the woman drinking it, and somehow wound up taking it from her. But he didn’t think to do anything else – like call for help. He had too busy arguing with the puppy-lady, and ranting to his wife about his bruised ego.
The cops talked to the woman, called her family (using her medi-alert bracelet), and soon her son was there, looking mightily stressed out but relieved to see his mother in one piece. By this point, it was 5:00pm. She’d gone missing around 10:00am, and was seen on the field somewhere around 11:00am.
From then on, C hated me with a white-hot passion, and took every chance he got to let me know this. Whenever I was around, he’d rant to the heavens about how I “didn’t own this field,” about how I “didn’t belong,” how he was the “boss,” etc. He’d issue these rants sometimes as song, sung as I walked past him (as I often had to do). His antagonism of our players and their friends escalated, his bullying of kids accelerated.
This got worse when I saw him try to keep a man and his eight year old son off the grounds (there was a large practice space, perfect for kicking a ball around with kids). They lived in one of the large apartment blocks across the street and had no access to green space, it was totally normal for our neighbors to use the field when it was open. 
I intervened whenever I saw C try to keep people out: I couldn’t watch someone cut people off from their own backyard. Of course, he didn’t appreciate this at all – there was little he could do, however, because usually he couldn’t make himself understood to the people he was trying to police.
You see, this security guard hired by AYSO to work in a neighborhood of recent immigrants hated immigrants. He would say so, loudly and proudly. He didn’t speak Spanish and felt no obligation to learn it. A friend of his would sometimes work in his stead was similarly open about his dislike for Latinos. (e.g. “I don’t like Hispanics.” “Don’t you think they should speak English?”) C. was only slightly less explicit. I should add - just so you can picture the DEEP complexity of this scene, C was African American - and the guy helping him out with security was, I think, Armenian. I'm white, and most of the people involved in our league were Latino. The first thing I'd look for in a security guard, beyond a calm demeanor, would be the ability to speak Spanish and show respect for the community within which he was working.
I guess I'd also be looking to weed out the creeps. 
That same summer, I volunteered at an AYSO-sponsored youth camp in Watts and encountered another security guard hired by the same AYSO crew. He was far scarier than C, as he was constantly soliciting attention from the 12-15 year old girls at the camp. I saw him ask one girl to sit in his lap.
Heart in my throat, I casually motioned her over to me and promptly started up some drills for the girls who kept drifting out of the activities being organized by the all-male coaching staff (who seemed completely and utterly puzzled by teen girl dynamics). Other girls and staff noticed this guy was throwing off creepy vibes, and we discretely engineered things to keep him away from us all.
At one point, he showed one of the other volunteers the guns he kept in the trunk of his car. Like this was cool. To remind you of the context - this was at a middle school, and he was there at the behest of the American Youth Soccer Organization. 
To return to C and our league: it took me a while to wake up to how bad things were for, personally.
One evening, C. made some young kids cry. They’d bought ice cream from a street vendor, and had run onto the field, forgetting about the no-food policy. He screamed at them. The parents were really upset by C’s behavior towards their kids – the father of one child teared up when he talked about seeing his daughter bullied by a grown-up like that. It had hit a deep parental nerve, seeing is child so intimidated and scared. They went over to talk to C., and soon they were shouting at each other.
Feeling that his authority was being challenged (again), C. ran onto the field and demanded that the game be stopped. It was bizarre.
The players and the referee all looked at me, because I was the league representative – I took their money, coordinated with the ref’s, helped with the rosters, etc. I calmly explained that C. had no authority to stop the match like that, that this decision was up to the referee.
C responded to this by shouting at me. He all said the things he often said to me – at the top of his lungs, though, in front of two teams, the referees and all the spectators. I walked away from the field, knowing that the referee might be able to diffuse the situation whereas my presence was going to make things worse.
The referee got him off the field. The game started up again. C. left the school – shouting, muttering, ranting about how he was the boss. He did so without turning on the lights – he took the keys to everything with him, and then told the AYSO people who hired him that he wasn’t going to give the keys back.
It was a nightmare. I can’t remember how that was resolved – someone tracked him down and got the keys off him. They had to – otherwise the school would have lost tens of thousands of dollars changing all the locks.
This was the first time a large swath of the league saw first hand what I’d been dealing with since day one.

So many people came up to me to ask if I was “OK.” People were genuinely concerned about me, as a person. “How could he talk to you that way?” There was so much hate for me in C’s behavior and in his speech, it must have been hard to watch. 
I was not a controversial presence for the players and their families – far from it. I always felt welcomed, and most people seemed to really appreciate all the work we put into the league. That night, I felt like I had forty brothers and sisters, people concerned about my welfare in the same way I’d been concerned about theirs. Because of that moment, I would run a league again - just not with AYSO.
Because when it came to the AYSO people associated with the field (the schedulers, the administrators, and the security guard), I did not feel this sense of community. I had instead grown used to feeling harassed, berated, ignored, yelled at, diminished.
That was the beginning of the end for me. I realized I couldn’t keep working there if C. was on duty. It was toxic. Even after he left the field - after interrupting the game, making children cry, making racist statements about the people using the field, screaming insults at me, running off with the keys - AYSO still continued to use him.
I wrote a letter to the AYSO region, explaining the problems we’d been having, so that at least it'd be on the record somewhere. But he was soon back, sitting in his car and talking to his wife via that Bluetooth.
Reading the stories about Jack Warner, Sepp Blatter, et al I have to wonder if this kind of thing isn’t the one of the bigger barriers to a more honest practice. People surrounding the game, managing the game are so often so awful, that a lot of people walk away. 
The crap I saw in one incredibly minor corner of the football world is a small instance of a larger pattern, in which petty thieves and power mongers collaborate to expand their control over a territory, with no concern whatsoever for the community inhabiting it.
C. did his job perfectly – he was never there to help us. He was doing AYSO’s version of “cleaning up” the favela. Over time I gleaned that the AYSO folks who thought we “didn’t belong” basically bent C's ear, poisoned him so that he was ready to see me and my collaborators as "the enemy." He was eager to help his friends by making my life so unpleasant I would go away. 
Which is what I did. 
Soon after all this, our league had been exiled to the outfield of a baseball diamond - maybe to facilitate the double-dealing on the school permit (this what we all feared had been going on all along), or maybe just so that a few people could enjoy the libidinal thrill of ruining a good game.  
Now that I've got that epic out of my system, I can turn my attention to the Women's World Cup.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Foucault Explodes in His Grave (On Weiner's Resignation)

The French philosopher argued that as our public discourse tightens its grip on sex, mining it for more and more information about the body, the mind and the soul, it turns “sex” turns into a rhetorical black hole – a vortex sucking energy in, radiating pure affect. Making less and less sense.

Journalists (?) heckling Anthony Weiner – launching barbs about the size of his dick as they might shout “fag” at a baseball game – prove Foucault’s point: the more discourse we produce about sexual health, sexual behavior, sexual being and sexual practice – the more discourse on sex becomes a powerful mechanism of policing and control; a shit-storm of rhetorical violence.

Nevermind that, these days, it is less “forward” of a guy to put a picture of his dick in an e-mail (or a Craigslist ad), than it is to buy a stranger a drink in a bar. The circulation of sexy pics of our body parts is a banal fact of our fully mediated, broadcasted life. The banality of this practice doesn’t make it less erotic, or feel less personal. It’s a form of exhibitionist correspondence organic to what Lauren Berlant described as an “intimate public.” It is not in the least bit surprising that a public figure might have an erotic relationship to publicity.

Even knowing this, men and women unite behind “Bye Bye PERVERT!” They lean back, content in their own morality - as if they have never looked at a nude picture of a dick, or tits, or whatever. As if they haven’t combed the web looking for Weiner’s body and chuckling over the embarrassing fact that he has one, that he has an erotic relationship to it, and an erotic relationship to our broadcast culture. Shame on him??

Maybe in a few years, this sort of thing will be no big deal. Not because we think that what’s in those briefs is meaningful, but because maybe by then, we’ll have seen so much political crotch that these images will come to nothing.

(All puns intended.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Soccer in the City of Angels Part V: The Handsome Sailor

Terrance Stamp, as Billy Budd
In the opening pages of Billy Budd, Herman Melville comments on the unique charm of a type of man he called the “Handsome Sailor”:
A superb figure, tossed up as by the horns of Taurus against the thunderous sky, cheerily hallooing to the strenuous file along the spar.
With no perceptible trace of the vainglorious about him, rather with the off-hand unaffectedness of natural regality, he seemed to accept the spontaneous homage of his shipmates.
The title character of the novel is just such a man. A man other men adore. When he was pressed into military service - Budd was found working on a merchant ship - his civilian captain begged the naval commander to allow him to keep his treasured Budd:
Before I shipped that young fellow, my forecastle was a rat-pit of quarrels. It was black times, I tell you, aboard the Rights here. I was worried to that degree my pipe had no comfort for me. But Billy came; and it was like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy. Not that he preached to them or said or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones. They took to him like hornets to treacle....
This is a man of ease and grace, natural ability and humility. Melville’s Handsome Sailor is not an attention-seeker. The Handsome Sailor of Billy Budd is slightly shy. He’s the kind of men other men admire, but his humility, the grace with which he carries his gifts, is such that other men want to be around him. He’s the kind of guy who makes other guys happy. 
We had at least one of these guys in the league. He was, in my view, easily the league's best all-around player. He really loves the game, and doesn’t hold back. He plays a skilled game – the kind that is beautiful to play with, inspiring to play against, and amazing to watch.

When this player couldn’t make a game, or was running late, the guys on his team would glance wistfully towards the parking lot, and ask each other “Isn’t X playing today?” They wouldn’t say much, but the disappointment was all over their faces. No irritation that this person couldn’t be there – instead, the guys would just sigh. Like they were lucky he played with them at all. And they were.

Not every team has one. Not every team needs one – but those who do count the Handsome Sailor among their ranks have a special magic: the equilibrium of a system in full cooperation with itself. When all goes well, this person is not a captain but a kind of talisman.

If you've read the novel, you'll know that not everyone on a team is OK with their Billy Budd. Disaster looms for those unable to live in the company of this sort of charismatic talent. Messi is a Handsome Sailor, and Barcelona is a team that knows how to play with him.

Marta is a Handsome Sailor, for sure. And when she was playing, so was Mia Hamm. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Soccer in the City of Angels Part IV: at home with being out of place

Michael Wells, from a series of portraits of games in Lafayette Park, published in Municipal de Fútbol
Many of my recollections of this experimental league could be shaped like a scene from Crash, minus the sentimental recuperation of collisions between racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. Other memories tap into a very different experience of Los Angeles. An LA not in a state of constant battle. A place of movement and collaboration. Today's installment in this series focuses on that, in an effort to think - or write, or feel - "positive."

For those readers who have never spent time in the city, let me paint you a picture of our field’s  beauty.

Los Angeles is much hillier than people outside the region tend to realize. The Hollywood Hills are not the only hills in the city – far from it. Downtown LA sits on land that ripples and then slopes gently toward the ocean. The field at 7th & Union rests on that coastal decline. Standing on the turf, facing 7th St., the downtown skyline rises up to your left. At night, that portion of the sky is lit up by high-rises. Space opens up to your right. On a clear day the westward vista takes on the aspect of “big sky” and you can feel the Pacific on the wind. It’s the kind of place in California that feels “continental” in a geological sense. You can feel that you are standing on one of the planet’s great tectonic plates. The whole world is in motion.

Some of the biggest complexes of fields in this part of LA county are built next to its freeways – the Ferraro fields in Griffith Park are so close to the 5 and the 134 you can hardly hear your teammates over the traffic (no exaggeration). The Glendale complex is nicer, perched in the hills above the 2. It is so high up in those hills that it feels like a kind of heaven – but it’s so isolated those with no relationship to the sport have no idea it’s there.  

The field at 7th and Union is unusual in that it’s a full field (appropriate for 11 on 11) in the middle of a dense neighborhood. Just east of downtown, it is easily accessed by the city’s major freeways (110 & 101). But it isn’t so close that you worry about your lungs sucking in the fine particulate matter sprayed around the neighborhoods that edge those roads.  And, as I’ve indicated in other posts, the field is in a real neighborhood – it’s not tucked into a large park or hidden up in the hills. If you don’t live in the neighborhood, you can take a bus, or the metro, or – as did a lot of the guys on my team – you can ride your bike. 

It’s the sort of location that could host a small soccer-specific stadium. If there were a meaningful city-wide league in Los Angeles, you would have no problem filling seats for matches staged here.

This field, however, is part of a middle-school. As much money as went into it, no one seemed to think of putting in seating. There’s room for it. I can imagine reasons for not doing so: there’s cost, and LAUSD is grotesquely under-funded – it barely teaches our students the minimum of anything. Arts and sports programming must seem like so much “extra,” as if these two huge areas of our lives were mere trimming.There is a broad allergy by those managing the neighborhood's property and resources - they get itchy at the mere idea of public gatherings of people in this part of town.

Such an enterprise would break with all habit: Imagine a public field that served the middle school during the day and hosted high school and adult competition at night – a field with stands, free admission for students and their families, and very low-cost tickets for the public, with concessions run by local businesses – tacos, pupusas, agua fresca, decent churros. Why can’t we have something like that in Pico Union? An LAUSD field that would perhaps generate a revenue, provide income for local businesses on a small but sustainable scale...

Anyway, back to the scene that is there: Two blocks behind us, on 6th street, you’ll find one of the busiest pedestrian scenes in the western U.S.  Swap meets line the strip with small Guatemalan, Hondoran and El Salvadoran storefront restaurants, carnicerias and bodegas. There are also more soccer shops. There’s a large supermarket and drug store. At night, people sell all kinds of things from blankets spread on the sidewalk.  

At one of our night games, however, one hardly noticed all this is going on just two blocks away. That scene pulls life to it, draining pedestrian traffic off adjacent streets. Shops on 7th close up around 8:00pm.  Who would have a night business on 7th and compete with the 6th St.’s massive vibe? Why walk down 7th when you can soak in the energy of 6th

These are the things that I would think about driving to and from our field. There is just so much going on – out in the streets. It feels like a city to me in way that most of Los Angeles does not. For me, 6th St, Alvarado along MacArthur Park - these blocks recall 1970s New York (I grew up in New Jersey).  

The pleasures I associate with the fútbol scene in Pico Union took me by surprise. A few years ago, I would never have imagined that a field and a sports scene would matter so much to me.

Of course I stand out – along lines of gender, race, class and age. But there are others in these spaces who are similarly “out of place,” and more whose "out of placeness" is less visible. I am not “out of place” alone. In fact, given the high density of recent immigrants in the neighborhood, the feeling of being “out of place” is likely one of the things that most people have in common with each other. 

It's no accident that one of the best queer bars in the city is in that part of town (see Wu Tsang's forthcoming documentary Wildness) - it's the kind of place that welcomes people living in exile from everywhere else.

Our fútbol scene was distinctly cosmopolitan – much more so than the spaces one usually links with that term (cafés, galleries, etc - which are rarely integrated in terms of class especially). Our game included set designers, musicians, students, truck drivers, museum staff, artists, restaurant and factory workers. The labor, creative, and professional class was on the field (management? not so much).

If you learn about a person's job in this setting, however, it's usually by accident. You might know a person through this sport for years before discovering how they make their living. All sorts of details comes up in the details that spill out of us while we are lacing up our shoes. Sometimes it's where we are from, who is visiting us, our struggles with injuries, griping about FIFA or MLS or last week's game - and sometimes it has something to do with work. But the latter is not as common as the other stuff. 

Pickup soccer and basketball share the ability to create a collective experience from a minimum of networked connection. A good game can form around people who are linked by nothing more than an awareness of the fact that there is a game at a certain place and time. They might have learned this by looking at a window, walking down a street, or by striking up a conversation at a bar.

So, I'll try to honor this side of my experience with the league, and recall some of the truly glorious players I got to know - and whom I also don't know at all, really. So before I recount a tale involving an African American security guard, an elderly Korean woman and a bottle of sunblock (told you this stuff sounds like the script for Crash - or Falling Down?), let's turn our gaze to more pleasant vistas.

Next up: Manly Love - when a whole team crushes out on the same guy, for good reason.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

FIFA makes things worse: Iran's women's team, FIFA & the Olympics

Few media outlets take the time to consider the particular way that FIFA makes things worse for women.

A few months ago, I reported on the slowly unfolding consequences of the decision of one xenophobic referee working in a youth tournament in Quebec (FIFA Makes its Islamophobia Official). This referee refused to allow an 11 year old girl play while wearing a headscarf, as per the practices of her religious community. Her team supported her, as did others in the tournament. An appeal was launched, and the IFAB (the board governing the official rule book) waffled by allowing each national association to set its own rules vis a vis its women's game.

The consequences of this problematic decision are unfolding in increasingly complex ways - most recently in relation to Iran's national women's team.

Athletic hijab is basic head covering worn by Muslim athletes all over the world, at every level of competition - including in the Olympics. It varies - some athletes will cover their skin head-to-toe, some with loose fitting track suits, some with form fitted bodysuits (worn underneath basic gear), some women wear athletic versions of headscarves.

The International Olympics Committee does not ban hijab. And it was at the Olympics that many of us were introduced to the idea of athletic hijab as we watched Bahrain's Ruqaya Al Ghasara (for example) compete on the track in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. She is not alone.

So it is ironic that the Iranian national women's team is at risk of not being able to participate in Olympic qualifying matches because FIFA is incapable of showing real leadership on this issue.

Sadly, FIFA runs the soccer part of the Olympics. The Iranian FA requires that its athletes compete in hijab. The team withdrew from their latest match against Jordan when an official declared that their uniforms (which had been the subject of negotiation previously, with FIFA eventually agreeing to allow the team to compete in a regional tournament only after much drama on both sides). (Read around the blogosphere and you'll see some credible hypotheses which suggest that this official's decision may have been motivated by a desire to see the Iranian team eliminated from competition.) Anyway, Iran has filed a complaint. To be clear: the women are between a rock and a hard place - Fifa's incoherent ruling, and the Iranian association's grandstanding (as it won't agree with the headcovering that Fifa has approved). One can hardly imagine the nightmare this induces for athletes and managers trying to work in the women's game in Iran.

In any case, this is another indication of FIFA's poor stewardship of the women's game. As I wrote in one of the comments for my original post on this issue, when you find yourself almost rooting for Iran's national association you know that something has gone horribly wrong.

Stories on this:

CNN Wire: World soccer officials defend hijab ban after Iranian team forfeits match

The Guardian: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasts Fifa 'dictators' as Iranian ban anger rises

Payvand News: Iran, FIFA Clash Over Hijab

NYT Goal Blog:  Iran Protests Hijab Ban

Note:  Before readers send me comments taking the moral high ground vis a vis Iran's national government (the pundit's equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel), and before readers send me rants which equate the whole of global sexism to the question of the "veil" - be warned, I won't publish most of that stuff. I rarely make this kind of warning in posts, but something about "the veil" makes people particularly reactionary. This post is - furthermore - ultimately - about the women athletes who are being put in this position, not only by Iran's state government (which requires full body coverage) but by FIFA and the IFAB's politicization of the participation of Muslim women athletes in the game.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Case of the Runaway Referee (Soccer in the City of Angels, Part III)

Keith Hackett and Paul Trevillion, You Are the Ref (Lionel Messi, 2010)
It was our league's first season and one of our first really competitive matches.

A linesman walked off the field in the middle of play. He threw aside his yellow flag and muttered "Working this game isn't worth risking my life."

Amen to that, but....Was his life ever actually in danger? What on earth had made him think that it was?

The life-threatening situation involved a team called "Nikys," sponsored by a soccer shop across the street from our field.

They were an intimidating side. They had speed, stamina and intelligence. Each player seemed to know where the ball and everyone on the team was going. Nikys played a tight, fast and hard game.

They played like they owned field and were not above using theatrics and emotional manipulation to dispossess their opponents. They were aggressive, they never believed calls made against them, but they paid their dues, showed up and played a good game.

They started their season with us by destroying one team after another. Nevertheless, we really wanted them in the league. We knew that other sides would eventually catch up with them (and they did). But if Nikys didn't stick around, those teams would not benefit from the challenge of playing against them.

Given that they were sponsored by the shop across the street, we needed them, and they knew it. We wanted them to have a good experience with the league. I at least found myself wanting their games in particular to be well-run.

So, when I saw the referee walk off the field in the middle of play, I was upset. All I knew was that the ref felt threatened. I wanted Nikys in the league, but I wanted our referees to have a good experience of the league, too.

I was confused: the Nikys guys played hard, but they were one of the least problematic teams in the league, in terms of their organization and general conduct. I couldn't reconcile what I knew about the team with the referee's claim that his life had been threatened.

Refereeing is hard. A league needs to be experienced by players as fair - that fairness is the result of the referee's work. Referees need to feel secure in their authority in order to produce that fairness - on some level, that sense of security comes from within themselves, but it is also the product of the space. They need to feel that they have the respect of the league itself.

I wouldn't get the full story about what had actually happened until the day was over.

Nikys gave up a goal. The defenders complained to the linesman that it had been scored from an offside position (from where I stood, it had looked good).

It was a nasty goal. Their defense hadn't read the attack properly. They'd been caught sleeping.  It was kind of goal scored when possession and the run-of-play make it seem like you are dominating the match, so you let down your guard. And with that loss of focus, your defense breaks down. It's an error born of complacency. The players (in my view) masked their error by reacting as if the goal had been offside. From where I stood (and according to players from both teams), their complaints were well within a game's normal theatrical range.

A good linesman does not engage this kind of whining. On television, we see a stone-faced indifference to player histrionics. This linesman, however, responded by goading the defenders. According to witnesses (from both teams), the linesman said something like "that's what happens when your defense is shit."

Of course, one of those defenders said something back - and it wasn't nice. It might indeed have been menacing. The linesman then called to the center referee,and demanded that he throw the offending player out. He issued this demand as an ultimatum: "You either throw this guy out of the game, or I leave."

The very experienced and professional center ref supported the linesman's call vis a vis the goal, but did not give in to the ultimatum. Having given himself no other option, the linesman packed up his gear and went home. He was visibly angry, and told everyone who would listen that he felt his life was on the line.

It was definitely one for "You Are the Ref."

Someone volunteered in his stead, and the match was finished without incident. I'm not sure that was by the rulebook, but it was in the interest of a good game - which is what we had.

As I spoke to the remaining referees and to players from both teams, it became painfully clear that the linesman and a number of the players and spectators were nervous about playing in that neighborhood. Some of this nervousness seemed to express itself around Nikys, as the neighborhood team and the "scariest" team in the league. (By "scary," I mean that you knew, going in, that the game would be hard, and you'd probably lose.) I can imagine that driving across town to play in our league, only to have your ass handed to you by the "locals" was not fun. ("Locals" is in scare quotes because the Nikys guys weren't all based in the neighborhood.)

Nikys weren't the easiest squad to referee - but they were easier than the LAPD team. For some, however, the team looked like they've been called in from Central Casting to give face to the nameless ranks of TV Latinos - who still appear on the screen too often as criminals and crime victims.

LAPD forcing protesters out of MacArthur Park with rubber bullets and tear gas in 2007. Here, they are walking across the park's (then dirt) soccer field.

The linesman's nerves might have been triggered by the neighborhood rather than by the people on the field. Whether you call it Rampart or Pico Union or Westlake, this part of LA makes headlines - and not in a good way.

It is true that it is not the "safest" part of LA. In the months we played on this field, a beloved street vendor was shot and killed, a child was injured by a stray bullet, and an indigenous migrant was shot and killed by an LAPD officer. That's just three incidents - all of which happened within two blocks of us.

None of those bad things happened, however, while we were playing our games. Violent crime is down in Los Angeles. Studies show, too, that things like soccer leagues suppress incidents of violent crime by bringing more people outdoors on a regular basis. People get to know each other, they look out for one another and for the neighborhood.
Same spot in MacArthur Park as photographed by The Original Winger (2010).
It is in the city's interest to encourage community use of LAUSD fields - and adult leagues benefit the neighborhood as much as youth leagues do. Adult leagues bring not only families with children, they bring out young people and their friends. Soccer has a way of activating a space - a trip to MacArthur Park will show you just how good a scene can be when it has an organic relationship to the space, when it's relatively informal and open - when it encourages both participation and spectatorship.

To return to the linesman: I don't know what happened, really, or why he felt so at risk. It's possible he just had a horrible week and was not in the mood for arguing with people. I've never seen people yell at each as much as they do at a soccer match. It can be stressful. Add feeling like you don't belong there, feeling like an outsider on the defensive - he may have just hit a wall. Not everyone is up for having a match turn into a consciousness raising session.

The center referee set an ideal example. He kept the game going and minimized the drama - he didn't draw any more attention to what had happened. He shrugged it off as one more thing that happened. The whole incident passed very quickly, and was soon eclipsed by a really good game.

We adjusted: our referee assigner was very committed to supporting the league - this incident demonstrated that the referees needed to have a sense of what the environment was like, and be comfortable with it. They needed to be sure enough of their own expertise and authority to run the game, even if they were (like me) out of place.

We eventually had a stable team of referees of diverse backgrounds. They expressed a range of ability and experience - but they all cared about the work, and seemed to enjoy the challenging of refereeing well-played games, even when they got heated.  I wish I could say they were treated well by all the teams, but that would be a lie.

Even so, by our second and last full season, the referees were using our games regularly for assessment - that was a real compliment to us. 

The referees were one of the better sides of this story - even the guy who left, fearing for his life, had something to teach us.
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