Doug Logan is an Adjunct Professor of Sports Management, at New York University. He was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010.
He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999.
To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview This is his 52nd article – yes, that’s ONE FULL YEAR for those who read his articles religiously every Thursday. Click here for his entire series.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
The Beautiful Shame
Today is a sports widow’s worst nightmare. Tonight is game #4 of the National Basketball Association’s Championship, a tightly-fought series between two excellent teams; the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. Today is the first round of the US Open, the US golfing national championship, played at the historic Number 2 course in Pinehurst, NC. And, most importantly, today is the opening match of the 2014 football World Cup, pitting host Brasil against Croatia, at the new Estadio Itaquerao in Sao Paulo.
This month-long competition will hold the rapt attention of the 32 participating nations and aficionados throughout the world. After 64 matches a new champion will be crowned. Work-days will be disrupted; social lives will be put on hold; alarm clocks in Europe and Asia will be employed at strange hours. Will Messi finally perform his magic for Argentina? Will Balotelli control his fire and score for Italy? Will Cristiano Ronaldo will Portugal to a win over Germany? Can Uruguay’s Luis Suarez refrain from biting an opponent? Can Brasil’s poster-boy, Neymar Jr., lead the home country to its sixth Cup victory? What are the prospects for France without the services of the injured Franck Ribery? What will be the impact of the absence of Landon Donovan on the US side? We will know the answers to all these questions by Sunday, July 13th, when the final is played at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
My pick? Isnestia and the ex-pat Brasilian, Diego Costa, will lead Espana to a repeat of the title and become the first European side to win a Cup in the Americas. Just a little going away present for retiring King Juan Carlos.
My pal, George Vecsey, has just written a wonderful, 275 page book, Eight World Cups; My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer. This chronicle of the last 32 years of “The Beautiful Game” is thoroughly entertaining and conveys the feel and excitement of this periodic sports carnival. His description of the classic 1986 match between England and Argentina at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca is marvelous. Diego Maradona’s first goal [the famous “Hand of God” con-job] was overshadowed by his second score, an incredible romp through half the pitch. The goal scored against Peter Shilton is, in my view, the best goal ever scored. The Epilogue of the book, titled “Back to the Roots”, is a charming and beautifully crafted coda that shows why Vecsey is universally admired as a gifted writer. I highly recommend it.
The domestic drama engulfing Team USA is the controversy surrounding Jürgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave Landon Donovan, this country’s most prolific goal scorer, off the plane to Brasil. Relations between the German US Coach and the enigmatic striker have been frosty. After Donovan took a hiatus from competition to get his fragile psyche repaired, Klinsmann publicly declared that he had to play himself back on the team. Several days after the coach was rewarded with a four-year contract extension he declared that the other players “were a little bit better” than Donovan. Would he have kept his volatile star at home without the security of the long-term extension? Who knows?
I think I know the reason why he did it. No coach wants to have the patrons in the stands force his coaching decisions. And, what do you think would happen if the US was down a goal, late in the game, with Donovan on the bench? I can hear the chanting now.
The dynamics reminds me of a World Cup match I attended on July 5,, 1994, between Mexico and Bulgaria in front of 71, 030 mostly Mexican fans in Giant’s Stadium. Bulgaria’s brilliant Hristo Stoichkov scored the first goal in the 6th minute; the equalizer was scored by Alberto Garcia-Aspe on a penalty kick in the 18th. That was the end of the scoring. A red card to each team [Kremenliev and Luis Garcia] opened up the contest and the 9 remaining field players on each side raced up and down the pitch.
Mexico’s Hugo Sanchez was on the bench. The crowd began to chant “Hugo, Hugo!”, and kept it up through the overtime “Golden Goal” period. You could see cell-phones being answered on the sidelines. Rumor had it that Emilio Ascarraga, the grandee owner of Televisa, was ordering the Mexican coach, Miguel Mejia Baron, to put Sanchez in the game. Mejia Baron stubbornly refused [actually made no substitutions], and Mexico lost the match on penalty kicks, 3-1. The coach lost his job.
I think Jürgen Klinsmann left Donovan off the squad because he does not want his own “Hugo Sanchez moment”.
So what would you think if baseball’s World Series was being conducted under the auspices of the Mafia? What would you say if it were proven that 1,000 professional basketball games were rigged by gamblers in Las Vegas? How would you feel if you knew that the Superbowl was awarded to a city that budgeted bribes and kickbacks in seven figures to influence the site selectors? That is precisely what is happening with soccer today.
The “Beautiful Game” has become the “Beautiful Shame”. In an interesting piece in last Sunday’s New York Times, the respected Dave Zirin outlines the misfeasance and malfeasance tolerated and probably encouraged by the sport’s international governing body, FIFA. “Soccer’s governing body is venal and corrupted”, he wrote. Sepp Blatter, the major domo of this rotten institution, has pompously presided over “…financial mismanagement, taking bribes and projecting a level of sexism and homophobia that seems to come from another century.”
I just recently finished an amazing book [a birthday gift from my son Carter] that documents the shadowy activities of principals in the $700 billion international soccer betting market. The Big Fix, written by ESPN, the Magazine, contributor, Brett Forrest, describes a vast web of nefarious dealings throughout the world, even on US soil. Opportunistic fixers are bribing players, influencing officials and staging fake matchups, while Asian criminal syndicates are pulling the strings.
According to Zirin, “FIFA is supposed to police match-fixing; yet…only six people on its staff of 350 are responsible for that enforcement”.
There have long been allegations that bribes secured the 2022 World Cup for Qatar. The bribes were so blatant that the possibility exists that the award of the Cup to the Emirate may be taken away.
I, myself, during my days as a soccer “suit”, have walked, unannounced, into a hotel room during a World Cup and seen a mountain of tickets and a mountain of cash piled on a bed. Scalping of tickets is rampant, even among those charged with the integrity of the sport.
Zirin closed his piece with the following prescription:
“It is time to abolish FIFA. It is like a gangrenous limb that requires amputation before the infection spreads and the beautiful game becomes decayed beyond recognition.”