Sport and politics shouldn’t mix. But they do. And that is why the Socceroos, Australia’s national football team, shouldn’t play North Korea as planned on Wednesday night.
North Korea’s communist government has been brutalising its people for decades. Human Rights Watch reports that North Korea is virtually an open air prison where the people are forced to work for no remuneration of any sort, the state owns all property and freedom of expression is non-existent.
Dissenters are sent to forced labour camps called gwalliso where they are tortured and executed. The state controls food distribution and is currently in the process of starving its people with its “military first” policy.
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In the increasingly likely scenario that Australia fails to secure the necessary votes to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup, soccer in this country will be booted back to sport’s second tier with the thundering force of a John Aloisi penalty.
That’s no doomsday scenario. It’s reality as cold as the snow currently blanketing Zurich, where the bid announcement takes place at 2am eastern standard time tomorrow morning.
In many simple, reassuring ways, it’ll be business as usual for soccer if our bid fails. The half million registered soccer players will still rock up at training. The A-League will probably still exist. And Australians will still go mad for the FIFA World Cup every four years, and to a lesser extent the Asian Cup and other Socceroos matches of consequence. But soccer won’t come close to displacing the oval ball codes in terms of mass popularity for a generation or more. If ever.
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After a day of feverish speculation, the new Socceroos coach was revealed yesterday – German Holger Osieck. The first question was: who is he? Second question was: so who is he? “Holger?” asked one of my mates, “isn’t that some fancy bread?”
Osieck is not the big name most Socceroos fans were hoping for, and is probably a disappointment for many. But he’s about the right level for where we are as a football nation.
No one likes to gossip like soccer journos and the rumour mill was in full swing yesterday; it’s Klinsmann, some were saying. Ronald Koeman or Jose Pekerman, maybe even Martin O’Neill.
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It was such a thrill to be at Sydney Airport early on Saturday morning and be amongst the crowd waiting for friends, families and others to arrive. In the type of environment I live in, you tend to forget what the atmosphere is like just doing something simple like this – full of anticipation and excitement.
For me, it was no different.
I was there, of course, waiting for my team mates and manager from Everton to help give them an Aussie welcome after their 24 hour journey. It was great to be joined by some loyal (and hardy, considering the cold Sydney weather at the moment) ‘Evertonians’ who were dressed up in all their gear to cheer the lads and me also.
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Morning – 6:00am
Back at work refreshed from long weekend, took ALL of Sunday off. Watched Socceroos draw with Ghana. Thought they did well but media seemed REALLY hostile to the coach!
Check latest Newspoll. Great for PM: ALP 52 – Libs 48. Everyone feeling more relaxed, except Rudd Press Secretary (RPS). Economics Adviser (EA) tells RPS that if he had a healthy understanding of statistics he would probably relax a bit more. RPS agrees but says he enjoys being a normal person capable forming lasting and meaningful relationships with the opposite gender. EA points out he has long-term girlfriend! RPS asks EA if he’s ever heard of “outliers”.
Just found out EA and I are going to G20! Might meet Obama! OMG so West Wing!!!
Soccer is evil. There is no other way to describe this fickle and cruel diversion.
How’s this - having been pantsed by the Germans in our opening game Australians were yesterday forced to barrack for them in the complex hope that, somehow, the goal difference would fall our way and we’d progress to the second stage.
You know you’re up the creek when you’re a mathematical chance of making the finals. Think Wests Tigers and Souths in most seasons in the NRL, think Richmond pretty much every year in the dying weeks of the AFL season. The Socceroos were a mathematical chance going into last night’s game against Serbia in Nelspruit. To their credit they nearly pulled it off.
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Muti - a zulu word meaning “tree” - is the term to describe the traditional South African practice of using plants, herbs and animal parts to brew concoctions which bring good luck. With Bafana Bafana needing a miracle to qualify by thumping France, the local newspapers have reported that there’s been a surge in the practice of Muti this week, with one of the most popular blends using aloe and vulture’s brains.
“I believe muti can improve Bafana Bafana’s performance,” traditional medicine man Abel Zwane told The Sowetan. Apparently you just have to be careful getting the brain out of the vulture.
Sadly it didn’t work for poor old South Africa, who despite a heroic 2-1 victory over the dysfunctional French early this morning, have missed out on the second stage with Uruguay and Mexico going through after the Youaregayans beat the Meskins 2-1 yesterday. You can get all the latest here, and there’s more World Cup Diary below.
It was the greatest Australasian moment since Crowded House won a Grammy or Russell Crowe earned an Oscar for Gladiator. But far be it for us to bask in the reflected glory from across the ditch.
The New Zealand All Whites are not only doing better than the Socceroos in the World Cup, they are magnificent in their own right.
In one of the greatest moments in the history of New Zealand sport - almost up there with the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup in 1987 - the nuggetty Kiwi no-names yesterday held the mighty Italians, the current World Champions, to a 1-1 draw. You can read all about it here. We salute our Kiwi brothers today.
We were robbed. We were brilliant and brave. It’s a miracle that we managed a draw. We also threw victory away.
Such is the evil psychology of last night’s gut-wrenching clash with Ghana. It’s the worst possible combination for the commited fan.
It has as its foundation a smouldering sense of fury at the performance of the referee, cruelling not just our chances of victory, but so casually ending the World Cup career of Harry Kewell.
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It’s easy to dismiss sport as a distracting, dysfunctional pastime of the people. We’re constantly flooded with stories of misbehavior, ridiculous prejudice, cheating and even criminal behavior, most of which seem sexual in nature.
As the CEO of a sports-based NGO, I am constantly faced with questions steeped in disapproval and dismissal of the value of sport in “real” society. I hear that we spend too much time, too much money, too much effort on sports in this country, in detriment to our social values. Indeed I have even been told we would be better off with less sport in Australia. Jessica Watson felt the brunt of this type of thinking not long ago. Dangerous, narcissistic indulgence, anyone?
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Just when you thought the World Cup couldn’t get any more annoying, what about this - on day five of the tournament as things currently stand it’s New Zealand 1 and Australia nil.
And no amount of juvenile joking about their accents, their fondness for mooching around Bondi while on the dole or their affection for farm animals can alter that fact.
They were standing on top of their chilly-bins and clapping their jandals in the air late yesterday as the All Whites scored the first New Zealand goal ever in a World Cup.
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IT was all downhill once the walk was over. It had felt like a walk into history, a walk into the unknown, a walk into the pages of time, whatever cliche-riddled walk you fancy.
What it was in fact was a long walk to humiliation at the hands of a German pantser division that gave us our greatest World Cup pantsing of all time. It had started so well but at the end of the day there were only three things that made us feel good. Sunshine, a terrific esplanade, and architecture.
The 10km walk from the Durban Marina to the Moses Mabhida Stadium took 90 minutes, the same length of time it took the Germans to subject us to a ritualised international sporting humiliation which was one goal worse than the former West Germany’s 3-0 pounding of the 1974 Socceroos side.
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With the World Cup almost upon us, a lot of soccer nuts are writing stories arguing that soccer has totally cut through, that Australia is at last a round ball nation, and that the Socceroos are “icons”.
No. Uluru is an icon. The Sydney Opera House is an icon. The baggy green cap is an icon. Collingwood is an icon. The famous “Gladiators” picture which spawned the NRL trophy is an iconic image.
The Socceroos won’t come close to iconic status until they’re something more than a rank outsider at the world’s biggest sporting event, and until they bring something recognisably Australian to their style of play.
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We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. There is a long way to go but, just for a moment, lie down, close your eyes, and think of England.
In the same way that Aussies will be fantasising about the prospect of playing England in the second stage at the World Cup, the Poms will be having quiet nightmares about being knocked off by their nemesis in the one sport where we have never bettered the beloved Mother Country, aside from a meaningless 3-1 win in a friendly match in 2003.
England has every right to be unnerved by the prospect, for a number of reasons. The first is that it is in no way a remote fantasy.The way our two groups fall, there is a very real chance that it could happen.
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So here’s the deal. I’m watching the first ever live 3D broadcast of anything on Australian television. Right now. Terribly exciting.
It’s the Socceroos vs New Zealand match, and a bunch of my sports media colleagues are gathered at Fox Sports HQ in Sydney. Normally, most of us would be at the ground, but tonight, we’re 1000 km from the MCG so we can feel “closer” to the game. Isn’t modern life confusing?
Ah, here come the canapés. Beats lukewarm Four ‘n’ Twenties. Mmmm, Carpaccio, which the waitress calls “gazpacio”. Maybe in your dimension sweetheart, but with or without my 3D glasses, that’s raw beef on crispbread, not cold Spanish soup.
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The debate on the World Cup bid has been conducted thus far like some grandmother who’s freaking out after being told 32 soccer teams are arriving on Friday and we’ve nowhere to play, don’t know where to put them up and haven’t done enough grocery shopping. I’m half expecting the next front page on the issue to read: “Australia’s Bathroom Not Clean Enough to Host World Cup, What Will The Guests Think.”
Would it be too much to ask that people step back, take a breath and relax about this thing?
The politics of this seems to be overshadowing the facts for all three codes concerned. The facts being that we’re almost certainly not going to get the 2018 tournament and that if the codes sit down calmly they’d realise there’s plenty time to work out a solution for 2022.
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Watching the World Cup draw early on Saturday morning felt like watching the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful do Hamlet. With Becks & Charlize, there was glamour aplenty- but it had the all drama and class of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Australia’s group for the World Cup drew what I call “the builder”: the sharp intake of breath through gritted teeth accompanied by the worried shake of the head.
On paper, it looks a tough ask for the Socceroos in South Africa – but is it really the group of death?
Remember the good old days of Australian soccer, when a 0-0 draw to the Dutch would spark jubilation in the crowd, shirt swapping on the pitch and a victory speech from the coach?
I can almost picture old Eddie Thompson saying how delighted he was with the result, and what a privilege it was for his boys to mix it with some of Europe’s finest. Eddie, a wonderful servant of the game and one sadly missed, would be delighted with 1-0 losses, such was our standing in the game and the lack of really meaningful matches.
How times have changed. Saturday night’s draw was dire. We should have been beaten comfortably. It exposed a host of deficiencies. And thanks to the game’s new-found maturity in this country, people are not afraid to admit it.
Who’s your favourite Dutch comedian? What’s the funniest Dutch film you’ve ever seen? And no, The Vanishing wasn’t a comedy. It was about a man who buried his wife alive.
The many races of the world have their own distinct characteristics, and while Guss Hiddink did a pretty good line in forming his hand into a punchy little fist and spinning it around when the Socceroo’s scored, he wasn’t known for his comic timing and sparkling repartee. Compared to Pim Verbeek, Guus is Chevy Chase.
And while the Pimster has copped a bath from some for failing to deliver a free-wheeling footballing spectacular this week - and been blamed for the poor attendance of 40,000 - I think there’s an argument that 2-0 was almost decadent and showy on our part.
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