Jul 13 2014

On the Ends of the World Cup

Filed under World Cup

Excerpt: “… This World Cuphowever we have lived ithas just taught us once again what it always does. Though we watch from many locations, separated from one another by distance, we are brought together during the time of the game. We effuse, we argue, we mourn. And we remember that, most of all, what we want is to be together.”

Read the Full Piece Here.

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Jul 02 2014

On Belgium

Filed under Belgium,World Cup

I wrote this analysis of the U.S. vs. Belgium match for The New Republic.

An earlier analysis of the Belgian team, in comparison with the French team, is here.

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Jun 27 2014

Algeria’s Historic Victory

Filed under Algeria,France,World Cup

For the first time, Algeria moved on to the Round of 16 in the World Cup yesterday. As the game ended, a crowd hoisted a man in a wheelchair up above them to celebrate. Here is what the scene looked like from above in another plaza where a crowd waited out the final seconds of the game.

For more on what this means for Algeria, read my pieces here and here.

Update: after Algeria’s loss to Germany, I wrote this piece mourning & celebrating what they had achieved.

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Jun 14 2014

A Prayer for the Goalies and Referees of the World Cup

(I wrote this for the Goal Posts Blog at The New Republic, to which I will be contributing throughout the tournament. I didn’t realize then I was writing it for Iker Casillas)

Here is one thing I can predict with total certainty about this World Cup: an as-yet-to-be determined number of goalies and referees are going to suffer terrible fates. They will be vilified. They will ruin their lives as we watch. They will shoulder the rage and sorrows of entire nations.

As we saunter into this month-long spectacle, let us take a moment to thank them. For their suffering is what makes this theatre possible.

Read the complete article

 

 

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Dec 15 2013

Moving Forward

A Chat with Sandra Serafini

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Last week, my classmate Lauren Oliveri and I had the opportunity to have lunch with Sandra Serafini. I was honestly a bit intimidated to meet the former FIFA referee and PhD neuroscientist. (Who wouldn’t be? Only a superhuman has those types of qualifications!) However, my fears were instantly quelled as we dove into conversation – literally. As we sat down to eat, Serafini recounted bets that she would make with her linesmen while officiating notoriously troublesome men’s teams. Before the game, she would wager a free appetizer on how long into the game the first dive would occur. It had to be a real dive – a cautionable offense – not just a weak tumble. The betting would turn into a Price is Right style competition, with the officials one-upping each other by a second. And when Serafini won (as she most often did), she would pull out her yellow card, and then turn and smirk to her linesmen thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m getting the most expensive app on the menu.” From there, conversation bounced between all aspects of Serafini’s career as an official, a neuroscientist, and a professional referee assignor.

 The Referee

The Canadian native began officiating as a means of paying rent through college. In the process, she amassed around 2,000 games, often doing between 15 and 20 games a week. When I asked Serafini whether she always knew that she wanted to become a FIFA, her answer was simple: becoming a state referee seemed like the next logical step and she never looked back. Serafini continued to climb the soccer ranks and became a national in 2005 and a FIFA a year later in 2006.

Throughout her refereeing career, Serafini traveled around the world, officiating CONCACAF games and other international matches. Many of her fondest memories occurred off the playing field. In Mexico fans asked for autograph; in Holland, she shared post-game beers with Dutch spectators, and in China, she worked with an all-Chinese crew where communication consisted of more charades than English.

While at the international level, Serafini only officiated women’s matches, she worked in men’s leagues domestically. We discussed the challenges of being the female authority on a field of all men, and Serafini found that players and coaches are more willing to test the waters when they see a woman in the yellow uniform. Every new team required Serafini to prove herself as an official and demonstrate her command on the laws of the game. Serafini has a self-proclaimed “strong personality,” and that certainly aided her player and coach management skills. On the field, Serafini had a strict “no screaming” policy. When players would lose control, she would tell them matter-of-factly, “There will be no screaming today. Let’s have an adult conversation.” And Serafini would listen. She smiles as she explained to Lauren and I at lunch, “Maybe they’re full of it, but maybe I’m full of it.” Serafini realizes, like all referees, she is human and capable of making a mistake. In the case that she missed a call, she would do everything in her power to listen to the players’ complaints and blow the whistle on the next one.

Serafini takes the same approach with coaches, especially when she’s placed on the sidelines in between the teams’ benches as a 4th official. When a coach would spout off at the head referee, Serafini approached him calmly and told him, “Whisper anything you want in my ear. I’m your therapist for the game.” Coaches were generally surprised but they took Serafini up on the offer. Serafini recognizes that coaches jobs are dependent on results and every call and no-call counts at the professional level. Coaches face extreme pressure during games, so while she occasionally used humor to defuse tense situations, her main aim was to give them a person who would listen.

The Neuroscientist

Outside of the refereeing world, Serafini works as a PhD neuroscientist at the Duke Hospital, specializing in functional intraoperative and extraoperative mapping for neurosurgical patients [1]. She laughed as she explains that in season, she doesn’t really sleep. Her schedule consists of: waking up around 5 am, going to work, catching up on emails between OR cases, heading home and spending “quality time with the spouse,” then working until 11:30 pm, and repeating it all the next day. Luckily, Serafini currently works in a lab that is understanding of her hectic schedule. Her former lab thought refereeing was “something you could just do on weekends,” so she was forced to leave.

The Changemaker

Although Serafini has given up her whistle, she is still very much a part of the refereeing world as a Women’s Referee Coach and NWSL Assignor of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO). Not only does Serafini assign and coach referees, but she also works to make the path easier for women following in her shoes. In Serafini’s day, all female referees had to pay for their own training out of pocket. Serafini now works with PRO general manager, Peter Walton, to acquire the same benefits for female referees as professional male referees. She has also been working to add guidelines for pregnancy-related time off.

When Peter Walton stepped on board, he openly invited women to all men’s professional leagues. This hasn’t always been the case, and Serafini feels that opportunities for women have waxed and waned at the discretion of the person in charge. Serafini is proud to see that times have changed:

“When I go around to the tournaments or when I bring the officials into the NWSL, I’m able to say if you do the training, get the qualifications and demonstrate the ability, which they are all capable of, they have the same chance as anybody else. It may seem minor, but it’s really big for this country.” [2]

At the conclusion of our lunch, Serafini reiterated that women’s refereeing truly is “moving forward.” In recent years, professional women referees have made significant strides in numbers and level of assignments. Serafini has been a both pioneer and a changemaker in this process, and with her continued involvement in the PRO, I do not expect this forward motion to stop anytime soon.

References

[1] Sandra Serafini PhD, MA. Duke University School of Medicine. http://surgery.duke.edu/faculty/details/0271401

[2] “PRO and NWSL breathe new life into US female officiating.” Professional Referees Organization.  http://www.proreferees.com/news-pro-and-nwsl-breathe-new-life-into-us-female-officiating.php

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Dec 11 2013

Soccer as an Escape in Brazilian Favelas

WLANL_-_elefteria1_-_Favela_and_'Canary'_soccer_shirts,_Brazil_Contemporary_Rotterdam_(05-30-09_until_08-23-09)

Favela and ‘Canary Soccer Shirts’
Photography: Brazil Contemporary Rotterdam/Wikimedia Commons

 

With all of the recent conversation about favela destruction, drug gang violence, and a supposed World Cup of Terror in the running up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, one very unexpected Dutch immigrant is providing a ray of hope to many of the impoverished children in the favelas, through the game of football.

 

Nanko van Buuren, a psychiatrist by trade, came to Brazil in 1987, aiming to lift children away from poverty and organized crime [1]. Since founding IBISS, the Brazilian institute for innovation and social health care about 20 years ago, he has helped over 4,000 children in 68 different favela communities [1]. Van Buuren is using football to change the culture of violence in these favelas, while also directly increasing school attendance and homicide rates in certain areas [1].

 

Read here to learn more about how the beautiful game can connect people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and social statures and save the lives of hundreds of impoverished children: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/22951694.

 

This is a truly beautiful story, especially in the months before the World Cup, about how soccer unifies us all. Enjoy.

 

Sources:

[1] Smith, Ben. “Confederations Cup: Rio De Janeiro Slums Offered Rebirth.” BBC Sports. BBC, 21 June 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. <http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/22951694>.

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Dec 10 2013

Dissent among former stars about the 2014 World Cup

Filed under Uncategorized

The debate about whether the 2014 World Cup is good for Brazil has now enmeshed former stars.  In many ways, this is areflection of how this debate has divided Brazil. Proponents of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 World Cup say that the protests shine a bad light onto Brazil, while opponents of the tournaments believe that the protests are the only way to make sure that the people of Brazil are not exploited

 

When the protests broke out, Pele issued a statement saying that “Let’s forget all this commotion happening in Brazil, all these protests, and let’s

remember how the Brazilian squad is our country and our blood.” In many ways, this enraged the younger generation of Brazilians. Pele is a legend in Brazil, but the sport is not everything in the nation. Many claimed that because he was rich, he was unable to empathize with the ordinary Brazilian.

 

Far more harsh worlds were reserved for the great striker Ronaldo. Amidst the protests, he gave an interview where he said “A World Cup isn’t made with hospitals, my friend. It’s made with stadiums” In the eyes of  many Brazilians, he seemed to value the sport over the welfare of his own people. Articles calling  him a traitor emerged. People called him out of touch with the common man. http://www.firstpost.com/blogs/brazil-protests-how-ronaldo-pele-betrayed-their-people-894901.html?utm_source=ref_article

 

In contrast, the 1994 Golden Ball winner Romario has come out against the 2014 World Cup vehemently. Now a member of the Brazilian Parliament, he represents a district of Rio de Janeiro. He says that ““FIFA got what it came for: money,” he said. “Things like transportation that affect the public after the tournament is over? They don’t care. They don’t care about what is going to be left behind.” Instead, he has advocated spending the money on health and education.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/16/sports/soccer/romario-a-world-cup-champion-is-now-a-world-cup-dissenter.html?_r=0

Perhaps Romario is trying to channel a populist vein for political gain. However, it remains undeniable that there is some truth to what he says; Brazil has spent 14 billion dollars already on the World Cup, and the cost is expected to rise. In a Country that spends less than 40 billion on education, perhaps the cost of this World Cup is too high?

 

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Dec 10 2013

More Violence in Brazil: Security Fears

Filed under Uncategorized

Riots erupted Sunday night in Sao Pablo in a match between Athletico PR and Vasco de Gama, leaving many World Cup fans concerned about the safety in the stadiums for next summer’s tournament. One man was airlifted to the hospital in serious condition, while 3 others are being charged with attempted murder. FIFA is apparently downplaying the event and telling fans not to worry. FIFA representatives have stated that there will be specific perimeters around stadiums, as well as checkpoints to pass through to ensure safety. Karl Matchett, a World Football Writer, believes that, “inside the stadiums, there is seemingly a different demographic watching Brazil’s national team than the one that cheers on the club sides—at times with violent outcomes, such as that in Sao Paulo.”  Maybe this is true and maybe racial classification will be different inside the stadiums during the 2014 World Cup…or is this just a way for FIFA to hush up the media?

 

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Dec 10 2013

One of the strangest endings in sports

Filed under Uncategorized

As we sit here at the end of another semester at Duke, it’s gotten me thinking about the way we draw things to a close in the sport of soccer. All tie-is-like-kissing-your-sister jokes aside, I’m talking about penalty kicks.

Last week as I was sitting in the press box anxiously awaiting the kickoff of the ACC championship game, I got an ESPN ScoreCenter alert on my phone. Expecting to see something related to college football or the NFL, I looked down and learned that Sporting Kansas City had just beaten Real Salt Lake for the MLS Cup in a marathon, 10-round penalty kick shootout. My first reaction was ‘wow, that must have been exciting,’ but my second thought was, ‘why do we end the most important matches on the world’s biggest stages in a shootout?’

There’s no question that a shootout of any kind—whether in soccer or hockey—is one of the most exciting situations in sports. It’s the ultimate showdown. It’s the attacker against the goalkeeper, and one shot could make the difference between winning and losing. But on a championship setting, ending a grueling 120-minute match in penalty kicks has always struck me as being a bit anticlimactic. I’ll never once pretend to be a soccer die-hard, but I think the players deserve more than the cruel ending of a penalty shootout.

Just weeks before the MLS Cup, I watched anxiously as Duke’s women’s soccer team won not one, but two NCAA tournament matches by way of a shootout. Each time was full of tension and excitement, but even as I celebrated my team’s victory I walked away feeling slightly empty. Do matches that are played so well that they end in ties deserve to end in penalties? By nature, penalty kicks are decided by the choice of the kicker versus the choice of the keeper. Each of them have a 50-50 shot of guessing the right way, so should we be ending soccer matches on what can be boiled down to an immensely skillful coin flip?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore everyone with the argument that a penalty kick shootout in soccer is like ending a baseball game that’s tied after nine innings with a Home Run Derby between the two teams. I’ve never enjoyed that argument—unlike a Home Run Derby, penalty kicks are still a part of the game of soccer, although they occur rarely in the run of play. Rather, I advocate against penalty kicks because I would much rather see a marathon soccer match end in a golden goal—no matter how long it takes.

Opposition would argue that if a soccer match goes on too long, players will tire until scoring a goal becomes nearly impossible due to exhaustion. I understand that 120 minutes of a soccer match is grueling enough for the players as it is. But in a sport where conditioning is essential, does it not make sense that the best-conditioned team should be in a position to win the match? Since we’re getting hypothetical with the whole golden goal thing here, let’s propose that to combat fatigue, the substitution rules in extra time will change. Just like NFL and NBA teams receive additional timeouts in overtime, soccer teams that play past the 120th minute would each receive one additional substitution per 15 minutes of play. This would allow teams to stay fresh and add an interesting new element into the sport of soccer—depth is going to matter a whole lot more as the game goes on.

Now I understand that soccer games are already long enough as is, and matches already aren’t built for television because there are no commercials, but as someone who really enjoys baseball I can tell you that I love staying up late into the night watching a 17- or 18-inning game. As the contest wears on, the tension continues to mount and little-known players have the chance to become heroes. Teams have to go deeper into their bullpens and depth becomes an issue. Just like soccer, there is no re-entry into a game, so sometimes if the game goes long enough people will be forced to play out of position and adapt. All of these contribute to the notion that the stronger team—not the luckier team—wins the game.

I’m really interested to see what more traditional soccer fans think about this idea. Maybe it’s something that is much better in theory than it ever would be in practice, but although penalty shootouts are exciting, I’m just not sure it does a great game justice to end that way. If there’s one thing that learning to follow soccer more closely has taught me, it’s that there doesn’t need to be scoring to drive the tension of a match—ending a match in a penalty shootout seems counterintuitive to me for that reason. All it should take is one goal, one moment, and it should happen with all 22 players on the field.

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Dec 08 2013

Que ferons-nous avec les stades après la Coupe de Monde?

Le post de Becca sur les stades au Brésil me fait rappeler du mon voyage à l’Afrique du Sud et du grand problème dont les grands stades de la Coupe de Monde posent aux pays organisateurs : que ferons-nous avec les stades après la Coupe de Monde ?

Dans l’été de 2011, j’ai habité à Durban, Afrique du Sud pendant trois mois avec DukeEngage (un programme sponsorisé par l’université). A Durban, j’ai travaillé avec des organisations non-gouvernementales qui aident des jeunes dans un quartier qui s’appelle Wentworth. Pendant la période que j’étais à Durban, j’ai appris beaucoup de la culture sportive et l’histoire du rugby et du football. J’ai parlé avec des jeunes et j’ai vu le contrecoup persistant du apartheid avec les populations qui jouent chaque sport. Selon les jeunes à Durban, le football reste comme le sport préféré par les Sud-Africains noirs et Sud-Africains de couleurs tant que les Sud-Africains blancs aiment le rugby. Néanmoins, tout le monde joue les deux sports dans une certaine mesure. Nous avons aidé à un camp d’entrainement gratuit pour le football à Durban et j’ai pu voir l’amour pour le football.

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Le moment de mon voyage était très intéressant en particulier parce que c’était l’été après la Coupe de Monde- la première Coupe de Monde en Afrique ! Il était évident pendant notre voyage que l’économie et les gens d’Afrique du Sud souffraient des effets secondaires (« une guele de bois ») de la Coupe de Monde. Nous sommes allés au grand stade à Durban, Moses Mabhida. Le stade était vraiment incroyable avec un grand arc et une capacité de 62,760 places. Moses Mabhida a coûté $450 million et reste comme une attraction touristique après la Coupe de Monde. Nous avons marché sur le terrain et c’était vraiment un spectacle. De plus, nous avons pris le funiculaire au sommet du stade pour une vue sensationnelle.

  

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Cependant, je n’ai pas compris comment le stade resterait ouvert parce qu’il n’a pas été utilisé souvent pour des événements après la Coupe de Monde (sauf le cricket). J’ai demandé aux habitants si Moses Mabhida est un avantage pour la communauté après la Coupe de Monde et s’il a crée du travail. Leurs réponses ne m’ont pas surpris parce qu’ils ont dit que le gouvernement a dépensé trop pour le stade et qu’il aurait pu avoir utilisé cet argent pour les programmes sociaux. En outre, Moses Mabhida n’est pas viable financièrement et il y a un déclin des touristes.

Nous pouvons apprendre de l’exemple de Moses Mabhida et les épreuves que le stade a fait face. J’espère que le gouvernement brésilien pense à long-terme avec ses stades et comment il peut les utiliser pour enrichir le pays.[1]


[1] J’ai pris toutes les photos dans ce post

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