Deford column: The wild world of sports
By Frank Deford
As sure as death and no new taxes, American sports fans are always convinced that the people who run sports here are dimwits. Well, yes, we have occasionally had some real nimcompoops in charge of various professional American sports, and not even Pericles could successfully manage the NCAA, but in point of fact, our domestic sports are a paragon of efficiency and integrity compared to the way international athletic organizations are managed.
The latest global sports embarrassment is FIFA, the genteel soccer mob syndicate, which, in the face of massive transparent corruption, has re-elected, unchallenged, its 75 year old president, who says it's better to keep these naughty little infractions in the bosom of the football family. Hear! Hear! cried the executive committee, some of whom seem to value honor so highly that they leave it to the possession of others.
And we've also been treated to the scandalous antics of the International Olympic Committee and the ludicrous jingoistic judges' scoring of the figure skating federation and the International Cycling Union, which somehow couldn't see that the entire sport had turned into a drugstore, and . . . on and on.
The general problem with international athletic federations is that they're simply too unwieldly -- too many cultures in too many countries. They're both ethically and organizationally a Tower of Babel. Moreover, because sports are a good-time thing, these organizations, in all nations, tend to attract second-rate people. The better types of volunteers are more likely to work for issues more important to humankind: boring things like health and hunger, peace and justice, for example. As a consequence, international sports federations are stocked by flimsy people who like the fun and games, and so it's rather easy for someone who's a bit more wily, willing to devote himself to the internal politics, to be able to rise up and become a little tin-pot dictator -- Exhibit A being Sepp Blatter, the shopworn FIFA potentate.
At least team sports, like soccer, have some base structure, with organized leagues and associations. By contrast, individual sports rather take as their model Somalia. Eternally, innocents cry out that if sports like boxing and tennis could only have a "czar," then world order would reign. But that's simply pie-in-the-sky whimsy when it comes to a global amusement park where agents and promoters and other self-interested warlords ride the range.
Soccer also has its own special problem. It's so popular throughout the world that nobody wants to risk losing FIFA's favor. OMG! OMG!: no football! As with all political machines, tribute is paid and bliss is assured by feigning ignorance.
Westporter Frank Deford originally aired this commentary on National Public Radio Wednesday morning. Deford's NPR sports column may be heard in Westport at WSHU. 91.1 FM or 1260 AM.