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Incompetence on the world stage

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles, CEO Sports Network


It is the largest event in the sporting world, The World Cup. While there are others of a similar title, this one needs only for that to be said, World Cup. There is no larger audience for sports on the planet. If you thought that the fans of baseball, basketball, football, hockey, auto racing were off the wall, these folks bring the wall with them.

And so it was an embarrassing day for the sport, for FIFA, this past week, Friday, in Johannesburg's Ellis Park as an obvious win for the USA was stolen from them by an unqualified and maladroit referee in his first World Cup. He had been a spectator for the length of the game as Slovenia committed every foul known to the sport. It was as if he was not only completely unskilled and floundering, but had moments of total blindness.

Once the U.S. had tied the score at 2-2, the momentum - if there really is such a thing - was rocketing towards the goal of their opponents. The Americans were not stealing the victory; they were pursuing it like a team possessed, and one that had awakened from some disassociated slumber. It occurred in the 86th minute on a fantastic go-ahead goal off the foot of Maurice Edu, who had dodged a Slovenia defender and connected with a curving free kick from Landon Donovan. There was no doubt about it, not in the minds of the players, fans, commentators, viewers, both teams.

FIFA has dropped referee Koman Coulibaly from second-round matches at the World Cup.
Then, out of nowhere, after watching American players being held right in front of him as the goal was taking shape, referee Koman Coulibaly whistled everyone into silence that was deafening. It was incomprehensible. It was impossible to believe. It was irrational, inconceivable, untenable, absurd and, candidly, was as vacuous a moment in sports as one had ever seen. Goal disallowed, no explanation, an inability to speak English or avoidance to do so, 2-2 tie and a World Cup in disarray. FIFA had every right to be ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated and shamefaced over even having had Coulibaly in this situation.

As with all major sports federations, leagues and the like, they will be unwilling to admit the insanity of it and the insipidness of their choice(s). This is when their arrogance is on full display. It was theft of the highest order and FIFA was the choreographer with Coulibaly the key perpetrator. He, of Mali, was the only one in the world that saw the play different from the reality of the moment. One. Every request and explanation was ignored. Oh yes, there were three fouls committed during the play but all were by the Slovenia players. Are you kidding me?

Did FIFA even consider an investigation, a reversal of what was an obvious miscarriage? Please. Coulibaly wanted the game to end in a tie and he accomplished that. What took place on the pitch during this match was disgraceful and cast dishonor upon the World Cup. It will pass, as all such instances of malfeasance in sports do, but that does not make it acceptable. Time just dulls the pain; it does not remove it nor the stain on the FIFA cape of invincibility.

Speaking of stains, the apologies by Jim Joyce for what was arguably the worst umpiring call in the storied history of baseball are not good enough. MLB has overcome other stints of stupidity, as with last year's World Series but their pomposity and disdain for matters such as this in favor of just a casual mention and moving forward with their bigger-than-life itself attitude is all that concerns them. "This, too, will pass" is their credo.

The quick recall, for those of you who were in space on the day, is that Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game at his fingertips. Two outs in the ninth inning, ground ball to first, toss to Galarraga covering the bag and Cleveland's Jason Donald is easily out. Clear to all except, again, to the arbiter...in this case, Jim Joyce. The sign for "safe" was made and you could hear the gasps from everyone...fans, announcers, players on both teams, other umpires, TV audience, writers covering the game. Replay over and over. The three blind mice called him out.

Jim Joyce has been a major league umpire for the past 21 seasons.
What Joyce had to do was not demanding, as some who are catering to him have tried to point out. In a game that is now fraught with bad calls, umpires that do not know where the strike zone is any longer and replay that clearly points out their shortcomings, not being able to recognize the obvious is mind- boggling. To be honest, if it was a close play, one where the runner might have been safe there is no call to make the wrong decision but there is one that says, "Lean to the kid and give him the perfect game." However, that was not the situation. Donald was out by a step, easily. Duh! That is demanding?

Joyce said he was wrong, Bud Selig, with that in hand, refused to reverse the call and give Galarraga the perfect game. Galarraga, on the other hand, was the perfect person, a complete class act. No angst, no screaming, no in-your- face approach to Joyce, no derogatory comments, no public regrets or admonitions. Nothing but moving on.

An umpire makes $100-300,000 annually. You do not make such mistakes, even though it is a small percentage of what the players themselves earn. Joyce blew it, big time. He distorted the obvious. He wrested a place in history, baseball lore and the Hall of Fame from this young man with one bombastic blunder.

In another matter, the ESPN Pitch FX that allegedly shows where pitches are is a total fraud re: ball and strike performances. The obvious...down the middle and/or in the other batter's box are a given but the rectangle, or square, is not recording balls and strikes as they pass next to the batter. Therefore, trying to tell me, as some have done, how good umpires are behind the plate is insulting as are calls on a double play or steal when the glove is swiped and the runner is never touched or the base not stepped on per the rules before the throw to first.

But, back to Joyce. Instant replay is going to have to be used more and more. Human error in key situations, not selected ones, is unacceptable. The games will not be delayed. To say that, to believe it, is ridiculous. Wrong calls are not part of the game's appeal, and never have been. They are aggravating. A bad pitch deciding a game is unacceptable. Technology is an x-ray machine, and sports should be better for it. To avoid the obvious is to be dull-witted and ancient.

Galarraga was gracious. To say that Joyce was by admitting he blew it is stretching the definition. He was honest, end of that story.

These are jobs where you have to be better. If you cannot, then switch jobs. And, do not tell me how difficult each is. Compared to the rest of the world, theirs is so easy that thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, see what they do and get it right...instantly, before the replay. What am I missing here?

Will FIFA or MLB recant and admit the error of their ways, the maladroitness of their referees or umpires? You gotta be kidding!