A Game Change for Soccer, A Glorious Golden Moment for the Olympics

by Silvio Laccetti

Silvio Laccetti is a retired Professor of History from Stevens Tech. in Hoboken,NJ USA and a national columnist.

By now anyone who has followed the Rio Olympics knows about American goal keeper Hope Solo’s calling the Swedish Women’s Soccer team “cowards” for playing defensive soccer in their match against the USA team. Her statement has been widely condemned.

Indeed, she was suspended for 6 months from the US women’s soccer team and her national team contract was terminated. The player’s association will appeal. The executive director is quoted as saying: “She was fired for making comments that no man would have been fired for making.”

This episode though, is about much more than Hope Solo, and gender issues. It is about how we play soccer ( and other games) and about the Olympic Spirit. Behind her caustic remarks loom larger questions of victory and defeat, win-lose and win-win paradigms and a philosophy of life.

The problem with soccer is largely confined to championship-related matches when a victor must be decided employing the penalty shoot out. Five players from each team get free kicks against a goalie defending his net. What Solo was really complaining about was underdog Sweden’s playing a cautious regular game hoping to get to the penalty phase.

By nature, soccer is a defensive game anyway. James Curley, a psychologist, has compiled some amazing statistics bearing on this “defensive nature” of soccer. He analyzed some 260,000 games in the top 4 English soccer leagues from 1888 to 2014. (see github.com). He found some 13.5 K games ended in 0-0 ties. The most common score was 1-0 in 30K games. Others were 2-1 in 27 K contests, 1-1 in 22K battles and 2-0 in 22K matches. Curiously, in almost 1/2 of games, one opponent failed to score at all!

A few days ago, Brazil won soccer gold, defeating Germany 5-4 in penalty kicks Germany. It is not surprising that penalty kicks might be used to decide championships, even though luck plays a huge role in the outcome of kicks. Still, there are endless, heated arguments about retaining or dispensing with these shoot-outs.

“So what”, says Eddie Bordet, a former Stevens Tech and Brooklyn Knights soccer player, “If you can’t make a penalty kick when it counts, then you don’t deserve to win a championship.” He goes on to apply the analogous logic to other endeavors in life. Here we have the win-lose position stated: winning is everything.

The question now becomes is the penalty shoot-out a true victory? Folks, I have not heard a simpler, more cogent and sensible analysis of this problem than I got from Aidan, a pre-teen soccer player currently tearing up the Hunterdon County (NJ) recreation leagues: “We’re playing the game of soccer and so that game should continue as such until a winner is determined in play. You aren’t playing a game of 5 on 1 Free Kick. That is an entirely different contest than full-field soccer. Soccer is a team sport. It requires many more talents and strategies to succeed.”

Employing Aidan’s logic, the game might possibly be too long to complete in one day, say 150 minutes of effort. So a continuation game or an entirely new match could be played the next day.

But in the case of Olympic Soccer, there is an even better way to determine a championship. This solution brings into play the modern Olympic spirit, not necessarily the traditional one which emphasized crowned victory. Olympism has changed significantly in this 21st century. Check out the work of the Olympic Truce Foundation and the World Olympians Association (WOA).

The first emphasizes the ancient Olympic ideal of peace through sport with modern twists. Headquartered in Athens, its’ programs deal with conflict prevention through sports and cultural understanding. Youth programs stress mutual respect, diversity and anti-bullying initiatives.

The WOA brings together 100,000 former Olympic athletes from 142 member states to promote a “Service to Society” program, among other things.

Given this newly aroused Olympism, I strongly believe that Olympic soccer could be the one and only exception to embody these new truths and visions in a win-win model. I propose that in the case of men’s and women’s Olympic Soccer championships,if the game remains tied after a suitable contest of regulation and overtimes (including continuing or re-starting a match on a subsequent day), then co-champions should be declared.

Soccer is the world’s sport. It should show the world that, after giving your all, it is possible to come together, to unite in shared victory. Imagine two teams on a large podium, two flags proudly waving, competitors embracing. Not for every championship, but for Olympic soccer, this Golden Moment!

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