World Cup Technobabble Explained

By Paul Gardner

I don't really need a technical study, published in the South African Medical Journal, to tell me that those stupid vuvuzelas are a curse. But that's what we've got, and we now know, thanks to Dr. De Wet Swanepoel of the University of Pretoria's department of communication pathology, that vuvuzelas can damage your health -- your hearing, specifically.

In case you’re unaware, vuvuzelas are long plastic horns that are blown into and produce an ugly, one-note drone. We are told they are traditional at South African games, and therefore we’ll have to put up with them for the duration of the World Cup.

I don’t know about traditional -- I mean, how traditional is plastic? And, of course, they’re marketed items. There has been an anti-vuvuzela reaction. More marketing. Another South African company is selling foam ear plugs -- designed for the World Cup.

What idiots. The ear plugs will, of course, be banned by FIFA. Firstly because they are not official products and therefore constitute ambush marketing (one of the most heinous crimes in the FIFA book), and secondly because ear plugs smack of technology, and we all know that FIFA President Sepp Blatter flies into conniptions the moment he hears the word technology.

I was thinking about the ear plugs yesterday, because another, rather similar, technological device recommended itself to me. Namely, eye patches. If I knew about such matters, I’d patent the idea right now. Two huge black eye patches, which would totally block out all vision, thus preventing eye-sight damage and possible madness should the game being watched turn out to be as relentlessly dreadful as yesterday’s Hamburg vs. Fulham drek. Ye gods, what a mind-numbing bore. A classic 0-0 featuring every known form of futility and banality, duly summed up by the good old BBC as “a hugely creditable draw for Fulham.” No pro-English bias at the BBC, no sir.

There will be similar games in South Africa -- none, I trust quite as appalling as this one -- though New Zealand vs. Slovakia or Greece vs. Korea Republic or Australia vs. Serbia have all the right credentials for an emetic 90 minutes.

Not to worry. My soccer Blinders will solve the problem. I think I’ll probably get them approved by FIFA -- after all, unlike ear-plugs, which will be squashed up into your auditory canals, the Blinders will be in full view and can sport the official World Cup logo. I just need to work on Blatter’s technophobia.

Then again, maybe I don’t. I’ve realized that FIFA is actually already deeply into technology. Every four years, as the World Cup approaches we’re submerged by a flood of FIFA-approved technological bull****. That’s when the new FIFA-approved tournament ball is launched.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on this claptrap for over 10 years now. It always follows the same pattern. The new ball must look different from the old ball, so it gets a fancy-schmancy design make-over. And it gets a new name. Then it must have different qualities from the old ball. So we get a guy in white suit, a Ph.D. or a Professor in a lab somewhere, seriously blinding us with pseudo-science about new structure, materials plus an equation or two to prove that this new ball is better than the previous one.

That, of course, is the key. There’s not much point in spending millions, or whatever they spend, inventing a new ball if you can’t demonstrate that it’s better than the previous one.

So here we go with the 2010 ball. Here’s the new design, colorful, not bad, here’s the new name Jabulani (we’re told that’s Zulu for “celebration”), and here comes Hans-Peter Nurnberg, senior technical director at Adidas, with the technobabble: The Jabulani has eight thermally-bonded panels instead of the previous 14, and it has a rougher surface, with ridges, which will, it appears, allow it to maintain a balanced flight. Presumably the previous ball, the Teamgeist, which was not ridged, did not have a balanced flight (I don’t recall them telling us that in 2006).

That leaves only the bit about proving it’s better. This is the fun bit. For sheer stupidity this four-yearly blather takes a lot of beating. There’s always a goalkeeper or two to complain that the new ball behaves erratically and makes life miserable for all keepers. Implication: more goals. Though just how the guys taking the shots are able to control this erratic flight is never faced up to. Then the science-guy weighs in with a prediction that there will be more scoring. Over to Herr Nurnberg, who says the Jabulani gives “more confidence for the player because they have higher chances to make a score."

Of course, there never is more scoring. In fact, there’s usually less. The goalscoring trend on World Cups (and in the other big tournaments that warrant new techno-balls, like the European and South American and African nations championships) is down, down, down.

In other words, hogwash, all of it. But hogwash dressed up as technology. FIFA technology, at that. Of course, it could be that I’m misunderstanding this whole ball scenario. I’m having my doubts because of an item that appeared in the press release for the 2006 ball, which praised something quite other than goalscoring: “The new Teamgeist is widely expected to beat all known sales records ...”

4 comments about "World Cup Technobabble Explained".
  1. Edward Porter, April 23, 2010 at 9:22 a.m.

    I agree - this is all hogwash about the technically improved ball. If this was an over-the-counter medicine, it would be pulled off the shelf - unless they were to remove their unsubstantiated claims from the label of the medicine.

  2. Trudy Wells, April 23, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.

    Once again your dislike for Soccer is clear and your non-knowledge of true passion for Football/Soccer let alone for the World cup makes your offensive writing . . . well . . . America possibly will never win the World Cup because of people like you.
    Go vuvuzela horns and your colorful outfits! To think that is just one country's passion - America wake up!

  3. beautiful game, April 23, 2010 at 8:06 p.m.

    Paul is looking in the wrong direction...WC referees become super-enforces during the tournament, totally estranged from the league games...the TV cameras have become the biggest nemisses of football...they jump all over the place and have no continuity.

  4. Bob Hartmann, April 25, 2010 at 4:40 p.m.

    Although I am a die-hard fan of all things Adidas, I find that the new (as well as the 2006 WC ball) lack feel when playing with them. Being older, I remember the older top level sewn balls from Adidas, Mitre and Derby Star, (among others), having a wonderful weight and feel. The most recent balls from Nike (mid-level and up) continue to display these qualities (I continue to play in the pedestrian over 40 league). Thirty-five years ago, when we were playing all of the time, we used to laugh at the moulded Brine soccer ball. I guess they knew something that we didn't! By the way, I've been reading articles by Mr Gardner for almost 40 years, and while I don't always agree with him, I respect his insight and passion for the game.

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