Game’s credibility at stake.
In theory, New Zealanders on the way to their local rugby grounds should still be talking of "going to the football". Their game is, after all, still the most popular of the various forms of football in this country. The need to differentiate it from association football - from which the name "soccer" is thought to have evolved - remains as real as ever. In practice, however, most people no longer think or talk of rugby as "football". A transformation has quietly occurred, and most people are happy to apply that name to the world's most popular game, dispensing with "soccer" in the process. On the eve of football's World Cup kicking off in Brazil, the Herald is acknowledging that change.
Others have already done this. Rugby's governors in this country, for example, removed the word "football" from the name of their organisation several years ago. There was, of course, a logic in this; rugby is a game that features the use of the hands, rather than the exclusive use of the foot. But the age of television had also brought home the dominance of the other game worldwide, and the almost exclusive use of the word "football" to describe it.
That does not mean "soccer" will slip easily from some people's vocabulary. A poll on the Herald website showed a surprisingly large number of people favoured retaining it. Doubtless, they would find many allies in the United States, where soccer is a well-established part of that country's lexicon, partly to differentiate it from American football. That country's multitude of soccer mums have also implanted the name, and it seems certain to persevere there long after it is consigned to history here.
If America is not for changing, so, too, far more lamentably, is football's governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association. The month-long extravaganza in Brazil, the country that has done more than any other to create "the beautiful game", should be a joyful celebration of all that is great about football. Sadly, the world will be taking note of what is happening off the pitch as much as the skills of the 32 competing nations.
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As a venue, Brazil illustrates part of what has gone wrong. Like South Africa four years ago, it has stumbled under the sheer financial weight of Fifa's demands on stadiums and infrastructure. In the days leading up to tomorrow's opening match between Brazil and Croatia, there has been a scramble to get the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo ready. The mixed feelings of many Brazilians have been evident in the way they have been happy to use the event to vent their frustrations in strikes and protests. Brazil's reputation may well be the ultimate loser.
As much as anything, Brazilians are angered by the widespread corruption in their country. In that, they have much in common with football fans around the world. For many years, they have watched Fifa stagger from crisis to crisis. The latest, and perhaps most wretched, involves the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country with no footballing history, let alone stadiums, and temperatures of up to 50C in summer. Strong evidence now points to corrupt payments to African nations being pivotal in it gaining the tournament ahead of the US or Australia.
Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, has shrugged off increasing pressure to act, most notably and most damagingly from some of its main sponsors. That cannot continue, and, as a first step, the 2022 Cup must be taken from Qatar. Only in that way, and through other sweeping changes, can Fifa and the world's favourite game regain credibility.