It's been a fantastic, strange, weird, wonderful, thrilling sixteen days, hasn't it? There've been 136 goals scored in that span, with moments of individual brilliance from Lionel Messi, and that header from Robin van Persie. But we've also seen glorious goals from the likes of Tim Cahill, Gervinho, Xherdan Shaqiri, James Rodríguez, and the always industrious Own Goal. We've reveled in Colombia's choreographed goal celebrations, over-analyzed the way players fold their arms, wondered whether Puma kits shrink in the rain, and realized Greece can actually attack (for 30 minutes, at least). It really has been a World Cup to savor.
Yet for all the fun, there's no denying that this World Cup has offered up a few twists that aren't just strange, but are damn near universally depressing.
Álvaro Pereira's return to the field
We've seen it before. Player takes a knock to the head. Player is out cold. Player wobbles to the sideline. Player is allowed to resume play.
It's even more disheartening to see it happen on soccer's biggest stage. With Uruguay up 1-0 against England, Álvaro Pereira attempted to slide into a challenge on Raheem Sterling, only to collide with the Englishman's knee. The defender lay prone on the field for over a minute, before insisting to Uruguay's coaching staff that he was fit to return to action. He played on for the remaining 30 minutes of the match.
Returning to play after a gruesome injury is almost like a badge of honor, a way of showcasing true masculinity. But in the case of head injuries, it's not just stupid, but actively dangerous. Playing on with a head injury can result in lasting neurological damage, which doesn't just affect a player's future in the sport, but likely his future in all of life.
While this incident may galvanize FIFA into action - FIFPro, the players union, is already calling for the organization to examine its approach to head injuries - it's depressing to realize that, while disappearing shaving foam and goalline technology were both able to find their way into this world cup, there's yet to be a serious discussion on how to properly handle a serious head injury.
Racist abuse aimed at Mario Balotelli
Unfortunately, Mario Balotelli is all too familiar with racist abuse - he encounters it nearly every time he steps on a field in Italy. But in the wake of the azzurri World Cup exit, that abuse only grew. Disgruntled Italy supporters lashed out, including one individual who recorded an instagram video saying that Balotelli wasn't "really" Italian, and telling him to "go away."
There's no denying the 23-year-old did not have the best of World Cups. He scored Italy's winner against England, but went on to play poorly against Costa Rica, and, after receiving a yellow card, came off at halftime against Uruguay. Teammates Gigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi went on to criticize the striker indirectly, commenting on how young players hadn't given their all, and that the team need real men, not "characters."
It is perfectly legitimate to criticize a player for his actions on the pitch. The tragedy occurs when the player is singled out based on a characteristic he cannot control, such as the color of his skin. Balotelli was born in Italy - to Ghanaian immigrants - and raised in Italy. He made the choice to secure his Italian passport, and he made the choice to play for the azzurri. While performance at this tournament is certainly open for discussion, the color of his skin should not be.
That's something that FIFA have yet to make entirely clear, despite all their bluster about ridding the game of racism.
On-going homophobic chants from Mexico fans
Article 3 of the FIFA statute reads:
Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.
Thus far, FIFA has declined to take action over Germany fans wearing blackface during the match against Ghana. They haven't removed banners with anti-semetic or Neo-nazi symbols. But what provides the least encouragement regarding FIFA's stance on anti-discrimination is their decision that the Mexico fans' chant of "¡puto!", a gay slur, "is not considered insulting in this specific context."
Some allege that ¡puto!, in this context, simply means "cowardly," and chanting it as the opposing 'keeper takes a goal kick is simply part of a time-honored tradition. Yet the chant is used to question the opposition's manhood, making it a homophobic slur. The Mexican government department charged with eliminating discrimination condemns the use of the word, saying it "reflects homophobia, sexism and misogyny that still is prevalent in our society."
In these instances, it's not the dominant group - ie, straight males - that get to determine whether a chant is offensive. FIFA got this one wrong, and with Mexico making it to the next round, we'll all be treated to another chorus of gay slurs, so wonderfully amplified by the microphones.