Some people are on the beach...
Here in London, England, it's another balmy sunny Sunday afternoon where just for once the sky is blue and the mercury in my thermometer is rising close to 29 degrees. If you close your eyes and block out the sound of passing ice cream vans and low flying aircraft, you could pretty much believe you're on a beautiful beach somewhere in the south of France, lounging around in the sun as the approaching waves gently kiss your toes.
Not that the south of France is the place to go to right now if a peaceful snooze on the beach is what you're after. You're probably quite likely to get woken up by the crowds of people gathered around to watch the Beach Soccer World Cup, especially if Marseille is your destination of choice.
Yes it's all going on down there. The fourth FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has been underway since July 17th and for the first time ever, it's not been held in Rio de Janeiro. Arguably the home of beach football, Brazil has had the privilege of staging the competition every year since 2005 and though we can't prove it, home advantage may have been a factor as they managed to win the contest every single time before the teams arrived in Marseille earlier this month.
So what do we make of this strange and rarefied form of the beautiful game that has suddenly gone legit? Can it be treated seriously? Should
it be treated seriously?
Personally, I can't watch it on TV or the web with any great sense of enjoyment or a desire to be playing it myself. For a start, there's the issue of running on sand, and we all know how hard that is. Second only to running through a swimming pool full of water, running on sand is one of the most tiring things you can do. Add to that the searing heat of the sun burning your feet as you delicately tippy-toe across the playing surface and you've got one of the most tiring and slightly masochistic
things you can do.
Then there's the game play. Because passing a ball along the sand doesn't guarantee it will reach its intended recipient, players tend to resort to shooting from a long way out, thus doing away with the need to pass altogether. Even shooting isn't the easiest of things to do as players inevitably find themselves kicking into the sand in order to get under the ball to gain some lift. That's why when nearly every beach soccer game game kicks off, you'll often see one player flick the ball up into the air for the other to volley in the direction of the opposing goal.
By now you might be wondering what the attraction of beach soccer might be. It's tiring to play, potentially painful on the feat and players have difficulty passing and shooting. What's there to like? Well never fear: FIFA have ensured that all beach soccer matches adhere to a strict set of rules so that the whole thing doesn't descend into an absolute farce.
Er, actually that's wrong. The rules and regulations are where the comedy really begins
. Here are some of the wonderful virtues of the world game 'sur la plage', as they say on the Cote d'Azur.
For a start, the pitch is marked out with (and here I quote the official FIFA documentation) "an imaginary halfway line", marked by a red flag on either side of the pitch. So already we're having to use the darkest creative recesses of our mind to know where the halfway point on the pitch is, but get this - "the middle of the imaginary line [i.e. the centre spot] is the EXACT position for the kick-off and certain free kicks." 'Exact' in a sort of imprecise way, then?
There are also two other imaginary lines crossing the pitch to demark a zone nine metres from each goal which effective forms a sort of penalty area. Unfortunately a healthy use of the imagination is required again to determine whether someone was inside or outside the area when a player was fouled.
Similarly there are no lines marked between the goal posts either, so if Sir Geoff Hurst was to stroll out in his Bermuda shorts and hit one of his trademark shots that thundered down off the crossbar, no-one would know if a goal should be given - not even if you were a Russian linesman by trade.
Elsewhere there are other strange curiosities that set beach soccer apart from its more traditional older parent. Games last for 36 minutes and are split into three periods of 12 minutes each, rather than two periods of 45 as is the norm. During each match, substitutes can come and go as they please and as often as they like - in fact players that have already left the pitch can re-enter it at a later stage if they want to.
One curious thing to note, however, is that when a player is due to join the field of play to replace his departing colleague, he has to wait by the side of the pitch holding his own number card to denote the player being replaced. When the referee gives his signal, the outgoing player can leave the pitch and as he does so will take the number card from his colleague and take his place on the bench - all without having to stop the game. A kind of 'do-it-yourself substitution', if you will.
And so it goes on - the more you read the documentation, the stranger it gets. Quite honestly, it all seems like a joke to me, whichever way you look at it. Perhaps it's a sport that's exonerated by its ability to appeal on a spectator level, but let's face it - whether you're watching a match in person or on TV, are you really going to be giving it your complete and undivided attention given the plethora of near-naked members of the opposite sex hanging around nearby? No, thought not.
It's a beach, for heaven's sake - a place to relax in the sun, chill out and do as little as feasibly possible. Sure, throw a frisbee now and then if you like, but don't for a moment think it's the best place to hold an international football tournament. It's not right, it's not clever, and it doesn't impress genuine football fans.
That's my opinion, and I have spoken. Now if you don't mind, I've got some sunbathing to do...
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