Monday, July 12, 2010

The Trouble with Ties

Sports abhor a tie like life abhors a vacuum.

I enjoyed the World Cup immensely, especially hanging around bars at early morning hours with crazy people dressed in jerseys. I get the beauty and brilliance of spacing and play and the emphasis upon playing to negative space. I have even learned with tutoring from coaches and players to appreciate the low scoring game, I am a Mariner's fan after all and am used to scoring very few runs. But what I cannot understand is soccer's tolerance of ties. As the final wore on I feared another tie which would have ruined it all.

I read an article that claimed that Americans are not sophisticated enough to appreciate the beauty of ties. Somehow older and more sophisticated European cultures--the home of hooliganism and soccer riots--appreciate playing to a tie more, as does the restrained and laid back traditions of Latin American culture, yeah right.

I believe that making a tie central to a sport fundamentally violates the ethic of athletic competition. Making tie games an acceptable even rewarded alternative, even a “victory,” as was often proclaimed during this World Cup, perverts the culture of a sport.

Athletics gains its moral worth and stature because it develops human excellence. An athlete dedicates himself or herself to become the most skilled and highest performer they are capable of. This stretch of human capacity and uniting of discipline and form and mind give sport its moral status as well as account for its beauty. Sport appeals to us as a representative of what humans can be.

Competition adds another dimension. It spurs athletes to work harder, develop their skills more and never stand still. Younger players, new ideas, innovative strategies suffuse sport. A good player and a great player must never stop developing and working and thinking. Talent alone will not survive at elite levels of competition. The challenge to win or prove your skill and superiority in a team or individual competition pushes athletes to grow. It also means that athletes fail fast and quickly when they lose their edge or their work ethic and are surpassed by younger rising athletes. Sports does not forgive.
This incessant challenge to grow and extend yourself and talent are subverted by the tie. Ties mean players do not have to win. They do not have to outplay the other side. All they have to do is nullify the other side’s ability to score; while such a conservative approach can possess beauty, it denies the the full range of excellence demanded of athletes by their sport. A tie possess little meaning to a real competitor. It means that you and your team were not good enough to win or to prove your superiority by the rules that define competitive excellence. If you want to tie; play tic tac toe.

The long-term impact makes teams passive, uninteresting, one-dimensional. They depend more on luck or fouls. Players and teams lose their dynamic core. Ties sabotage the purpose of athletic competition


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