Thursday, December 2, 2010

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: In Which We Learn Oil Money Can Buy ANYTHING

One of the great things about this summer's 2010 FIFA World Cup was not just the inspiring and then heartbreaking performance of the U.S. team, but that it was an event uniting a continent and a nation with a history of racial and social tensions so profound, that putting on such a successful show for the world was an accomplishment in and of itself. While South Africa is now experiencing some issues filling its World Cup venues, the tournament itself was a tremendous and uplifting event for any fan of the beautiful game.

So with the decisions to be made for 2018 and 2022 today, it's good to see that FIFA had absolutely no interest whatsoever in maintaining that inspiring storyline. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that my personal preferences for each event -- that would be England in 2018 and the United States in 2022 -- would have had the same uplifting social impact that the Cup in South Africa did, but at least England is a nation with a soccer history as rich as any could be, as well as one that would be 52 years removed from its last turn as host by the time 2018 rolled around. In the case of the U.S., people can bash soccer fandom in this country all they want, but the blunt fact remains that the United States is still a vibrant, growing melting pot of numerous international cultures that all put a dramatic importance on the game. Include the fact that by 2022, the increasing Hispanic population will no doubt be a potent force in U.S. society, and that for the 2010 World Cup more tickets were bought by Americans than any other nationality, well, the U.S. seems like a pretty reasonable place to bring the World Cup back to.

Instead, however, the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup will be played in Russia and Qatar, respectively, proving once and for all that you just can't beat oil money. Now, I don't want to come off as bitter here, nor do I want to appear ignorant of the nation Qatar, which, yes, I did know existed, if for no other reason than because Northwestern has a campus there. But, regardless, there's no way around the fact that these are two countries feeding off petroleum, a source of energy the world is supposed to be weening itself off of, and the fact that either nation would otherwise be an unlikely candidate makes it seem almost obvious that some foul play might have been involved. To any impartial observer -- though I admit, I'm not one -- there are a number of concerns and questions to be asked. After all, Qatar is a country of less people than nearly every U.S. state and it happens to be smaller in size than Connecticut. In fact, only Delaware and Rhode Island have it beat on the minimization scale.

While some people might be pleased with the outcome of the vote, there's no avoiding the fact that Russia already has raised suspicions with its successful bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Socchi, dubbed the "Gazprom games", and Qatar's utter lack of size (can it fit 10 world class soccer arenas and still have room for parking lots?), horrific summer temperatures (its average high in July is 115 degrees fahrenheit) and, uh, debatable soccer tradition, bring about several questions as to whether the nation can successfully host the event. The country will get its first measure when it hosts the 2011 AFC Asia Cup, but that seems to surely be on a different level.

Now, let's not get the wrong idea. Qatar is no primitive middle eastern backwater. It is extremely modern, with connections to several U.S. universities and progressive technology. But perhaps the biggest reason why it won is because it is, uh, rich. Really rich. Of course, most of this money comes from, yeah, oil. And as the rest of the country tries desperately to ween itself from what has been a useful, but destructive, source of energy, this raises enormous concerns when one considers the games are 12 years away and 70% of Qatar's government revenues come from petroleum. What happens if the money runs out? And also, how hot can the fans take? Qatar has announced that its stadiums will be outfitted with carbon-neutral solar systems that will lower the temperature inside the buildings by as much as 20 degrees celsius to maintain the comfort of players and fans. But just how viable is that?

Also, on a personal level, it's slightly unnerving that Qatar has announced it is "generous" enough to allow Israel to participate should it qualify, despite not formally recognizing the Israeli government. I suppose there is also the point that Israel could gain a measure of headway towards making peace with Arab nations by appearing in the games, but color me skeptical. It might have been more reasonable to host the games elsewhere.

I'm sure both hosts will pull off the job with little worry, but a host in 2018 such as England, Spain/Portugal or Belgium/Netherlands, or of course the U.S. in 2022, just seems like a more reasonable, and wholesome bet. But at this point, those two candidates are here to stay. We may as well accept it, even if we're so steamed about it that we can't even bring up Northwestern's totally amazing win over Georgia Tech Tuesday night.

And now to the other football. You know, our football. A sport that is not at all corrupt on any level.

I'm not sure how many people out there have gotten the chance to check out what may be the awesomest thing I've ever seen on the internet, but it's this doohickey. ESPN, ever the progressive digital purveyor, has created a simulator that shows you how the NFL playoff picture changes as you select each game's winner over the next five weeks. And it is just about as cool as it sounds. Now, I won't lie and tell you my picks may not have been slightly biased, nor are they particularly consistent since I came with a wholly different slate of teams the first time I did this last night, but regardless, it's a pretty sweet little gizmo. If you like football and have five minutes too much time on your hands, well, it's a sweet way to kill them.

And now that I'm done with all of my screeds, it's time for some picks.

Last week: 9-7-0
Season: 88-79-9

Houston (+9) over PHILADELPHIA
NY GIANTS (-7) over Washington
New Orleans (-7) over CINCINNATI
Chicago (-4) over DETROIT
GREEN BAY (-10) over San Francisco
Jacksonville (even) over TENNESSEE
KANSAS CITY (-9) over Denver
Cleveland (+5) over MIAMI
MINNESOTA (-6) over Buffalo
SAN DIEGO (-13) over Oakland
INDIANAPOLIS (-6) over Dallas
St. Louis (-4) over ARIZONA
SEATTLE (-6) over Carolina
TAMPA BAY (+3) over Atlanta
BALTIMORE (-3) over Pittsburgh
NY Jets (+4) over NEW ENGLAND

That's all for today. I'm about as tired from writing that as you are from reading it. Happy football everyone.

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