Headaches For FIFA: Injuries On Field And Hate In The Stands

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins Robert Siegel to discuss scrutiny that has recently befallen FIFA at the World Cup — both on and off the field.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

To Brazil now, and three more World Cup matches today. And today's early match generated real news. Costa Rica scored a big upset over Italy to advance to the knockout round for only the second time, ever. The first time was 24 years ago. Here to talk about the indomitable Ticos of Costa Rica and the rest of the World Cup is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: Defending champion, Spain, has already been eliminated. And now England is eliminated. And Italy is on the brink?

FATSIS: Yep. Italy's going to have to beat or tie Uruguay in order to advance to the round of 16. But Costa Rica, Robert - wow. The three other teams in that group, England, Italy, Uruguay - they have won seven world cups among them. Before this tournament, Costa Rica had won 4 World Cup games.

SIEGEL: Now, there was a very disturbing incident in yesterday's England-Uruguay game. And I want you to tell us what happened.

FATSIS: Yeah. Uruguay's defender, Alvaro Pereira, was knocked unconscious after he was kneed in the temple while attempting a sliding tackle. The video is stark. Pereira's flat on his back. He appears unresponsive for several seconds. He staggers off the field, and the team doctor signals for a substitute. Pereira then freaks out, and the team lets him return to the field - no concussion, nothing. A few seconds later, he heads the ball. He commits a hard foul. The sequence was medically irresponsible, and it put Pereira and other players at risk.

SIEGEL: So what should've happened, in that case?

FATSIS: Well, at a minimum, Pereira should have been given a sideline concussion test. And he certainly should have been - shouldn't have been the one deciding whether to go back in. After the game, Pereira apologized for a moment of madness. But the doctor, the coach, FIFA, soccer's governing body, they're the ones that need to be held accountable here. FIFA and soccer have been dangerously backward on this issue. Today, soccer's world players union called for urgent talks to ensure that FIFA can guarantee the safety of players. It demanded sideline testing by independent doctors, and that teams be allowed a temporary substitute for a player being evaluated for a head injury.

SIEGEL: FIFA is also facing some problems in the stands. Some fans have been accused of racist and homophobic behavior. What's going on here?

FATSIS: Well, FIFA said it was investigating reports that Mexican fans chanted an anti-gay slur during games against Brazil and Cameroon, a chant that's been shouted for years when the opposing player takes a goal kick - I'm sorry, when the opposing goal keeper takes a goal kick. The group Football Against Racism in Europe said that Brazil fans did the same thing. Also, FIFA said - is said to be looking into neo-Nazi banners displayed by fans of Croatia and Russia. Last year, FIFA did approve sanctions for racist behavior, up to getting teams kicked out of tournaments. It will be interesting to see what, if any, action it takes during the World Cup.

SIEGEL: The games, of course, have shifted attention away from the many off-field issues facing international soccer, especially corruption. So bring us up-to-date on the allegations against FIFA.

FATSIS: Well, just before the tournament, FIFA's membership voted down age or term limits for its leadership. FIFA's imperious, 78-year-old president, Sepp Blatter, then said - surprise, surprise - that he would seek a 5th four-year term. And Blatter also announced that every nation would receive a $750,000 bonus. What a coincidence. There were new reports of bribery in the selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. There were reports of max - there were reports of match fixing before the 2010 World Cup. But all was well for Blatter, who asked, out loud, quote, "if one day our game is played on another planet, then we'll have not only a World Cup. We will have interplanetary competitions. Why not?", he said.

SIEGEL: (Laughing) OK, Stefan. have a great weekend.

FATSIS: You too, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis is a panelist on Slate's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen. And he joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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