Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paranoia, paranoia, everybody's comin' to get me

If you're among my Nebraska-based readership -- and I would hope there's at least two of you -- you've no doubt heard a snootful about the latest crisis to befall la Grande Rouge. Bo Pelini, that picture of grace and suavity, has declared that since he cannot control what everyone sees in and says about his practices, the media has been banned for three days to think about what it did. Nevermind the fact that the leak came from one of the chums of his linebackers coach or that a 15-second statement after practice on the injury that started all this would have nipped the entire issue in the bud.

I always figured Pelini had a touch of the Nick Sabans about him. Coaches are control freaks, of course, and football coaches seem to be the worst of the lot. I remember having a high school football coach (the school will remain nameless, but it starts with B and ends with Ennington -- and, no, Bill Wennington is not involved) told me after a game in which his team ran the ball on all but three plays that his quarterback was fine. Nevermind the fact that throwing the ball was a regular part of his offense in every game up to that point. Nevermind the fact that the kid said he heard a pop in his shoulder. Nevermind the fact that his father tracked me down and told me in no uncertain terms that his kid had a separated shoulder. Running fullback powers on third and long was all in the gameplan -- just ask the man in charge.

Variations on the theme exist all over -- coaches who go into hiding when their team loses (Enterprise), coaches who want you to know they don't approve of you writing on certain topics (The Big), coaches whose players are so cowed they sprint to the far side of the field to ask permission to do an interview (Kealakehe), etc. You'd think this might change having slipped the surly bonds of America, having moved to countries where futbol and not football is king. You'd think the paranoia might ease just the littlest bit in countries where the Type A personality isn't as celebrated.

You'd be wrong.

I had security guards watching me throughout the match whenever I covered Indonesian Super League events, although that may have been a look of amazement from seeing a bule actually take an interest in the domestic game. I'd love to tell you what the atmosphere is like at a Chinese Super League match, but I can't. You see, dirty laowai like me are not allowed to receive press credentials to CSL or Jia League matches because we are "a security risk." That's coming from the people running the league, not one particular club. Foreigners can get credentials to cover the local basketball or baseball leagues, not to mention the staggering variety of Olympic sports, but apparently Chinese soccer is too touchy a subject for those dumb outsiders to understand.

Is the league embarrassed by the run of scandals in recent years? The poor quality of play? Low attendance? Whether any or all of those are true, they're no excuse for denying credentials to foreigners. Those are problems for league administrators, not journalists. Covering the national team is apparently kosher, but that doesn't do me much good as the men haven't played in Beijing since losing the 2004 Asian Cup final to Japan.

If all goes well, I will attend my first match in China on Saturday. There's a story idea lurking behind my visit (again with the working on my days off), but actually getting someone to lend me a hand with this article has been quite difficult. One of the two Chinese clubs that employ American players will not consent to any interviews without a pre-existing "agreement," and the other is apparently too broke to have someone answer the phone or update its website. What makes it hard is what makes it good, though, and I'm just spiteful enough to see the story through, if only as an act of defiance.

Gah! So much for not blogging about work. I'll do something interesting -- or at least read something interesting -- at some point. No, really!

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