The world soccer sanctioning body, FIFA, did some potentially productive tinkering Thursday, announcing a scoring change for next summer’s World Cup that should result in more competitive games.
In a move announced by FIFA’s general secretary, Joseph Blatter of Switzerland, at a press briefing leading up to Sunday’s World Cup draw, the number of points awarded to a team for winning a first-round game was increased from two to three.
This was significant because in previous World Cup competition--especially at Italy in 1990--many teams played merely to tie games rather than to win, since two ties and the total of two points they brought would usually advance a team to the next level.
The World Cup draw divides teams into six groups of four teams each. The first round, or “first stage,” consists of three games for each team, with the top three teams from each group and four third-place teams advancing to the round of 16. From the round of 16 on, the competition becomes single elimination, with obviously no problem motivating teams to play to win.
An underlying reason for FIFA’s action, and for World Cup Chairman Alan Rothenberg of the United States pushing hard for it, was the feeling that American fans, used to higher-scoring American games, would be much less tolerant and much more quickly turned off than a more traditional soccer audience by an early parade of 0-0 and 1-1 results.
In other action, FIFA announced:
--The rejection of a plan that would have combined South and North Korea into one team for the World Cup. South Korea qualified; North Korea did not. The plan, apparently put forth by a joint group of Koreans interested in political tension-easing, was labeled “a good idea” by Blatter, but rejected as too non-traditional.
--That the customary drug-testing plan would be in place for World Cup competition. Two players from each team will be selected at random at each game and tested afterward.
--Some new awards for World Cup competition that will include one for “the most entertaining” team. Blatter said that award would not automatically go to the winning team, and even went so far as to say that, had there been such an award in 1990, the team from Cameroon, which excited and fascinated soccer fans with its flash and style, would have been a clear winner.
Rothenberg is handling questions about security and potential hooligan problems with candor and a sense of humor.
In a recent interview, he pointed out that he is getting an increasingly clear picture of how Europeans view the frequent violence and gun-related incidents they read about in the United States.
“They think, in many ways, that we are barbaric,” he said. “In fact, there has been some discussion that the hooligans might be too frightened to come here.”
He said that he can’t believe how perceptions have changed, especially of his own city, Los Angeles.
“One of my lawyer friends who grew up in the barrio was telling me that, in his day, all they had was drive-by shootings,” Rothenberg said, laughing somewhat ruefully.
Times staff writer Julie Cart contributed to this story.