I'm delighted to say that William Birdthistle, who teaches at Chicago-Kent College of Law, will be joining us this week. His main fields are business organizations and securities regulation, but his topic this week will be sports and law, specifically soccer and the internal law and law enforcement of soccer.
Prof. Birdthistitle is Irish and, before coming to America for college, spent much of his life growing up in Libya (8 years) and Malaysia (9 years), so he spent a good deal of time immersed in soccer cultures. This led him to think about how the World Cup, soccer more generally, and sports still more generally are affected by how various rules are enforced within each sport.
He published his early thoughts about the World Cup in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune right after the tournament and, to my surprise, found that many legal academics had a great deal to say about how the game could be improved. So, after a good number of conversations with disgruntled viewers, he wrote the longer article, Football Most Foul, which I read and which prompted me to invite him. The article is part of a growing movement to think about law in contexts other than government-enforced rules -- of recognizing that rules (of various degrees of precision), rulemaking, and rule enforcement are pervasive aspects of human endeavor that influence human behavior in often unintended ways.
In the paper, Prof. Birdthistle starts by arguing that the 2006 FIFA World Cup was a disappointing display of soccer, comprised primarily of forgettable athletic contests that turned most critically on the administration of justice. Referees, more than athletes, emerged as the central protagonists in each game by providing the most dramatic plot twist --- either by handing out red cards, which they did at a record pace, or awarding penalty kicks, which provided the winning goal in almost ten percent of the tournament's games. For much of the viewing public, the footballers' performances were even more deplorable, as players constantly flopped to the ground at minor or nonexistent contact and thrashed about in apparent agony.
Of course, the power of the referees and the acting of the players are closely intertwined, as any system of human order that bestows sweeping authority on its magistrates invites perjury. The article explores the cynical state of World Cup soccer and examine a number of proposals to reduce the game-changing power of referees and the melodramatic chicanery it inspires. If the array of referees' punishments and rewards can be adjusted, he reasons, we might be able to increase players' incentives to play a more beautiful game in future World Cup tournaments.