In the space of 20 hours, the Formula 1 championship was bollixed by squidgy stewardship that smelled like match fixing, and then the UEFA round-of-16 draw had to be redone because nobody could remember how many balls were pulled out of how many pots. This is a level of incompetence that to an untrained American eye seems like fairly brazen cheating. Frankly, “We were drunk,” or “We don’t know how to count,” or even “I’m just the janitor, they shoved me into a tux and told me to fiddle with plastic balls on TV,” seems a more plausible explanation than “Oops, we forgot Manchester United,” or even “We can’t read our rulebook because it has 42 parts, or is it 48? Either way, we’re too stupid, but we’re the ones with the jobs so up yours with your protest.”
Then again, it took numerous acts of Sports God to keep the college football championship committee from screwing Cincinnati and inserting Notre Dame instead, because you know they wanted desperately to do so. Half the audience thinks NBA officials fix games as an active part of their jobs either because they need the Lakers in the Finals every year or need the Lakers to never be in the Finals again. No weird turn of events ever avoids the fevered scrutiny of the tinfoil hat gang. We even have folks, most of them network executives, who would take fixed games every time for the right ratings matchups because they suspect (and may be right in thinking so) that most fans wouldn’t care as long as their favorite team benefits. In short, we like when the fix is in, as long as we can pretend we don’t know and still have action.
But while we suspect that America’s appetite for rigged games is almost endless, the sales job for that would be too difficult, so Option B may be the better play—total random animal choices for our entertainment. Bring back the ghost of Paul The Octopus, the greatest prognosticator of them all.
Yes, we know that Paul, the German-encased octopus who correctly picked four of six results in UEFA 2008 and then 12 of 14 World Cup matches correctly in 2010, joined the giant calamari-in-lemon plate in the sky later that year, and his work has not been replicated, although Rabio the Octopus nailed all of Japan’s group-stage results in the 2018 World Cup before being killed and sent to market by the Japanese fisherman who had caught him. We’d like to suspect mobsters had a hand here, but that’s just because we trust nobody and nothing.
And after the F1 race that somehow managed to contrive Max Verstappen instead of Lewis Hamilton as the winner, and after the botched UEFA draw, it may be time to go back to our betters in the animal kingdom for the skills we apparently no longer possess. Besides, most of you like pets for some misbegotten reason or other, so let’s put ’em to work. Let’s get Fido working on the NFL playoffs. See if Tiddles has an affinity for the NCAA Tournament. Maybe you go buy your own brainy octo at the market and unleash him or her on the Stanley Cup. There is a world beyond takoyaki, damn it, so let’s give it to them. We owe them that just for My Octopus Teacher.
And not just picking games. Let’s have them run the tournaments outright, because frankly, we now clearly suck at it. Or maybe we’ve stopped bothering. Or maybe, as contemporary politics is showing us every day in every way, we’ve stopped hiding our skeevy behavior entirely and replaced it with an insouciant “Yeah, we cheated, and what are you gonna do about it, you pants-wetting weakling?”
In short, we’ve ruined the notion of fair play in sports—and if you doubt this, WE CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER HOW MANY BOWLS OF PLASTIC BALLS ARE ON A TABLE OR UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CONCEPTS OF THE WORDS ANY AND ALL, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. So sports should be taken away from us and given to the animals. In fact, the only good reason we haven’t already is because it’s hard for anything other than a scorpion to get to Vegas without a car, bus or plane, and scorpions suck at most sports that don’t involve venom.
This may not be a popular idea now, but in time you’ll see the value. Maybe we start small and make an actual coyote in charge of the Arizona Coyotes on the basis that it couldn’t be worse at paying taxes or killing a penalty than the humans were. Point is, we are losing the right to have sports at all, not because as Sean Doolittle implied that we are failing in our duty to build a civilized society, but because we are simply too stupid or brazenly evil to do so. Think about it the next time you’re taking your Bernese mountain dog for a walk, and ask yourself, “Would Chloe put the World Cup in Qatar, or name Elon Musk anyone’s Man Of The Year?”
The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it?