For some delightful reason, I have been asked to give a brief sporting flavor to the seven-hour retirement ceremony of sculptor Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim Museum on Jan. 21. Cattelan is officially hanging ‘em up by suspending much of his artwork from the ceiling of the Guggenheim. That should be a trip.
As I imagined the farewell for a sculptor, I could not help but think about two sporting ceremonies I attended – both, bizarrely, on Sept. 28.
The one on Sept. 28, 1947 was my first time in Yankee Stadium. I was 8, and it was the last game of the season, and the Yankees were honoring Babe Ruth, who was dying of throat cancer. (The Babe, in his outsize way, had three farewells – one that summer, the other next spring, before he died on Aug. 16, 1948. This was the middle one.)
I can remember his camel hair coat and his damaged voice echoing around the Stadium’s rudimentary speaker system. The Stadium’s autumnal shadows enforced the gloomy tone, first set for Lou Gehrig in 1939, of dozens, nay, hundreds, of Yankee ceremonies, many of them honoring pinstriped heroes who often seem to die young. Those spectral sounds still seem to echo in the newest version of the Stadium – even though it’s across the street.
A more upbeat ceremony took place on Sept. 28, 1982, at the farewell game for Carlos Alberto, a stylish defender from Brazil, who had finished his career with the Cosmos. They brought up his old team, Flamengo from Rio, in its red and black uniforms, and he played a half for each team, the way soccer farewells are done.
I was new to the sport in 1982, but could not miss the love and respect the players had for Carlos Alberto, and for the game itself. As Carlos Alberto took a long tour around Giants Stadium, waving and shaking hands with the fans, the new-age speakers played Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.” Every time I hear that song, I think of smooth old Carlos Alberto.
Now, the rankest outsider in that world, I will witness the addio to Maurizio Cattelan. With his diverse works dangling from the beams, the farewell at the Guggenheim is not likely to be anything like the one for the Babe or Carlos Alberto. I’ll furnish a report.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.