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How O.J. Simpson Ruined a World Cup

oj car chase 1994 How O.J. Simpson Ruined a World Cup

I’m definitely an optimist, but having experienced a lot of ups and downs in my life, I’m also a realist. Having said that, I have some concerns and reservations about the 2010 World Cup. And that is that I hope the tournament goes off without a hitch.

Too many times in the past, negative incidents have soured the enjoyment of World Cup tournaments. I just hope that nothing this summer — either on or off the field — takes our focus away from where it deserves to be, the game of soccer.

Examples of previous incidents that have taken the shine off the World Cup include:

  • June 17, 1994. On the day that the 1994 World Cup kicked off, the tournament was completely overshadowed because of one former NFL athlete who led police, cameras and a US TV audience of millions down a California highway. Instead of mainstream America focusing on the biggest sports tournament on its shores, America was going ga-ga over the OJ scandal. Talk about bad timing. Knowing the luck of the World Cup, Osama Bin Laden will be captured during the tournament or Fidel Castro would kick the bucket.
  • July 2, 1994. When Colombian footballer Andres Escobar accidentally scored an own goal against the United States on June 22, the unfortunate incident helped the United States win 2-1 and meant that Colombia was knocked out of the first round of a tournament where they were heavily favored to advance. Two weeks later, Escobar was tragically gunned down in a Medellin suburb in what was believed to be “punishment” for scoring the own goal.
  • June 18, 2002. Anyone watching the game between South Korea and Italy would have been bewildered to see referee Byron Moreno award South Korea a disputed penalty kick, disallow a perfectly legal Italy goal and eject Totti for diving in a game which South Korea went on to win 2-1 in injury time. Bizarre decisions or swayed by money from matchfixers? Who knows. But one year later, the referee was suspended for 20 matches after an incident in Ecuador. And he later resigned.
  • July 9, 2006. Who would have expected that on the day of the 2006 World Cup Final that the most vivid lasting memory would have been a headbutt by Zinedine Zidane? It tarnished the sport and resulted in every talking about the headbutt incident instead of the game itself.

These are just a few examples of many unsavory moments that have happened on and off the pitch in the past 16 years. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that nothing catastrophic happens off the field which diverts the attention of the world media. And let’s hope that what happens on the field is pure soccer and not tinged with controversy. Somehow, though, something always happens. Or is it me?

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
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24 Responses to How O.J. Simpson Ruined a World Cup

  1. EastTerracer says:

    While some of these incidents may have overshadowed the World Cup here in the US, from a global perspective I think the Escobar shooting is really the only one worthy of an event that damaged the tournament overall.

    1) The OJ Simpson story was a blip from an international perspective and, as a visiting supporter here in 94, I heard it was going on but did not impact the tournament in any way whatsoever.

    2) Probably the most tragic event of any world cup since the very beginning.

    3) I was at the Italy – S.Korea game in 2002 and the referee was shocking. However, I’ve seen terrible (and borderline corrupt) refereeing in many World Cup tournaments over the years so I don’t think this individual game cast such a long shadow (unless you were an Italian player or supporter).

    4) The head-butt was sheer stupidity from Zidane and ruined what could have been the crowning achievment of his career. However, while it generated plenty of column inches (as does everything during a world cup) I really don’t think it overshadowed the tournament.

    3 of the 4 events below could be categorised as lowlights of individual tournaments but I don’t think they were of such importance that they overshadowed what is the greatest sporting event on the planet. Similar incidents would be Rivaldo’s theatrical dive in 2002, Rijkaard spitting at Rudi Voeller in 1990, Harold Schumacher’s assault on Patrick Battiston in 1982 etc. etc. All terrible incidents and memorable for that reason but in no way big enough to overshadow 5 weeks of football.

  2. Patrick says:

    I still have a hard time believing that there is no movie about England’s run up to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. On May 18th 1970 England Caption Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton where on pre World Cup tour in Columbia. Both players entered the hotel shop to get a present for Charlton’s wife. After leaving the police where called and the two where questioned about a stolen bracelet. Moore was arrested and held, bizarrely, at the home of a local football official. Latter it was determined that this was a blackmail attempt and a means to disrupt the reigning World Cup champion’s morale. Moore was released in time to play, and the charges where never substantiated.
    England qualified through the group stages but lost to West Germany in the first knock out match in the 1970 cup…

  3. barry says:

    The way South Africa is being mocked and undermined as the host, simply having all 64 matches taking place and ending will make it a successful tournament in most peoples’ eyes.

    And I don’t see how the OJ Simpson thing can be considered significant outside the USA. It might have overshadowed the World Cup IN the USA, but I doubt any other parts of the world cared very much.

    • George Bush says:

      There’s a world outside of the USA?

      • The Gaffer says:

        Guys, I should have mentioned in the article that OJ ruined the World Cup in the US, not overseas. Not that he ruined the entire tournament, but he definitely stole many of the headlines and news coverage away from the World Cup in the first few weeks.

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

        • Jeff says:

          Besides stealing national headlines, check out my comments and find out how this event can ruin someone’s vacation …

  4. barry says:

    Oh, kinda like if Sachin Tendulkar sneezes the World Cup will be totally ruined for all of India.

  5. Jeff says:

    I have a personal grievance with regards to O.J. Simpson slow speed chase on the 1st day World Cup 1994: that was the day after my high school graduation, and my whole family (myself included) headed down to Los Angeles for my cousin’s graduation at UCLA. Unfortunately, as we got closer to LA, there he was, cowarding his ass in that Ford Bronco, stalling both east & west bound of I-405. I had followed his ex-wife’s murder for a few days but I never expected this rubbish would be done on the same day of my trip – never mind the first day of World Cup!!! Simpson single-handedly ruined 2 events in one swoop. To this date, I would NEVER forgive that prick for that.

  6. Rebecca Jill says:

    As a soccer fan, I should know this, but was there a World Cup game going on as the same time O.J. was speeding down the highway and having the standoff at his house, or had they already played the opening game earlier that day? I only remembering it interrupting the NBA Finals, and then a split screen of the NBA game and O.J. Shenanigans.

    I did not miss one minute of the U.S. vs. Switzerland the next day, as I still remember the elation of Eric Wynalda scoring on the free kick. The only time the O.J. then hindered me watching a World Cup game would have been if there was one on at the same time as O.J.’s craziness. Otherwise, I just went ahead and kept on watching the soccer.

  7. Raatzie says:

    Offsides. Replays show O.J. clearly was in front of the last defender.

  8. Erich B. says:

    With all due respect, I would be perfectly fine with Osama Bin Laden’s capture overshadowing the World Cup.

  9. HubieMac39 says:

    I disagree with the premise that the OJ chase overshadowed the 1994 World Cup. First, as I recall it was a dire opening game between Germany and Bolivia. The most memorable moment for me was the image of Diana Ross trying to kick an oversize inflated soccer ball into the net during the pre-game entertainment. As previously mentioned it was also Game 3 of the 1994 NBA Finals, so even had it been the greatest game in World Cup history, I believe the World Cup still would not have been the lead sports story in the US that night.

    • The Gaffer says:

      It wasn’t just the fact that OJ occupied the newspaper and TV coverage, but it was more the way that the OJ story preoccupied the American mainstream that summer when they could have been paying more attention to the World Cup. At least it would have given the World Cup a better chance of being more in the limelight if the OJ incident hadn’t happened.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  10. brn442 says:

    O.J. ruined more than just the World Cup, just ask all those soap opera fanatics who had endure their shows being pre-empted for the next year.

    The “assistant” referee in the Spain/Korea match was even more shocking, with his bizarre offside decisions against the Spaniards.

    Gianfranco Zola being sent off in USA 94 was the most head scratching incident I’ve seen in a while. To this day I still have no idea why he was shown red, neither does he. The only time I’ve ever seen the Italian get angry and for good reason.

  11. Pakapala says:

    “Ruin” is too strong a word to describe those events mentioned above. The Andrés Escobar tragic story was a a memorable one, so was Maradonna getting expelled from the tournament; both events stayed in the mind of WC fans more than OJ getting arrested. Personally I didn’t even know he was arrested during the World Cup. As for 2002 and 2006, those in-games controversial incidents happen in just about every world cup; funny how there is no mention of 1990 WC when Cameroon got robbed against England. That ruined my memory of Italia ’90

  12. hubiemac39 says:

    I still disagree about the OJ effect overall. After a couple of days it shifted from a sports story to a news story. Even without OJ and with the WC being here, I still think it would have been a stretch to expect more than the normal mainstream news coverage, since the average American’s soccer knowledge was (and maybe still is to some extent) limited. Did OJ take 2-3 minutes away from a WC themed story on the nightly news? Maybe. But remember after OJ was arrested, the 24 hr news cycle coverage didn’t really start until the court proceedings that fall. Being said I still recall there being plenty of coverage tv and newsapaper-wise (but maybe that’s because I was in NY and BOS that summer). Plus the final was on a Sunday afternoon on ABC before a huge crowd and got a great TV rating (certainly for a soccer match at the time).

  13. worldcup3dfan says:

    word is that there were some terrorists caught a couple of weeks ago who were planning to strike at the world cup, hopefully they caught all of them and none left

  14. sleepy134 says:

    The only way a world cup game could be ruined for anyone would be if they were
    forced to watch it. Catholic church services provide more excitement. Funerals
    provide more excitement. My 75th birthday was more exciting. Forcing school
    kids to play it is causing delinquincy and early dropouts. Send it back to anyplace
    you can.

  15. Footballer says:

    Gaff, Korea defeated Italy in overtime, not injury time. It was a golden goal, remember?

    The night game of that 1st day of the World Cup in 94, was Korea vs Spain from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX. That game ended minutes before OJ Simpson interrupted every single broadcast going on in the usa.

    The World Cup wasn’t going to be a big deal anyway, even if OJ never killed his wife. To say that OJ diminished the WC’s media coverage is kinda rubbish. If it wasn’t OJ, it woulda been the NBA Finals or MLB season.

    That 2002 Korea-Italy game was a disgrace among disgraces. I’m surprised no one has hurt that piece of garbage referee. Football is forever tarnished because of that sham of a match.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Footballer, you’re correct that the game wasn’t ended in injury time. But you’re incorrect when you call it “overtime.” There’s no such thing in soccer. It’s called extra time.

      I still disagree with you and other readers that argue that the OJ story, if it hadn’t happened, would not have been a big deal to the World Cup. It was. There was a buzz happening about that World Cup, but a lot of the media’s attention (and the attention of the public) was transformed to talking about the OJ car chase for days and weeks when they could have been focused on the World Cup.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Footballer says:

        But you’re incorrect when you call it “sucker”. There is no such thing in football.
        It’s called football.

      • Footballer says:

        But you’re incorrect when you call it “sucker”. There’s no such thing in football.
        It’s called football.

        • The Gaffer says:

          Let’s not get started on that topic. There are plenty of Brits and British programmes that use the word “soccer” (Soccer AM, Gillette Soccer Saturday, etc, etc).

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

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