Behavioral economics, Politics, World Cup on referee Koman Coulibaly’s nullification of USA goal vs. Slovenia in World Cup

As of this writing, of the 343 comments to have been approved by the moderators on’s “Have Your Say” discussion board about today’s controversial US-Slovenia 2-2 draw in World Cup competition, not one of them contains even a passing mention of the main topic of discussion of every article that has been written about the game: the fact that referee Koman Coulibaly disallowed the third US goal for reasons that weren’t (and still aren’t) clear to players, fans, or television announcers.

Other soccer discussion boards, like the Washington Post’s Soccer Insider, were flooded with debate and discussion about the questionable call, which began almost immediately after it happened at about 16:40 GMT (the time zone used by So were Twitter feeds (although at some point Twitter crashed, as it frequently has during the World Cup). The discussion over the controversy really exploded around the internet after the game ended at 16:51, and before long, USA’s tie with Slovenia already had more Google News blog hits (850) than Serbia’s upset of Germany (701).

But on, the silence about USA-Slovenia has been deafening. The latest comment to appear on the discussion board has a timestamp of 20:04. In the 193-minute span between the game’s end and the latest comment’s time stamp, only 24 squeaky-clean comments have been approved. For instance: “great fightback by the USA”; “this is the right result on the balance of play”; “way to go USA”; “the match was really exciting!”; “slovenia is the best team”; “USA are becoming a real nice team!”; and “Slovenia had a great chance to qualify in the next round!! But in the second half we were too defensive.”

By comparison, in that same span of time—193 minutes—after the end of Germany-Serbia (which ended today at 14:20), there were already 175 comments posted. That’s more than seven times as many.

At one point, a user named Rossus, from South Africa, posted one comment that did, in the most polite possible way, at least hint at the idea that there might have been some controversy. Rather than suggesting any human fault, Rossus’s comment merely used the word “luck”: “I am not a USA supporter but the USA was very unlucky not to win.” But even that comment, after briefly appearing on the match overview page (which streams the latest comments), was later censored, and never made it to the discussion board page itself. The comment is no longer on the site, but I took a screen shot of it during the brief time that it appeared on the overview page, which appears here to the left.

Just to test my theory personally, I also tried posting the following comment: “I disagree with referee Koman Coulibaly’s decision to nullify the third US goal.” Sure enough, as other posts materialized on the board, mine never did. It goes without saying that refused to comment on or post my followup questions about what the standards were for censorship on their site.

It’s interesting to see how often, and how deeply, large organizations seem to misunderstand the purpose of discussion boards, blogs, and other internet debate and discussion fora. They seem to imagine that most users and readers won’t notice the censorship, or that they will find cleansed discussion boards to be valid platforms for authentic debate and discussion.

I suspect, though, that these organizations tend to underestimate both the curiosity of their readers and the power of the internet as a commons, and that this sort of board cleansing just leads people simply to speak with their fingers by ditching—in spite of its undoubtedly large software budget—and seek their information elsewhere. This goes not just for the would-be commenters that have suffered through the sting of a rejected comment, on which they might have spent a good deal of time; it also goes for the would-be readers, many of whom immediately notice that something seems fishy.

This doesn’t just undermine fans’ trust in FIFA; it also squanders an easy opportunity for the body that administers the world’s favorite sporting event to become a place where fans can share, discuss, and debate the things that they care most deeply about—thus engendering goodwill and helping to spread the good word about soccer.

Instead, the fans are turning elsewhere. A homemade-looking website called, for instance, already has 728 posts on its SerbiaSlovenia-USA discussion thread.

Its motto? “Share the passion.”


  1. bdr

    FIFA’s also pulling down all video of the nullified goal (for copyright violations) and they have not included it on their highlight video of the match. They are not nearly so insistent on copyright for other WC highlights.

  2. Sam

    I just viewed the highlights of the USA-Slovenia game on and was bewildered when they didn’t contain the 3rd USA goal scored by Maurice Edu. Whether or not you agree with the call (and how could anybody) the fact that FIFA didn’t include it in there highlights of the game shows that their plan is to just act like it never happened. If the US fails to move on to the round of 16 because of this call FIFA will never forget about this!

  3. Jay

    FIFA’s Stalinist behavior towards criticism is a disgrace.

  4. Paul

    A fun game I’ve discovered is to try and leave a comment that contains your true sentiments but that will pass the censorship. Here’s my attempt after the Brazil v IC game:

    What a game! When it comes to Brazil, amazing control of the ball makes them simply untouchable. Another simply magical win!

  5. put joe cole in. heart of a lion , soul of a warrior. he will kindle the fire for a smoldering England team

    excited for the game

  6. Mario Ippara

    Not only are they censoring this information. They also pretty much censor any negative comments about any officiating. I commented on the red card dealt to the Swiss, and it never got posted.

  7. nsa

    Good find. But, in the last paragraph I suspect that you meant the thread on the *Slovenia*-USA game. 🙂

    Better yet, check out the referee discussion thread on the game at bigsoccer:

  8. Douglas

    FIFA has also censored comments on their World Cup Myspace page.

  9. Jake

    Perhaps fans should systematically visit as many of the tournament sponsors’ sites and register their displeasure at FIFA’s censorship.
    Hopefully, they will blow back some of the fans’ disgust to FIFA. Money talks. I cannot think of any sponsor who would wish to be associated and support an Association that is causing such negative sentiments amongst its fans.

  10. It’s been amazing generally to hear how many other people had similar experiences with their comments being deleted, e.g. Courtney Knapp at The Atlantic, who wrote about this post and the issue in general:

    here’s my followup post:

    nsa: you’re right, of course…fixed.

    jake: i hope that’s the way people will react…

  11. Sean

    Thanks for raising this issue.
    I became member of FIFA club to let them know about my displeasure of referee decision in a few games by participating in the comment parts of the news. It was shocking to understand my comments were censored. Then I realized there were no mention of any of the so obvious and bad refereeing on the FIFA site. You can’t see any highlights of the games about the referee mistakes which have been making news headlines everywhere.

    I think FIFA members are old and out of touch with people, media and the game itself. I think not only video technology should be introduced to the International level soccer games but also they should get rid of the old members of FIFA and bring fresh blood and spirit to the game.
    So far there has not been any even remotely convincing reason for not having video referee.

    The president of FIFA refers to “Human Element” of the game for not having video technology. BUT the human element not only result in very bad decisions and stripping of a team from their rightful position in tournaments but also could contribute to corruption and bribery in the games.

    This is 21st century and it is no more acceptable to continue the games the way it was in stone age. Censorship is no more acceptable. FIFA reputation is on the line. All my friends and whoever I know have the same feeling and express their dismay at FIFA attitude towards use of video technology.

    By the way none of the bad decisions has effected my team so far but it really make me sad when I see so many mistakes by referees. I don’t blame referees, I blame FIFA since FIFA does not allow referee to have the right tools for their job.

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