Monday, February 04, 2008

Euro 2008 Film Festival: Group A, Switzerland

Film Festival Rules & Guidelines

Film selected (Year, Director): The Boat is Full (1981, Markus Imhoof)
Rating: 8/10
Rules compliance: All rules met

Relevance to Soccer: Passive Offside ('neutral'), goal-line

The offside rule is often a source of dispute and controversy in soccer. Not a week goes by without professional soccer teams disputing an incorrect offside call or having a valid goal disallowed. In recent years, the offside rule has become even harder to interpret and implement because of the 'passive' offside concept. As per the 'passive' offside rule, if a player is an offside position but is deemed to be not involved in their team's play, then the referee does not call offside and stop the play. This guideline was meant to encourage attacking soccer because if a player is not involved in the play, then why should that player's team be penalized for having a valid scoring chance called back? But this interpretation has caused plenty of confusion and heated debate. Some people argue that if a player is on the field, then that player is always involved in the play, directly or indirectly -- the player might not touch the ball but instead might distract an opposing team's defender or the opposing goal-keeper's view. Also, the rule is exploited by some players who can cleverly move from a 'passive' position to an 'active' position and help score a goal. When Ruud Van Nistelrooy used to play for Manchester United, he was an expert in taking advantage of this offside rule loop-hole. In plenty of Manchester's plays, he was often in a 'passive' position at the start of the play but then turned up to score a goal from an 'active' position. But the reality was that as soon as he touched the ball, the game should have stopped because he was no longer passive. Yet, he continued to get away because in a fast paced game, the referee and linesman could not keep track of his movements.

So I wanted to compare this 'passive' offside rule to the concept of neutrality in times of war. If one reads the history books, Switzerland is often considered as being neutral during WWII. But can a nation be truly 100% neutral when its neighbouring countries are at war? For a nation to be neutral, its borders have to be shut tight and no neighbouring citizens or armies should be allowed through; no enemy planes should be able to cross its air-space and the neural nation should not be involved in transporting or selling any resources to the neighbouring nations. In reality, it is very difficult to maintain such restrictions. While the neutral nation might not send its army to actively participate in the war, if the nation allows the enemy troops to cross its boundaries, then it is no longer neutral.

The film The Boat is Full questions the Swiss claims of neutrality. Based on Alfred A. Haesler's book, the story shows how a group of Jewish refugees struggle to stay within the Swiss borders. In order to get asylum the group have to pretend to be a family. But if the group is not found to be a family, they will be deported and sent to their death. One of the questions that arises from the film is that if a country knowingly hands over people to their death, can that nation be considered neutral?

As the camera closes in on one of the Swiss borders near the film's end, I was reminded of a goal-line in between the two goal posts.

The goal-line creates two binary situations -- in order for a goal to be scored, the whole ball has to cross the line; on one side of the goal-line is a goal, on the other side is no goal.

So I thought of the border in this film as depicting a binary situation. On one side of the border is life for the Jewish citizens, on the other side of the border is death for the citizens. The area in between the border is a partial state of uncertainty -- neither life nor death, similar to the situation where a ball stays on a goal-line, alternating between a goal and no-goal.

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