FOX Soccer Exclusive

Phantom goal ruling lacks sense

The call for the Bundesliga to implement goal-line technology increased earlier this week.
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Thomas Hautmann

Thomas Hautmann is an editor and contributing writer to FOXSoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter.



Goal-line technology comes at just the right time. Take a look back at some of the famous controversies.

The result stands. The German Football Association (DFB) decision on Monday to reject Hoffenheim’s replay request means Bayer Leverkusen’s phantom goal -- and with it, their 2-1 victory -- has been legitimized. This stunning decision is not only a grave injustice to Hoffenheim and to Bundesliga fans, it is an insult to the sport, to Fair Play, and to our intelligence.

There are no winners here. Leverkusen chief Rudi Voller, to his credit, said he didn’t feel like one after the verdict, adding that he hoped “goal-line technology will finally be pushed forward” after this unmitigated debacle. Stefan Kiessling, the culprit of the goal, shut down his personal Facebook account after being bombarded with threats and insults. He, as well as referee Felix Brych and his crew -- who didn’t notice Kiessling’s header slip through a hole in the side netting -- have unfairly become the scapegoats in this matter.

Not even the DFB feels particularly content, nor should they. The most telling reaction to the verdict was that of the judge who begrudgingly gave it. “The question isn’t whether or not we like the verdict in a sportsmanlike point of view. In a judicial point of view, we had no alternatives,” admitted Hans E. Lorenz, chairman of the DFB’s sports court. “My kids and my life partner are going to scold me tonight. But as a judge I must turn to the law.”

And therein lies the problem. Lorenz and the DFB simply abided by the rules set by FIFA, which state that a referee’s factual decision cannot be overturned once play has restarted. Despite receiving constant calls to change their statutes to get with the times, FIFA continues to regard the referee’s “factual decisions” as the be-all and end-all. Only that which the referee does not see can be reviewed in court, since in those cases the referee didn’t make a decision.

As for match-deciding, illegitimate goals? Sorry about that. Wrong factual decisions are simply part of the system, Lorenz lamented.

Of course, had the Bundesliga followed the Premier League’s lead -- and, ironically, FIFA’s -- and started to use goal-line technology, this wouldn’t even be an issue. But when faced with such a gross error, is there really no other way? In an age where everyone has the benefit of instant replay -- except those actually officiating the game -- why do we still have to accept such woeful decisions?


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The fact that FIFA president Sepp Blatter has promoted and implemented the use of goal-line technology, yet stubbornly outlaws the use of video evidence which could overturn decisions such as this one, proves the absurdity of the current system. The DFB, too, is to blame for not having the courage to ensure that fairness and integrity are being protected in their own competition -- not FIFA’s. In that sense, the court missed an important chance to prove autonomy. After all, they’ve done it once before.

In 1994, Bayern Munich’s Thomas Helmer scored a similar phantom goal in a critical, late-season 2-1 win over Nurnberg. The DFB investigated, the result was annulled and Bayern were forced to a replay, which they won 5-0 to seal the Bundesliga title by one point. This happened almost twenty years ago, when debates over the use of technology in sport didn’t even exist yet. Yet the DFB did the right thing and figured out a way.

After the Helmer incident, FIFA warned the DFB not to bend the rules again, even threatening with consequences for the German national team. A referee’s factual decision has never been overturned since.

This is a sick joke, one that can have far-reaching consequences on the entire season. Consider that last season Hoffenheim missed automatic relegation by just one point, and were just two points shy from avoiding the relegation playoff tie. Should they find themselves in the relegation battle once more, that one missing point could make all the difference. Conversely, say Leverkusen holds onto a top-three spot by one or two points at the end of the year, the fourth-placed team would lose out on automatic entry to the lucrative Champions League on an error completely out of their control.

These grim possibilities are now on the table, but there may be one big, shiny silver lining in all this. The case may finally get the gears in motion for change.

Though FIFA green-lighted goal-line technology for next year’s World Cup, UEFA and plenty of top leagues, including the Bundesliga, have still refrained from using it, citing a margin of error of three centimeters that is “simply too big.” Blatter, meanwhile, continues to reject the idea of video replay, though almost every other major sport in the world has successfully used it for decades. Achieving better Fair Play in soccer can be had so easy, but FIFA remains stubborn.

That’s why it might be a good thing that the DFB aligned itself with this outdated way of thinking. A goal that counts but wasn’t one, and holds up in court -- a better picture that reveals the absurdity of soccer’s governing bodies cannot be painted.

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