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Goal-line tech decision long-overdue

FOX Soccer News: FIFA will implement goal-line technology for the 2014 World Cup.
FOX Soccer News: FIFA will implement goal-line technology for the 2014 World Cup.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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CROSS THE LINE

FOX Soccer's Patrick Barclay discusses the pros and cons surronding goal-line technology.

As it turns out, even FIFA can get with the times.

On Tuesday, soccer’s world governing body announced that it would be introducing goal-line technology at the 2013 Confederations Cup and then the 2014 World Cup, both to be held in Brazil.

The announcement finally offers a satisfying solution to an issue that has been one of the sport’s hottest ever since a World Cup-altering incident in 2010. In a second round knock-out game between England and Germany, a Frank Lampard lob infamously and clearly passed the goal-line by a yard or so after bouncing off the bottom of the upright. But it was not recorded as a goal when it spun back out and re-entered the field of play. The non-goal would have equalized at 2-2 a game that Germany ultimately won 4-1. Later that same day, Argentina was awarded a goal against Mexico that was clearly offside.

The howls for video technology to be introduced into the sport, the way it was in many others, grew fevered. And they only got louder as several more such incidents occurred over the years.

But FIFA continued to resist, as did the International Football Association Board – made up of four FIFA members and one each from the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations – which governs the Laws of the Game.

Rather than address what technology had made a solvable problem, it decried the performance of referees at first, and then FIFA stood by the edict first uttered by their grand poobah, Sepp Blatter, in 2008. “Other sports regularly change the laws of the game to react to the new technology,” Blatter said then. “We don’t do it and this makes the fascination and the popularity of football.”

UP FOR DEBATE

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

After the Lampard non-goal, Blatter made noises about re-thinking his stance on goal-line technology, only to undercut that sentiment by standing by his original misbegotten philosophy. “We want to keep football as a game of the people with a human face,” he said. “So we don’t want technology on the field of play because we want to maintain the spontaneity of football – played, administered and controlled by human beings.”

Nevertheless, IFAB and FIFA explored goal-line technologies following the World Cup, but they then frequently dismissed their viability. As an alternative, they experimented with adding two referees, who lamely stood by the goals waiting for the once-in-a-hundred-games goal-line call. But by July of last year, not even the notoriously conservative and opaque FIFA could avoid the conclusion that its misguided actions had been tone-deaf to the needs of the game. IFAB approved the use of goal-line technology and the now-suddenly-no-longer-technophobe Blatter declared that, “you have to use technology if it is available. If you don’t then something is wrong.”

Tuesday’s announcement marks a long-overdue turnaround, instigated by a successful test run with both a sensor-carrying ball (GoalRef, so called) and a camera system (Hawk-Eye, which is also used in tennis) at the 2013 Club World Cup in Japan. FIFA has invited tenders for the contract.

The inability to properly ascertain whether a goal had been scored or not was a major irritant to both casual and serious fans alike and thought to be off-putting to newcomers to the game – much like flopping. This, and the mere fact that soccer needed to be dragged into the 21st century in spite of its crusty leadership, made this new technology a necessity to assure the sport’s credibility in the future.

The game has simply grown too fast and sophisticated to be properly adjudged with the naked eye – not unlike the aforementioned tennis, where players are allowed to challenge a few close calls per game, bringing justice and transparency to the sport. To resist goal-line technology any longer would have been foolhardy and bad for the sport.

At long last, FIFA recognized this too. But they are entitled to no praise for their decision, as they vacillated for too long, hesitated too much and stalled for years on an innovation that was obviously and well overdue.

Next up: off-side call technology, which FIFA says isn’t on the table.

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